Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Severe Winter Weather Tips...

I am going to be honest here. I am not always understanding or sympathetic when people complain about or are concerned about severe winter weather. I am pretty sorry about that but, really, in my defense please take a look at the photos of the house where we live. The snow banks are taller than me. Because I see annual snowfalls of 28 feet or so, a foot or two seems pretty manageable. Because I see double digit negative highs, I honestly don’t worry about air temps in the teens or even single digits. It’s cold but it doesn’t seem that cold. I know, I am jaded.

I do know that because I live here year round, we have planned for these things and that makes all the difference. We have a block heater that insures that the tractor we use to clear snow can start when we wake up to -36F air temps (not windchill). We have three heating systems to account for a failure of either of the first two. There is cast iron wood burning cook stove that stands between us and cold canned beans with a side of icy death. We have outdoor clothes that enable us to go do barn chores outside in that weather. If it is not your regular experience, then you will not, and not having the right equipment means not being able to do the same things. That said, it has taught us a few things that might be helpful to you whatever your severe weather looks like and whatever your resources might be. Here are my top tips.

1. Get some electric candles. They are brighter than you think and the LED ones use very little electricity and unlike real candles, when your kids knock them over, they will not burn down your house. Keep them next to the beds, in the bathrooms, in hallways, and in each room. This is actually the set that I have and they are all over the house. Each kid has one that they can reach from their beds so that they can find their way through the house in an outage. A tree fell and knocked out our power on Christmas Eve and I was really, really glad for these. 

2. Get some Justin chargers. If our power is out for an extended period of time, we can charge   phones with them so that we have news and a means to contact the outside world. Our neighbors are pretty darn far, almost a mile, so this is a critical issue. Hand crank emergency radios are not expensive and are a good idea to keep around for emergencies. The one I linked to will also charge your phone.You will have access to news about the weather or other conditions and cranking it will help the kids work out some frustration. Or you. You might need to work out some negative energy!

3. If the power goes out, use painter’s masking tape to keep the fridge and freezer closed. Otherwise, you will open the repeatedly without thinking about it.The more people in the household, the more it will be opened. If it is below freezing, you can put things in the garage or on the porch that you will want access to later; things like milk and such. If it is very cold, like single digits or lower, put them in a cooler outside to keep them from getting too cold.

4. If you have a gas stove, you can light it using matches or a lighter which means you can still have stop top meals. If you have an electric stove, make sure you have a manual can opener and canned food options. Make sure that you have some protein and that it is not all canned pastas.

5. If the power goes out, open the cupboards under sinks and run the tap at a trickle to prevent frozen pipes. Shut the bedroom doors and put a towel under the door to keep the air from moving. This way, you can trap the heat into central locations and keep your family warmer. If you do not have a secondary heat source, you should find out who among your closest neighbors does, in case of an extended emergency. That said, even if your house gets down into the low fifties, you will not die. Bundle up, wear hats, and get out the blankets. It is going to be fine.

6. Do not, under any circumstances, use any un-vented heating source such as a camp stove or a BBQ indoors!!! The invisible fumes will kill your family faster than the colder temperatures will. It is not worth the risk. If it falls into the 40s, you should seek shelter elsewhere rather than risk gassing your family.
7. Put together a collection of non-electric games, books, puzzles, crafts so you are ready for the long haul with no electronic distractions.

8. If you have a well, get two 3-galllon water jug with a dispenser for every family member so that you will have enough drinking water for nearly a week. You will also want to fill your bathtubs to the brim with water which you can use for washing and for flushing toilets. Then you have a water source if the power fails.

9. Stay calm. This is unusual but it is not unheard of. People cope with this other places and you can too, you just need to stay calm. Really. It will be okay.

10. I mean it. Stay calm. You’re going to be fine. I promise.

(The above links are Amazon referral links and while your purchase price remains the same, I would receive a referral fee. If you don't want to use them, that's okay, we are still friends. If you use them, super thank you!)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Resolutions for 2016...

New Year's resolutions are funny things. We come to the new year, take a good at the clean slate, and we start to think about the ways in which we want to fill it. Most of us will make resolutions that all look remarkably similar. Many of us will promise ourselves that we will lose weight, get fit, get organized, build up our savings, and things along those lines. Not only are they similar on the surface, but deep down the motivations are also very much the same and the way that we talk about them is also the same. When we talk about how we want to lose weight it is sometimes for reasons of health, for instance I know someone who was faced with the decision between knee replacement or a significant weight loss, but this is the exception and not the rule. We want to lose weight because we are disappointed in who we are. We think we are unacceptable as we are and we want to be someone else. We want to lose weight, get fit, get organized, do all of these things so that we will be less of who we have been and more like the fantasy of the thin, beautiful, wealthy, together kind of person that we want to be. In the end, we resolve to be less like ourselves and more like someone else.

It is not that I think that resolutions are bad things or that the things that we resolve to do are bad for us but that I think we need to be careful what we resolve to do and why we resolve to do it. Resolutions are slippery things and if we are not careful, what we actually do is resolve to hate ourselves even more with every year. What if we firstly resolve not to make the same self-destructive resolutions that we design to tear ourselves down more and instead decide that we want is to be more of what is good about ourselves. What if we make this the first year of self-affirming resolutions?

What good does it do me to make a resolution like "lose thirty pounds" if what I am doing is reinforcing the idea that as I am, I do not measure up?

I think that you and I are worth more than that. We are good enough right now. There is lots of good in each of us and I think a clean slate is the time to not only see it and recognize but then try to grow that good. If we foster our strengths, it only makes sense that we will push out the less desirable parts of ourselves. We should be at least be as kind to ourselves as we are to complete strangers. So my 2016 resolutions are all about that. This year I am making self affirming resolutions.

Firstly, I am resolving to get in the shot more with my family. I take a lot of photos of my kids but never any with them. To be honest, I have a fear and dread of the camera. I was a child model and I carry a lot of unrealistic baggage from that. I was picked over and discussed before jobs as if I were not even there. By my teens, I was not tall enough to keep modeling and it was the best thing that could have happened. I cannot imagine how destructive it would have been to be a vulnerable and fragile teen with people tearing me down all the time. I still have unresolved hurts almost thirty years later and eleven kids later so that now I can literally count the number of times I have been photographed since my wedding. I can even count it on my fingers. So this is the year of having a least one photo of me a week. I think I can handle that.

By the way, that above is my new publicity photo which I took here at the farm. I am literally standing in the doorway of the woodshed as a winter storm was blowing in. I have Photoshop, I could have thinned out my face and smoothed my skin to a Barbie doll perfection, but I didn't. I made a conscious decision to leave it and to not only delete the photo, but put it out there. Not easy for me but sometimes the things that are for our own good are very, very difficult.

Secondly, it has been years since I made time for myself. I used to do Pilates and I loved it. I loved that I was more flexible and that I felt more coordinated and that it was something I could do by myself. Life is noisy. I need that quiet, alone time, and it is hard to come by. This is the year of making sure I do it no less than once a week. More is better but I need a minimum otherwise I am going to skip it and a few weeks later, the habit is gone and I won't get it back. I am worth more than that.

Third and lastly, I am in a photography group and I am promising myself to do every single weekly challenge, especially the ones that I hate starting out. The only way that I will grow is to jump in and do it. When there is a skill that I do not know, I am going to learn it. I spent two weeks thinking that I could never get a specific shot that I was looking for because the settings were escaping me. I walked away from it and came back to it a month later. Guess what? I had a workable shot the whole time but because I was comparing myself to some other photographers (some who are clearly geniuses), I could not even see what I had. No. It is not amazing like some of the other submitted shots but is a solid shot. Only by being willing to go halves will I ever be able to do the distance. Now I have some new skills that I learned and I will carry those with me as I go forward. That is the shot below, by the way.

In end, blogging is an incredibly personal thing. I sit here, telling you everything that is running through my head, even though I have no idea who all of you are. I am laying open some wounds that I am loathe to think about, let alone discuss, and it is because in the end I think it is right thing to do. I could offer some fuzzy, vague recommendations to be kind to yourself, to make affirming resolutions, and you might think about. This way, is showing you my own in this crazy personal way that happens when blogging, you will likely really think about it. Maybe you will even do it.+

Monday, December 21, 2015

The two faces of Janus...

So far this winter has been pretty warm and we have not had much snow. It feels strange to be able to see the tall grass out in the fields. This is December and there is usually at least five solid feet on the ground at this time. Right now, it is a little less than two.We had more than twenty inches overnight from Thursday into Friday morning but it has settled a bit like it does.

That Friday morning drive to the bus was awful. I have to go seven miles to meet the bus at the highway and it was clear at two miles that I needed to go back home. It was still snowing fiercely and since it was a half past seven in the morning, it was at least an hour until sunrise. It was pitch black and the snow was at the maximum depth that I could get the van through. I was legit afraid that I would get stuck out there in the five mile stretch of woods with no cell service but there was no where to turn around. So, I got to a neighbor who had cleared enough that I could turn and I went back home. We stayed home and worked on ornaments for an exchange that we are doing and wrapped gifts. That was that.

It is nice to have more than a thin layer of snow on the ground. This place is something like the mythological God, Janus. There are two distinct faces to this place. In the summer is it this shocking verdant place where you literally see the ferns grow overnight. In the winter, you need to carry a snow shovel, cat litter, a blanket, and snow gear just in case you become stuck somewhere or are trapped in your car. It was looking a little too dirty, a little too shopworn and I am glad to have the snow. I know, it is a little crazy, but I am still glad.

Jack was really proud of this shot. I just
straightened it and lightened it a bit for him.

Best news! Today I go get the oldest boy from the airport! He is coming home from college for Christmas! We are ready. We have extra coffee and a freezer full of meat and a happy cow out in the snow. Now all we need is Christmas and all that milk, cream, butter, cheese, and meat! We made spiced apple cider this fall and canned it so we have plenty for hot buttered cider and I am aching to make eggnog. I have all kinds of things planned and it always come down to food. Everything here comes down to food. I am working on the menu today and I thought I would share it with you tomorrow!

What's on your menu?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


To overwinter animals means to keep them overwinter. This is harder in some places than in others. It means making hard decisions about which ones are worth the heavy investment to keep.

Io, the black milk cow, will be kept all winter long. Zeus is a steer and is destined for the freezer. I would be lying if I said that it did not make us a little sad. He is gorgeous, he always has been, and now that the weather is cold his coat is thick and soft. He is just beautiful. Everybody loves to look at Zeus. Realities being what they are, we need to remember how much hay it takes to keep a steer fed from October through May.

For now Zeus and Io spend the nights in the pen in the barn and are out and about during the day. If the weather becomes too windy for them, or if we have warmer temps that result in freezing rain instead of snow, they go back in to the barn until the weather passes.They let us know when they've had enough. Instead of wondering around the pasture, or laying in the snow chewing their cud, they huddle up next to the door to the barn and pitifully moan until we suit up and go out.

The weather has been strangely warm, it is an El Nino year, so we've spent many days hovering within a degree or two of freezing for our day times highs. This means less snow and more ice. Lots of ice. We are expecting a major shift in the weather starting tonight when we dip down into more normal temps and more normal snowfalls. Two years ago, we had six feet on the ground by Christmas so this is strange. The twelve inches of snow we are expecting over the next few days is welcome. The mud and the ice and the general darkness that a lack of snow means is starting to wear on us.

What we have had no shortage of is wind off the lake. It is like the November gales have spilled over into December. We have seen harsh winds with stinging frozen rain that is just painful to walk out in and means that we need to keep our skin covered like we do when it is below zero. Very early this morning some coyotes chases a deer through our pasture and the leaping buck knocked down some step in posts for the electric fence. When light came, the boys had to go out and repair it in strong wind. I came along and provided moral support.

Speaking overwintering, we need to process the ducks in the barn. They are from a neighboring farm and were not selected to be overwintered by that family. We have had them for a while now and they have been pretty cozy in the barn but their time is coming. They are fun to watch, they always look like they are talking and yelling at each other. There is a fair bit of fighting between them. Zeus did not like them at first but is coping with their presence and their noise. As much as we've enjoyed them, their little drama is coming to close. Jack named them "Christmas Dinner Senior" and "Christmas Dinner Junior". I am pretty sure that you know what that means.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The bleak mid-winter...

Things have been less busy here in terms of farm work. The work has changed. No one is bucking bales, no one is mowing, no one is moving pasture fence, and we are all waiting for winter to really settle in. The cow and the steer are on hay and being supplemented with grain and the snow has not been much to speak of at all. The warmer winter has meant ice, a lot of ice, but that is supposed to be changing now and I can see it. Starting next week is supposed to be our steady slide into really cold temps, below zero readings, and significant snow. We grownups have been pretty spoiled by not having to move snow, but the kids have been waiting for real winter. It will also mean that the cows will be spending more time in the barn which more mucking it out and more snow to move but the kids will be sledding which softens the blow.

It makes me think of all those English Christmas songs which are less about snow and more about things being bleak. Winter here is usually not bleak. It can be terrifying but it is bright white and very clean looking with everything covered in a stark blanket of snow. But right now it is cold and cloudy and just, well, bleak. The good news is that it makes great light for photography. I will be trying to get out and take some shots and get some good practice in. I have a class that I have been thinking about taking.

Speaking of being artistic, Claudia has discovered that she likes lipstick. A lot. Like way a lot. I keep a tube of Bert's Bees Tinted Balm in my purse for when I feel like a need a little pick me up. It is not really lipstick, I guess, but as close as I have. Claudia loves it. I found her happily smearing about half a tube worth on her face. Yay. But I had to get her photo before I washed it off. Had. To.

Lastly, it is the Nativity Fast so we are fasting until Christmas. That means that all the glorious milk that Io gives us is going into massive amounts of cheese for the freezer. I need to make some more chevre style with herbs de provence but I have most been making mozzarella and ricotta. Speaking of mozz, I do not have a microwave and it is totally possible to make it without one. I am going to set up a tri-pod and make a video. My friend, Sarah, says there are way too many microwave mozz videos and not enough stove top ones. We gonna fix that.

Oh, one more thing. The childhood friend of a friend of mine opened the most amazing toy store in the whole world. It is called KC Bonkers and is right here, well, in town here. We decided that it is really important to us to spend our Christmas money locally. In a small, rural, isolated community it is pretty easy to get online and order whatever we want but it means that we are not supporting the fragile economy here. I thought I might tell you guys about what I am getting and from whom in my local area. For some of the things I can't be too specific because my kids can see my blog, but I will be chatting it up. I would love to see what you guys are getting and what is in your local community.
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