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Learning to love snow again. December 11, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Growing up as a child in Nashville, I loved snow. We only got snow a few times a winter, and when it snowed, everything simply stopped. No school, no work, no anything until the snow melted in a day or two and life resumed as usual. The idea of snow plows, snow shoveling, and the like was inconceivable. Everybody just stayed home.

These instant vacations, combined with the beauty and novelty of the snow, were like mini-heavens. My siblings and I would rush outside and play; we even had a little sled for the hill behind our house. (But we had to keep an eye on it, since if we left it unattended at the top of the hill, our cocker spaniel would hop on and sled to the bottom by himself.) We gathered bowls of the newly fallen snow to make “snow cream,” mixing in milk, vanilla and sugar for a luscious homemade “snow cone.” Good times!

My view of snow changed drastically when I moved North. Driving through snow, and even blizzards, to get to work is my definition of terror. My commute was 1/2 hour on good days; it could take a lifetime in bad weather, and of course, every mile seemed an eternity. Pulling into intersections with no visibility due to 9-foot mounds of ploughed snow; having to shovel my car out from a four-foot embankment of packed ploughed snow; having to catch planes for my job in hazardous snow and ice conditions: I grew to hate and dread snow.

But it wasn’t just a matter of continuously risking my life and giving myself adrenaline poisoning. Snow could, and often did, bring power outages: No light, no heat, no running water or flushing, and always (of course) in the freezing cold. I stopped seeing the beauty of snow and saw it only as a threat. Not even the sight of my ecstatic golden retriever, Molly, running around joyously making snow circles, could thaw me out: Being pulled over a few times while walking her in the snow simply underlined the threat. What if I broke my leg/neck/etc. and was left lying out there for hours before someone found me?

To this day, I remain a terrified snow driver and will do everything possible to avoid venturing out when it’s snowing or the roads aren’t cleared. But fortunately, as I realized during our first winter snowstorm two days ago, other things have changed. The biggest is that I now work from home, so I don’t have to venture out and brave bad weather. Instead, I can stand at the back deck door or by the front windows and watch the snow drift down, coating the branches and the ground in confectioner’s sugar, with the same appreciation and wonder I felt as a child.

And yes, a power outage could still kill our lights, heat, and plumbing. But our friend Ben and I have built up a stock of battery-operated lanterns, have installed an efficient woodburning stove as a backup (and always keep a cord of wood, dry and protected, on hand), have plenty of bottles of spring water for drinking, and recycled gallon jugs of tap water for flushing.

I always keep plenty of food staples on hand, for us and our pets and outdoor birds, and keep paper plates, bowls, and plastic utensils on hand just in case. (Fortunately, we have a gas stove, which we can light with matches if the power goes off, so food isn’t an issue.) Oh, and I have a pair of heavy-duty snow boots that will keep me upright even when taking out our rambunctious, gigantic black German shepherd, Shiloh.

Even if none of these precautions are needed—though, trust me, they often have been—they make me feel safer and better prepared. And that lets me relax and enjoy the snow rather than dreading it.

So this week, I really enjoyed our first snow. It was beautiful falling, and it’s still beautiful. I may not be rushing out to go sledding or make snow cream. But I’ve spent a lot of time looking out at our beloved winter birds at the feeders, and the snow-frosting on the branches, and thinking about how snow has transformed our yard into a magical wonderland, as the bright sun and blue sky provide the perfect lighting. This may be the best Christmas gift yet!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Resisting holiday temptation. December 9, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re nostalgic, like me, even for Christmas decor and traditions that pre-date you (be they the 1850s or 1950s), this is a very dangerous time of year. If you love beautiful arts and crafts, or warm, snuggly sleepwear and cozy slippers, or bright sparkly objects, this is a very dangerous time of year. If you love winter-blooming plants, or bargains on indoor-fruiting plants, this is a very dangerous time of year. And if you have a weakness for luscious cheeses and nuts and candies and candied fruit and all else Christmasy, this is a very dangerous time of year.

At Christmastime, I’m one of those “one for them, and one for me” shoppers. “Aunt Martha would love this beautiful handblown ornament. And look at that snowglobe! I LOOOOVE snowglobes!!!” So Aunt Martha gets checked off the list, and somehow another box finds its way into the shopping bag. Or I’m mail-ordering my favorite cheeses and fudges to my list, and it seems like such a small thing to order some for me and our friend Ben as well.

Over the years, I’ve realized just how quickly these seemingly small purchases can add up, and just when you’re racking up bills on presents for your extended family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I’ve also realized how little resistance I have against this particular kind of temptation. So I’ve come up with a self-protection policy to try to protect myself from sticker shock when the January credit card bill arrives:

* Stay away from stores. You can’t be seduced into buying something you’d never even have thought of if you don’t know it’s there. Do your Christmas shopping online, and go directly to the things you want to buy for your gift list. If you want to distribute gifts in person, have them mailed to you.

* Bring the voice of reason with you. I love attending local arts and crafts shows, especially over the holidays. But to keep myself in check, I go to them with OFB, who is sure to point out that I already have three snowglobes and a dozen beeswax candles and don’t need any more of them. (And he’s right.) I can still enjoy supporting local artists and craftsmen by buying presents for others. And I still get to see all the wonderful arts and crafts!

* Delete e-mail ads. My inbox fills up every day with holiday shopping solicitations, and most are from companies whose products I really like. Rather than opening them up and exposing myself to temptation, I delete them on sight. If I need to order something from one of them for someone on my list, I know where to find them. (Thanks, Google.)

Read catalogs like fantasy novels. Usually, I hate catalogs (except plant catalogs), but around the holidays, I love catalogs. We start getting all the special gift catalogs filled with wonderful decorations, nostalgic treats, and every kind of magical thing, not to mention all those irresistible food catalogs. I want everything. And I want to revel in the experience of looking at each thing and imagining that it was here in Hawk’s Haven. So at holiday time, I make catalogs my bedtime reading. Every night, I page through a catalog and enjoy it to the max. And then, the next morning, I put it away. Out of sight, out of mind. I get to enjoy the holiday catalog experience without the price tag attached.

Get out your decorations and look them over. If you love vintage and handmade ornaments and home decrations like I do, this season can be a minefield, especially if you enjoy going to old-time Christmas exhibits and specialty craft shows, or even antiques stores and shows. What harm could it do to buy a box, a bag, a bucketload of beautiful vintage ornaments, old-style handcarved ornaments, and the like? To keep this impulse in check, it helps to look at all the ornaments you already have—you know, the ones that have long since outgrown your tree. I find this really helps add some steel to my sagging willpower. And if I simply must try to find another ornament, you can find bags of them at Goodwill for $1 this time of year. Some of those bags contain a hidden treasure, and best of all, you can recycle the ones you don’t want right back to Goodwill.

These tactics have really cut down on my post-Christmas bills. And when it comes down to it, that’s the best Christmas present I could give myself.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The miracles of each moment. December 1, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’d been complaining to our friend Ben all day that we hadn’t seen the usual array of birds and other creatures that usually come to or live in our yard, making it colorful and fun. I kept going to the back door to check on them, but they just weren’t there. Where on earth had they all gone?

Then, a miracle happened. I saw our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, staring fixedly out the deck door, so I came over to see what had attracted her attention. And just then, two great blue herons rose up from our little creek, Hawk Run, and circled the yard before departing for parts unknown.

Great blue herons are called “great” for a reason: They can reach nearly 5 feet in height and length, with a wingspan that can reach 6 1/2 feet. I see great blue herons in flight, their long legs trailing behind them, maybe once or twice a year. And I occasionally see them in my neighbor’s yard, poaching a free meal from the fish and frogs in his water garden. But I’ve never, ever seen two at a time, and I’ve never seen one in our yard before.

OFB and I are privileged to own a beautiful piece of calligraphy by the master Kazuaki Tanahashi called “Miracles of Each Moment.” This was definitely one for me.

‘Til next time,

Silence