Shoveling It!

There is nothing quite so pretty as the sun glinting on new fallen snow. The landscape is whitewashed. The brown and dying leaves are covered over and hidden from view. There is even a crisp clean scent in the air that is impossible to reproduce at any other time of the year.

When you live in the north, it is important to prepare for less than ideal winter conditions. Because of the threat of ice underfoot and snow overhead, a walk from the house to an unattached garage or barn can be a major challenge. Over the years, we have adapted some tools and developed some strategies to help us stay safe. Here are some suggestions:

  • A good shovel is a good investment. Take the time to handle any shovel that you are going to purchase before you spend money on it. Test it out in the store to make sure that you are comfortable with how it feels and moves in your hands. Slide it along the floor. Lift your coat with it (to mimic the lifting of snow). Try before you buy. There are some great ergonomic shovels out there, but there are also some gimmicky tools as well.
  • Spray the edge of the shovel with a product like Pam cooking spray or dry silicone spray to make the snow slide off easier. Wet silicon lubricants, such as WD40, don’t work for this purpose because they have alcohol or other solvents in them that can actually melt snow, making it stick to the shovel.
  • New fallen snow is easier to shovel. Getting out into the snow before it gets too deep will give you a better result when clearing driveways or sidewalks. Yes, you may have to shovel a couple of times, but for good traction it is best to clear down to the surface. If the snow is removed before the first person steps on it, it clears much better.
  • Be ergonomic when shoveling. Start slowly. Use several different styles for moving the snow, rather that repetitive motions over the whole job. This will exercise different muscle groups. If the snow is wet and heavy, lift smaller loads with each shovelful.
  • If you aren’t able to get clear ground underfoot, install handholds. Adding handrails down the stairs and along the sidewalk can save you from a dangerous fall. Ski poles can be stored by the door and used to help you walk over icy and snowy ground.
  • If you are doing lots of outside chores, there are several styles of boot cleats that grip the icy ground very securely. They can be found in most sporting goods stores, usually in the ice fishing section.
  • Lastly, there are several different types of snow melting products to help with traction on your walks and driveways. Read the instructions carefully and follow instructions. Stay current with local ordinances for their usage in your location.

If the snow is light enough, you can use a leaf blower to remove it from the walks quite quickly and with little strain. Walking upright will also reduce the risk of falls. Always be sure to wear hearing protection when you use a leaf blower. Even if the sound is less noticeable on a snowy day, you can still damage your hearing.

Waking in the morning to a bright shiny day is one of the benefits of living in the snowy north. Staying safe while walking and shoveling will give you the chance to “slide” when you have your sled or toboggan in hand.

If you have any tips or stories about making it through the winter, I would love to hear about them.  Please leave a comment here, or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com

Stay Safe and Warm this Winter!

 

 

Late Snow

Early spring is the time for snow. However, it’s not just any snow. The snow in spring can be magical at times. It drapes itself onto the trees and other plants in ways that reveal new ways to look at the mundane. The trees and other plants take on a new appearance.

We recently had a spring snow and I took a few pictures of it. For example, here’s one of my favorite trees viewed in a new way.

A honey locust tree draped with snow.

Everywhere I looked, the snow had done amazing things to the landscape. Even our orchard looks magnificent with its coating of perfectly white snow. (This is a view of our apple orchard from the house.)

Maples and an apple orchard (background) draped with snow.

The woods can be exceptionally pretty. They take on a mystical appearance. Paths all but disappear, but are still visible when you look closely enough.

A group of trees in the woods draped with snow.

Of course, my favorite thing about springtime snows is that you get to enjoy all this beauty without any of the usual shoveling. The spring weather dictates that the snow melts sooner, than later. Anytime I get a beautiful scene from nature without any work on my part, I’m overjoyed. What is your favorite thing about springtime snows? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Emergency Repairs

A less thrilling part of being self-sufficient is dealing with emergency repairs. They seem to happen far too often. We use our snow blower to remove snow from our long driveway, as well as create paths to the various animal enclosures. It’s in this second capacity that I encountered problems the other day. The snow blower moved in an unexpected manner while working around the chicken coop and the side of the wheel hit the coop stairs. A small pop sounded, but I didn’t really notice. I did notice a few minutes later when the tire deflated and the snow blower was no longer usable .

Trying to blow the tire up with a hand pump didn’t work because the bead had popped. So, that meant putting the snow blower away and continuing snow removal by hand. Four hours later, I finally completed the task with Rebecca’s help. Nothing provides quite as much exercise as four hours worth of snow shoveling in freezing winds, but we also needed to get to town to fix the flat (as well as perform other tasks).

The snow blower is too large and heavy to get into the Explorer. So the obvious course of action was to get the wheel off and take it to our local repair shop. The only problem was getting the wheel off. The bolt holding the wheel in place is designed to provide a tight fit and proved quite resistant to any effort at removal. Blocking the tire would normally provide enough friction to allow removal of the bolt, but that technique didn’t work in this case because the wheel simply turned within the tire. I finally improvised by attaching a large deep reach c-clamp to the wheel, which blocked the wheel and made it possible to gain purchase on the bolt.

At this point, the bolt wouldn’t move at all and penetrating oil (WD-40) wasn’t helping much. I brought out my persuader—which is a length of pipe that I slip over the end of my socket wrench handle to increase the torque I can apply to the bolt. Actually, it isn’t a pipe in the conventional sense. I saved the torsion bar from our old garage door and have cut it into several pieces that I use for a number of tasks, including persuading bolts. Extending the handle of the socket wrench gives you a physical advantage and makes it easier to remove stubborn bolts, but you have to be careful not to break the sockets as a result of using the pipe.

Bolt removed, the wheel still wouldn’t come off. The snow blower shaft is keyed and the wheel fits quite tightly. Unfortunately, working with the front of the wheel wouldn’t accomplish anything because the wheel goes on in that direction. The back of the wheel isn’t easily accessed because the snow blower transmission is in the way. In order to gain access to the back of the wheel, I angled a 2 × 2 over the top of the engine and hit it with a mallet. After a few pounds with the mallet on the end of the 2 × 2, I turned the wheel 90 degrees. Each 360 degrees of movement saw me applying a little more WD-40 to the front and back of the wheel shaft. Eventually, the wheel came off.

Getting the wheel fixed was quick and easy. The local repair shop has a compressor and the tire blew back up without problem after applying a sealant to the bead. The tire is back on the snow blower now and the snow blower is ready for use after today’s snowstorm. The point is that you have to think ahead about the potential for emergency repairs and have a strategy in place for dealing with them. Yes, the approach we used was a bit inconvenient and time consuming, but it did work.

What sorts of emergency repairs do you think about when thinking about self-sufficiency? Do you have contingency plans in place to handle your emergencies? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Winter Storm

It pays to be prepared for winter weather when you live in the country. This week we had a winter storm that was simultaneously beautiful in the extreme and quite deadly if approached incorrectly. The storm itself started with some heavy snows that draped the trees in a pretty covering that glistened even in the subdued light.

Storm01

Watching the storm take shape was amazing, but I was also smart enough to know to limit my time outside. We carefully monitor wind chill so that we don’t end up frostbitten. For example, at a temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit and with a 20 mph wind, you can only stay outdoors safely for about 30 minutes before the possibility of frostbite intrudes. Dressing warm helps quite a lot, but getting the end of your nose frozen is no fun.

The storm was severe enough to keep the roads clear. We saw a single car early in the morning before the storm reached it peak and then the road remained clear. Of course, it helped that most businesses and all schools were closed for the day. There is something to be said for the silent isolation of a storm. You look out the window and the road is missing from view (as is the case in this picture—yes there is a road there under the snow). You’re transported to a different time and can daydream of times past when life seemed simpler (and often wasn’t).

Storm02

The serene landscape is so quiet, so hushed, you could easily get lost in it for hours at a time. Even so, there is activity if you look for it. Our local birds were quite busy at the feeder and seemed to hardly notice the snow at all. We love to watch them during the winter months as a reminder of the life that will return in the spring.

Storm03

Another storm is past and soon life will return to normal. Today I’m exhausted from working in the cold to plow the road out so we can go to town tomorrow. Tonight I’ll sleep the most wonderful sleep there is and dream of the winter wonderland beyond my window. Our animals are all happy in their enclosures so carefully constructed to keep them safe and happy, the wood stove continues to heat our home, and our pets are inside as a source of comfort. Nothing is quite so cozy. What are your happiest thoughts of winter? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Preparing for the Storm

So far, our winter in this part of Wisconsin has been absurdly mild. In fact, we don’t have any snow on the ground. The temperatures have been up to 20 degrees above normal for most of the winter as well. All of these conditions might sound perfect to some people, but they had me worried. The lack of snow means less moisture in the spring when we really need it to get annual plants going. The lack of a deep freeze could affect some of our perennial plants as well because they depend on the deep freeze. Consequently, despite the hardships that a storm will cause, I’m actually looking forward to the storm that will arrive on our doorstep tomorrow. The weather service is currently predicting temperatures in the teens (cool, but not quite cold yet), 7 to 9 inches of snow, and relatively high winds (which make for some dandy snow drifts). Of course, we won’t actually know what the weather will be until we see it.

The storm warnings are important, even if the weather service has missed the mark by a mile (they often do). Rebecca and I need to prepare for the storm because we could be snowed in for several days. Things have improved since we moved in here—we do get plowed out a bit earlier than in the past, but even so, we don’t take any chances. I have a checklist of things I do to prepare for a winter storm.

 

  • Test the snow blower
  • Test the generator
  • Check wood levels
  • Check gasoline levels
  • Check propane levels
  • Ensure we have enough salt and sand
  • Check perishables in the refrigerator
  • Check on pet food levels
  • Verify that we have fodder for the outside animals
  • Strap everything down


Our generator can run for about eight hours on a single tank of gas and we normally stock enough gas to fill it twice. We won’t run it continuously even if the power fails to ensure we have enough to maintain the refrigerator and freezer, and to pump water (we have our own well, so having electricity to run the pump is important). Of course, the septic system also requires electricity to run its pumps. I do run the electricity while working because naturally, computers require power.

Fortunately, we don’t need electricity for quite a few other requirements. For example, because we use wood heat and don’t rely on a blower to distribute it, heating our home doesn’t require electricity. We also got rid of our electric stove, so we can cook food on our gas range without any electricity.

What does all this mean for you? Everyone should have a plan in place for storms, both summer and winter. You should create a checklist of items that you need to check before a storm hits. Take time to create one nowat a time when you have the time to think things through carefully. Maintain your list so that it remains pertinent to your requirements and to improve it so that there are fewer holes in your storm coverage. Consider issues for your particular situation. For example, I don’t need to store large quantities of water because I have my own personal well and my generator can supply power to it as needed. However, if you don’t have a well, then you need to consider storing water for use during a storm that knocks out the water supply. Because I live in a rural area and always need a good medical kit, I don’t have to check it as a separate itemthis is something we’re constantly checking anyway. If you live in the city and rely on the availability of local health care, you very likely need to check your medical kit to ensure that nothing is outdated or missing.

Creating a checklist of this sort is an essential part of being self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency during and after a major storm is one of the few forms of self-sufficient living that everyone can and should participate in. What sorts of things do you consider for your storm needs? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

First Snow

FirstSnow

Awoke to white,
what a delight,
the first snow holds us enthralled!

The season’s promise,
is there upon us,
as we prepare for a long winter’s nap.

First comes the fire,
an evening’s desire,
in a woodstove stoked with aromatic wood.

Then comes the cheering,
celebrations endearing,
as friends surround us with glee.

Amidst the swirling,
of flakes now whirling,
I see the ecstasies of days to come.

Copyright 2011, John Paul Mueller

 

More Spring Weather

Our weatherman predicted rain with a slight chance of snow this Saturday, with an emphasis on slight. So it was without any hesitation whatsoever that I planned to be snowed in the next day. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as all that. I think we ended up with about an inch or two that quickly melted as shown here:

Snow02

However, I do start to get worried about foul weather this time of year. Of course, there are my flowers to consider, but usually they hold up well. Even though my spring flowers look a bit crunched here, they sprang back up later:

FlowersinSnow

More important are the fruit trees. Fortunately, none of them were blossoming yet this weekend. In years past, I’ve had the blossoms get damaged by late spring frostsreducing my harvest later. Of course, the same thing can happen when snow or other weather elements keeps the pollinators inside and not out pollinating my trees. I hope that we don’t get more weather of this sort now that my trees are in the bud swell stage. All this led me to think of a haiku:

Crystal form that shows
Winter has not flown away
Spring is on the way!

 

Weather Forecaster’s April Fool’s Joke

Normally I won’t post twice in one day unless something really exciting happens. However, I just couldn’t let this event go by without comment. The radio announcers were all laughing heartily this morning about the supposed near miss of snow in the Madison area as they talked with the weather forecaster. Little did they know that the promise of rain, rather than snow, was just a huge April fool’s joke on everyone. Naturally, everyone learned about the joke not long after. Here’s the view outside my window:

Snow

Yep, that looks like rain all right . Those really big lumpy bits of something isn’t dust on the camera lens either; it’s really big snow flakes. I’m sure the snow won’t stick around all that long this time of year and you’ll notice that it’s barely sticking to the pavement (so I won’t have to shovel), still, we made sure to call the radio station and let them know, “’tain’t funny McGee!”

As one woman at the local coffee shop stated, “It’s Wisconsin, what do you expect?” I guess that sums things up nicely. Whether you’re knee deep in snow or enjoying spring flowers, have a great day .