Monthly Archives: December 2013

An old-fashioned Minnesota winter?

I heard someone on the radio refer to our current cold stretch as “an old-fashioned Minnesota winter”. I know this is not the case. Anyone who has parents or grandparents who grew up in the upper Midwest between 1920 and 1970 knows this is a comparatively mild winter. Those brave souls walked to and from school, eleventeen miles uphill for both trips, in hurricane force blizzards, with wind chills approaching absolute zero, guided only by the northern lights and birds frozen in mid-air. Their house keys welded to door locks from static electricity discharge and snow drifts would approach the size of mountains. Cars and people functioned with a 50/50 mixture of alcohol and water; well, many people skipped the water part. People trying to converse outside would gather their clouds of breath and thaw them by the fire so the sound would melt out. Ah, the good old days. This current cold spell ain’t nuthin’, we can get through it. It always seems like someone has lived through much tougher times and is eager to let everyone know how good it is now in comparison.

All kidding aside, there were some legendary blizzards and cold snaps during those decades. Wild temperature swings like the one the Twin Cities metro area experienced last Friday into Saturday occasionally happened. We set a record high of 47°F Friday afternoon and less than twelve hours later we were at -3°F. The Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 was one deadly example. Some of the southern Minnesota blizzards in the 1960s buried cars in driveways and left snowdrifts up to the bottoms of barn roofs. Houses were snowbound up to the second story windows. County and township roads were impassable for days. Power lines and poles snapped in the ice and wind resulting in power outages lasting over a week. Living in an area where the weather goes from delightful to dangerous in under four hours taught us to pay attention to the twice-per-day weather forecasts and learn to read clouds and wind direction for hints. All the fall canning efforts paid off when snowbound several months later. Flannel bedding, stockpiles of wood or fuel for the stove, and board games helped with getting through the coldest days.

Bitterly cold temperatures created unique problems when living on a farm with livestock. Outdoor water tanks would have a foot thick ice covering in the morning, so the livestock would stay in the barn until the temperature would rise to positive digits during the day. We knew it was cold outside when we walked into a cattle barn and saw hoarfrost on the cobwebs. The cattle stayed warm and enjoyed their catered meals and running water. Silage does not have much moisture in it, but there would be times the silo unloader could not grind through the concrete-like crust. This necessitated a climb into the silo with a sledgehammer and silage fork to break the crust up and toss it aside. The world looked so different when peering though an opening while thirty or more feet above the ground. The cattle were much happier when the weather warmed and they could go back outside. So were the humans. The outdoor tanks would still freeze over and needed some tender loving care with a splitting maul. I was so happy when we installed electric tank heaters, even if Dad was the one who mostly took on that task. I never recalled a cow getting its tongue stuck to a metal surface during a cold snap, yet people seemed to accomplish this occasionally in real life. So why do we use “stupid cow” as a derisive term?

Is this an “old-fashioned Minnesota winter”? It is too early to tell. Areas in northern Minnesota have experienced a double-whammy of bitter cold and heavy snowfalls already. In the metro area, there have been some disconcerting power outages in areas other than mine, but those seemed to be quickly resolved. Most furnaces are wired directly into a breaker box and have electronic igniters and electric blower fans. No electricity means no heat, and there is no way to hook up a portable generator to a furnace unless a generator panel is installed. Houses with gas ranges have an advantage, albeit a dangerous one with carbon monoxide build up. Frozen pipes are a likelihood if the power is out for more than a couple of days, so a faucet has to be turned slightly on to keep the water moving. Snow removal in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Edina is dismal as usual, with narrowed washboard streets abounding. The Vikings will not win the Super Bowl this year keeping a 54 season streak intact. Perhaps this is more of a typical Minnesota winter rather than an old-fashioned Minnesota winter.

Many of you are enjoying record warmth, especially in Australia where this summer appears to be another scorcher. Others are experiencing a mild winter. Whether you are basking in sunshine or freezing under several layers of winter outerwear, take the time to give your loved ones a meaningful hug and let them know you care. Just don’t regale them with stories of winters gone by. Eye rolls and head shakes don’t generate that much warmth, though they may appreciate the hot air.

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“O tidings of comfort and joy”

Losing a loved one near Christmas is especially tough. I occasionally reference “The Minnesota Farm Woman” blog because the author is Lucy’s cousin and because Chris is a very talented and humorous writer. I sadly report that Chris’s mother, Jean, passed away today and is reunited with her beloved husband, Gil. Please keep Chris and Dave; Amanda, Brendon, and Max; and Liz and Chuck in your thoughts and prayers as they start this new chapter in their lives. They are a very strong and loving family, and I know they will appreciate your compassion.

The first holiday season after losing a loved one is the toughest. I am entering my second Christmas without Lucy. Last year was much more difficult. Having the love and support of friends and family helped me through last year’s season. It is not the same without Lucy, and I still miss her, but I am noticing the memories of our Christmas traditions, trips, songs, movies, and silliness are nostalgic rather than bittersweet. Those memories are as comforting as a warm blanket fresh from the clothes dryer. It helps get me through the frigid gloominess of winter.

We mourn the passing of those we love and it takes time to process the loss and begin healing. We should also celebrate that person and remember how she or he enriched our lives, inspired us, and made us better by loving us. That loved one is part of us and lives on within us. Those wonderful memories are a source of joy to those of us remaining in this life.

I know some of you are unable to be with family because of job commitments and because of Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday. If you know of someone in that situation, try to call or visit them. You will find it brightening your day, too.

Give your loved ones an extra hug tonight and let them know how much you care. Be a source of comfort and joy for them as well as a source of strength and compassion. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and may this season be a source of love and happiness to you and your families!

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Charge it!

The recent cold snap has put a steady drain people, places, and things. People expended energy staying warm and removing snow. Snow removal budgets took a moderate hit with the ice and snow events last week. Vehicles bore the brunt of collisions and dead batteries. Dead batteries and car repairs added to the season’s financial drain. The longer nights make many people sluggish.

Cold weather also seems to put a charge in combs and doorknobs. Removing a sweater in a dark room results in a brief fireworks show. Sliding headlong into a solid object creates another fireworks display. Shaking hands can almost knock both people across the room. I remember one time I kissed Lucy without touching a metal object first. Her yelp of pain ensured I dissipated the static charge before touching her after that.

Car batteries come in a multitude of sizes and capacities. Cold weather reduces the effective capacity of a battery along with thickening up lubricants. I am trying to replace the battery in my car and am having difficulty finding a replacement, which no doubt adds to replacement cost. Even though the car is only five years old with very low mileage, it has a puny factory battery with a three-year lifetime. Another round of sub-zero weather may head my way for the holidays and I’d rather not hook up jumper cables in “can’t feel my face after ten seconds” weather.

Like a car battery, people also need recharging. Many of us build our lives on a “three-legged stool” of career, finances, and family (which can mean close friends in the case of a single person). If any one of these three areas is missing or out of balance, we experience heightened stress. Stress is physically and mentally draining. Careers are fickle especially in an impaired economy and are usually well outside our control. Finances are easier to manage but are subject to unforeseen events. Some families are dysfunctional or are emotionally distant. In a balanced life, we can recharge from each of the three areas although not at equal percentages. Some people have more stability in their careers and will draw most of their recharge from that. Others are financial wizards that can squeeze the optimal value from a dollar. Most of us have strong and supportive families.

How to recharge may change with age. For example, I was more career driven in my early 20’s, finance driven in my late 20’s, and family driven starting in my 30’s after I married Lucy. The important thing is figuring out how and when to recharge.

The holiday season is usually filled with hustle and bustle. Holidays affect work deadlines with increased workloads, decreased numbers of people in the office, or both. Work can also affect family gatherings if someone cannot get time off to make a trip. Shopping affects finances and free time. Planning family gatherings and outings sometimes seems like herding amphetamine abusing cats.  We try to make the most of our situations and get the maximum amount of happiness we can get.

Take time to recharge and enjoy some time with people who care about you. It will help to recharge you. Don’t use a credit card if it is whimpering, skulking, or smoldering from the last shopping excursion. Remember your priorities and from where you draw your strength. Give your special someone a meaningful hug, but please touch a metal object first!

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“You can fool all of the people some of the time…”

Relax, this isn’t a political rant, even though I am borrowing a line from Abraham Lincoln. It isn’t a complaint about Comcast’s lack of a Service Level Agreement for household Internet users since that was my last posting. It does sum up the frustration in the Twin Cities area about the rapidly changing weather forecasts for the next several days. Local urgent care centers are seeing an increase in whiplash injuries from people doing double-takes at the uncertainty of the snow line.

Between 5:00 am and 5:00 pm today (December 3), the forecast for my area went from less than an inch of snow to somewhere around five inches. There is now a Winter Storm Warning in effect because the snow line has moved about 100 miles farther south than originally estimated. Winter weather is more complex than summer weather when it comes to estimating precipitation amounts. In the summer, the primary precipitation is rain, with hail distantly (and thankfully) in second place. A 1°F temperature shift in the summer rarely affects precipitation quantity or type. In winter, that 1°F swing means the difference between plain old rain, freezing rain, or heavy and wet snow. Barometric pressure also subtly affects the freezing point of water.

Coping with impending lousy weather is stressful. Some people rely on television shows to help relax, but the broadcast networks are all in reruns already. Others hope to get out-of-town and head to a warm beach. Frozen precipitation causes delay problems and cancellations. Judging by the number of recipe and food picture postings on Facebook, others are coping by calorie loading. The old saying “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first” certainly applies.

I have not heard from my usual partners-in-crime what the “over/under” is for the difference between actual snowfall and forecast snowfall. My football forecast went into the tank when the Vikings won on Sunday, and I do no better than the weather wonks on the local TV stations at predicting the weather. My guess is there will be more freezing rain than snow and tomorrow’s commute will be miserable, at least for my end of the metro area. I hope those of you who must commute tomorrow depart from and arrive at home safely.

Our snowfall ending is also the end of average temperatures for at least a week. We could have four days of below zero lows (-18°C) Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights. By next Wednesday, the high temperature may stay below zero for the day. Homemade chili sounds like a good way to battle the cold weather. A little habañero sauce rather than chili powder and substituting ground turkey for ground beef should help with the calorie count. I know it will help with sweating off the calories. So will using the snow blower and shovel.

My Internet service is stable again. The new cable modem was defective. That still does not explain why I was having service problems for three days before the new cable modem arrived. It certainly appears a software update sent by Comcast caused the issue.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug, stay warm, and stay safe. Faithful readers are hard to come by!

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