Monday, January 28, 2019

April in January

We are having the weirdest winter so far. It's been so mild that there are times it seems like April in January.

This is our pasture on January 14, for example:

The road in:

Lots of chattering water:

Across the canyon, an ephemeral creek roared as it rushed downhill:

The view across the canyon.

The cows take every opportunity to soak up the sunshine. It hasn't been unusual for temps to hover in the low 40s during the day.

I mean honestly, it's behaving just like April.

The chickadees and nuthatches are everywhere, so we even have birdsong.

Sometimes the temp drops below freezing. Here's some roadside puddles with an interesting ice formation.

And sometimes we'll get hoarfrost that only melts off on the sunny side during the course of a day.

Hoarfrost is fascinating stuff.

But I tell ya, does this look like January?

Now granted, we've gotten some snow. Just not a lot, and it doesn't last.

Chicken tracks. Looks like the writing from Dinotopia, doesn't it?

At last Friday's neighborhood potluck, I overheard several women express longing to start working in their garden. In January!

The extended forecast calls for a little rain and possibly some snow later in the week, but nothing dramatic.

All this can change, of course. I recall times we've had an entire winter's worth of weather in a week. But for now, the unusual winter continues.

I guess we have no complaints.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Frugal living tips

Daisy Luther over at the Organic Prepper website had a great post recently called "30 frugal-living tips: Small changes that result in big savings."

Daisy's frugality advice echoes some of the suggestions I have in my ebooks "Plugging the Leaks" and "20 ways to cut your food bill."

What other good frugality tips can people offer?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Another one bites the dust

Remember the old song by Queen, "Another one bites the dust"...?

Well, that's what we're experiencing with vehicles. They keep biting the dust.

Younger Daughter's Hundai Santa Fe died in late December. We donated it to the Union Gospel Mission Motors in Spokane Valley. We're huge fans of the Union Gospel Mission (read this to understand why), and try to support them whenever possible.

Anyway, that meant we were down to one vehicle, our Dodge Durango. It's been giving us some trouble, but after pouring $1200 into it in early January, we were confident it would last a while.

It lasted until Tuesday.

On that day, I was driving back from Coeur d'Alene after a day of errands. About halfway home, I suddenly heard BANG clunk clunk clunk clunk clunk etc. This happened on a bridge, so I slowed down, limped off the bridge, and parked on the side of the highway.

An hour later, the tow truck driver arrived and loaded the sad heap of the Durango onto his flatbed. He peered underneath the vehicle. "The transfer case cracked in half," he remarked. "I'll bet that made a helluva loud noise." Yep, it did.

With the Durango on the flatbed, the driver headed down the highway toward home.

Here Don watches as the vehicle is offloaded. Now it, too, has a date with the Union Gospel Mission in the near future.

But meanwhile we were car-less. So this morning we borrowed a neighbor's vehicle and took ourselves into Spokane to go car-shopping.

We had perused the car lot's inventory the night before and narrowed the selection down to two possibilities: a 2004 Jeep Liberty (with 130K miles) and a 2005 GMC Yukon (with 175K miles). After looking over both vehicles carefully, examining their service records and CarFax histories, and test-driving both, we decided the Yukon was just too big (not to mention $1300 more expensive), so we purchased the Jeep Liberty.

While doing the paperwork for the purchase with the salesman, we noticed another salesman whose desk was behind us had an open Bible (Isaiah) on his desk. What a nice sight. It's the kind of place the Union Gospel Mission is.

This vehicle was comically described as "Deep molten red," though I'd say it's more of a plum color. Don drove it home while I drove our neighbor's borrowed vehicle, and he is quite pleased with our purchase.

So there you go. With a little luck (and maintenance), our tidy plum Jeep will last many years and won't be "biting the dust" anytime soon.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rural winter tools

We've had a fairly mild winter here in North Idaho. When it snows, it's just a couple of inches and it melts quickly, so most of the time we have bare ground.

But occasionally conditions can get treacherous. In mid-December, for example, we had wet ground which froze overnight into an ice rink. When I came down in the morning, Don had left a note on my computer:

And boy was he right. It was a sheet of ice outside.

No amount of doing the Tim Conway "Old Man" shuffle worked. It was wildly dangerous to do chores.

Ah, but this year we have a secret weapon: strap-on ice traction cleats. This particular brand is called Stabil Icers, but there are many brands on the market.

We've tried cleats before. A few year ago, I purchased a relatively inexpensive pair, strapped them on, and tried walking to our mailbox and back (a three-mile round trip). Within half a mile, the cleat straps broke. So much for that pair.

This time we purchased high-quality versions. Apparently the individual cleats are replaceable if they ever wear out.

When the ice sheet formed that day in mid-December, Don strapped the cleats on my boots and I went out to do chores.

The contrast was stunning. I could walk with perfect confidence on the slipperiest surfaces. Yowza, good investment!

But poor Mr. Darcy went sliding under these conditions until we got him into the pasture, where he could run.

Shortly after this adventure, we had a light snowfall over the ice, which made things even more treacherous (nothing like invisible ice!). But the cleats worked perfectly.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was raining, as the weather report predicted. What I didn't know was it had rained overnight, then frozen, then rained again. I mean, look at this. It looks just like bare wet ground, doesn't it?

In fact, it was water over a sheet of ice. I found this out when I put on my snow boots and went out to do barn chores. My feet flew out from under me and I slammed to the ground, cracking the back of my skull against the ice so hard I saw stars. I remember rolling over and scrabbling around on my hands and knees, muttering "Where are my glasses? Where are my glasses?" with irrational panic. (Any near-sighted person will understand the conundrum of being unable to see far enough to see where one's glasses are.) It took a few moments to realize the impact had shoved my glasses up on top my head.

I crawled back into the house, stunned from the blow and feeling aches in my spine and neck. A painful knot developed where my skull hit. After recuperating for a few minutes, I strapped the cleats onto my boots and went to do barn chores. What a blessed relief to be able to walk safely.

Here's ice sheathing the car window.

Don and I haven't taken the cleats off our boots yet. Yesterday mid-morning, when conditions were at their trickiest (still icy, still raining, so the ice was hidden), UPS drove up to deliver a package. I snatched up my boots and went out on the porch, calling to the driver, "Watch out! It's slippery!" as I hopped into my boots. Evidently the driver knew that already, because he emerged from the truck doing the Tim Conway Old Man shuffle. I dashed over to the truck to keep the driver from walking any further than he had to. He said the road was insanely slippery coming in, and shuffled his way back to his truck.

So yesterday afternoon I decided to walk to the mailboxes, cleats and all. It was a good thing I was wearing them, that's all I can say. Three miles is a tiresome length of time to walk in boots with cleats, but the cleats didn't break and become useless as my first (cheap) pair did that time several years ago.

Yep, these cleats are an excellent rural winter tool -- highly recommended for anyone facing icy conditions.

Monday, January 14, 2019

And people will buy it...

Chalk this up under the category of "And people will buy it..."

Reader Ken drew my attention to a post on the Knuckledraggin blog profiling a photo of three small birch logs decoratively tied up with string and selling for ... drum roll, please ... $19.95. Oh, and these logs were photographed at a Crate and Barrel store.

I didn't want to reproduce the photo without permission, so I went to the Crate and Barrel website and sure enough, it's selling three "slender" birch logs for $19.95.

The item description reads: "Trio of slender birch logs lends a rustic, woodsy touch to the hearth or porch. Natural jute cord keeps logs tidy and loops to form a carrying handle."

Reader Ken wrote: "I did a quick calculation, on a scrap of paper since I don’t have a calculator, which this time of the morning may be slightly in error, using the price as marked for this what I estimate to be 3 pieces of 2”X 12” birch and it comes out to about $25,536.00 per cord. Delivery is probably extra. Now this is a market I would try to find if I had a logging operation."

$25,536.00 per cord ... !!!

Oh, and in case anyone's interested, Crate and Barrel is also selling additional items.

Set of three "tall birch branches" for $29.95. Item description: "The warm white color and papery bark of natural birch branches adds a rustic, outdoorsy look to wintertime d├ęcor, blending equally well with classic and contemporary interiors. Bunch of three branches, gathered in the U.S., comes wrapped in jute and can be used for years to come."

Set of three "short birch branches" with a "clearance price" of $12.97 (item description is the same as for Tall Birch Branches).

You can also purchase moss-covered birch branches ("Kissed with moss, our natural birch branches bring a bit of the forest to a large vase or botanical arrangement") for a clearance price of $9.97.

And people will buy it. To be fair, Crate and Barrel presumably wouldn't carry these products if no one was buying them (hence the "clearance prices"). It just astounds me that anyone has that kind of money to waste.