Thursday, January 31, 2019

the very slow warm up

It's a long slog up from a bitter cold start to the day. But no one is complaining: the Arctic front did not come to a grinding halt right over our little state of Wisconsin. Today it began to move on up and away. Even though we will not rise above 0F (-18C), not until tomorrow, we are slowly recovering. Coming to our senses. Shedding the layers to just a half dozen when we go outside.

(This morning, on my walk to the barn, still at -25f/-32C.)

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(All five come down for the corn treat! Can you see them?)

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I actually had to walk back and forth several times: I forgot this, I ran out of that... Feeding animals in this weather can be a complicated business.

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(Stop Sign comes around reminding me that leaving food in a bowl is not good enough: I must go back and defrost it for her kitties. Everything freezes instantly!)

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Breakfast. Of the warm kind, inside.

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Our cars are still useless and so Snowdrop is shuttled over to us by her dad. Schools are closed, for the fourth day in a row. Can you imagine the toll on working parents?

At the farmhouse, Snowdrop has plunged into pretend play. Every day. She doesn't hesitate. Doesn't pause to ask for her favorite cookie. She shakes off her outside clothes and runs to begin today's adventures with Tinkerbell, Brambley Hedge Mice, Muppet Christmas Carol and of course Gogs and the babies. And Ed, if he is not asleep or otherwise lost to planet earth for the afternoon.

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(There is always a chapter that unfolds over food. Play food. But she takes it very seriously: who gets what, why and in what shape or form is immensely important.)

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But here's a given: all Snowdrop tales have elements of joy...

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When the little girl leaves, I suggest to Ed that we try to put life into the cars. I mean, we both need them tomorrow morning and it's not going to be any warmer then.

It's a challenge. Ed thinks I had over cranked mine. I think the battery is getting old. We both think that it's awfully cold outside.

Dusk comes and goes, we're still trying to work the cables between two cars. And just as we're about to give up, mine sparks into a full lovely roar.

I now have to drive it for at least a half hour. The roads are icy. I'm not ambitious: I do a loop just to the east of us. Several times. Early night: anyone will tell you that this is the hour when deer come out in search of food. On my circuit, I see no shortage of these graceful beasts.

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In the farmhouse, I get ready to fuss with dinner. But I remind Ed that we really have to think creatively on how to deal with the mouse problem. We have three cats lurking nearby, owls and hawks hungry as anything and still, there are the mice. Specifically, there is one ambitious little devil who has been terrorizing just one corner of the kitchen for weeks now. We've set traps, but the mouse is no fool: it can go in, grab the food and be out again before the door slams shut. Yesterday was the last straw: the mouse had made its way into the sink and down to where the garbage disposal leaves tempting crud for it to eat. I didn't know the mouse was there until I went to clean the pots and pans after dinner. I suppose I nearly water-boarded the poor thing by turning on the faucet full blast. It came scrambling up and out through the drain, up the sink walls, across the counter and past the stove, back to its hiding spot, probably somewhere in the basement.

So tonight we get serious. We take out our most robust trap and load it: peanut butter, almond butter, cheese with jam. I mean, is there anything more tempting to a mouse?

And within and hour, it is trapped.

I ask -- do you want to drive it out to the Conservancy?
Not really. Do you?
Maybe we should both go?
Well that's just double misery...
So tomorrow?

Tomorrow. Because life returns to normal tomorrow. Schools reopen, cars start, life spins back to the way it was before the cold air hit us with such force.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

the super big chill

If yesterday was cold, today is coldest. Perhaps not a record setter -- we are going to be two degrees shy of the lowest high ever (did I get your mind spinning on that one?), but surely in our time here in the Upper Midwest, this day is on the tip of the extreme. The NYTimes, noting Madison's temps this week, calls it the coldest in a generation. I'll vouch for that.

So many negative numbers! -25F (-32C) overnight. Only up to -12F (-25C) today. Down to -31F (-35C) tomorrow morning. And the wind chills! We are told to subtract another 20 to 30 degrees from what we have out there.

So cold, that the US Postal Service cancelled delivery for two days.

So cold that if you are dotty enough to go outside and play games, you'll see miracles happen. [This idea from a former colleague of mine: boil a full cup of water, go outside and throw it in the air! It will turn from liquid to gas before your eyes. Not a drop will fall to the ground!]

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You'll ask -- go outside and play? Seriously?

The fact is that extremes stoke our curiosity: what will it be like...

Or maybe it's that we're rather joyous, having survived the first cold night (the power went off for a bit and that was a tad disconcerting, but then the electric clock went back to flashing its reassuring colorful numbers and we knew that we would pull through without much more than the occasional creak of protest from the old house). And more importantly, we found the animals to be okay too. Huddled around their heat sources, but doing fine!

(A rare photo of all three cats in one frame: Dance and Jacket are so skittish that once they see you, they do their disappearing act. Pffft! Gone.)

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(The cheepers come down to check out the offerings, then go right back upstairs, where the heater is pushing some modestly warm air their way. All five, alive and accounted for!)

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So, here we are, on a bright sunny day, feeling relieved.

(This is what -25F looks like!)

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Not everything is functioning as it should, of course. None of our cars will start. Not today, not tomorrow. Ed was dismayed that I should even try to crank mine.

Breakfast conversation:
So how much did you crank it?
A couple of times. Maybe more like five times.
That's too bad. Let's hope you didn't completely drain the battery.

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You need to know principles of mechanics to pull through extremes.

In the afternoon, the parents drop off Snowdrop.

Immediately she wants to go back to watercolor paints. Artist unleashed! Today, she goes beyond random application: she experiments with form, shape, color.

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As she paints, we talk.
Look Gogs, this is an orange tree.
My mindless response -- orange you glad it's not a banana?
Oh, it's from a joke. Here, let me tell you how it goes. I say knock knock, and ahah says -- who's there, go ahead ahah..
Who's there?
Banana who?
Banana banana...
I am interrupted -- oh, Gogs, that's just a knock knock joke.
You know about knock knock jokes?
Of course!
From where?
We tell them at the lunch table.

She returns to her art and I think -- when did she stop being a three year old??

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We talk about the cold outside and this triggers a recollection for her: isn't this weather perfect for hot chocolate?

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Happy girl...

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But in many ways, this newly grownup girl is the same Snowdrop I had here many months ago.
She turns to Ed, who is busy fixing a problem on his computer. Want to get married?
For her, marriage is all about the ceremony.
I laugh at the sidelines and sing a song that Ed and I heard again and again in Sorede. I've teased him endlessly with it -- 
It's a beautiful night, we're looking for something dumb to do
Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you!

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Snowdrop throws a party after. She and I sit back on the orange couch "munching" our pretend macarons. She whispers to me -- we married a really nice guy, Gaga!
I laugh at the sweetness of her perspective.

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In the late afternoon, when the temps are at their miserable highest (-12F/-25C), Ed tells us he's heading out to check on the cheepers and kitties for the day.
Can I come?
Snowdrop, it's too cold.
Oh pleeeeeease! I just love doing this! I'm not cold!
You're not cold because it's warm in the house.
Well, okay, but just for a minute and you have to really bundle up!

Will you take me on your shoulders, ahah?

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Cover your face, Snowdrop!

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The farmhouse feels so very toasty warm after our adventure. Perfect time for a book she has grown to love, despite its rather peculiar twists and turns. It tells me something about her taste in literature -- she'll take a lot of uncertainty and even incomprehensible permutations, if the plot culminates in a spectacularly warm and joyous ending. Where Are You Going Baby Lincoln has all that.

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Tonight is, of course, the killer night. I tell Ed that it cant be that much worse at -31F than it was at last night's -25F. All these negative numbers are cold -- how much colder can super cold feel? Of course, I don't have to spend the night in the barn or the garage...

Cross fingers, do a dance of hope, and let's all look forward to warmer days ahead!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

the big chill

And so comes the big chill. The blast. The Vortex. All negative numbers (F, to say nothing of C) all the time. With a gusty wind to set the bite factor even higher.

It is really cold outside!

Ed and I walk to the barn, to the garage, to the barn and home again.

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We're keeping a sharp eye on the animals. We had agonized over how to create safe environments, at least partially heated to counter the Arctic temperatures. At one point Ed suggested bringing the cheepers into the sheep shed.
We could put them in the bathroom and close the door. It can get quite warm in that shed, as Ed installed radiant heat in the flooring. Still, the thought of cleaning all that chicken poop afterwards pushed away that idea. It's not clear we could scrub their droppings easily out of the cement floor.

In the end, Ed redesigned a double bucket cave with a light bulb for Stop Sign and her babes in the garage, and we placed a space heater by the coop in the barn. Are these a fire hazard? We think not. The design of the heater is such that it shuts off if tipped. Too, it's a "mica-thermic" panel heater -- without the hot elements that are such a no-no for any creative placement. We're pretty confident that without some temperature support in the next two days, the cheepers (and maybe even the kitties) would be in trouble.

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(Stop Sign is used to us coming and going. But when I poke around the garage to see if I can track down the kitties, she is on guard: her demeanor says -- don't go near them!)

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If you didn't have to stand outside and take in the sting of that cold air, you might find the landscape to be quite pretty right now. All that snow! And sunshine!

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But the freezing air is brutal. The winds make it brutal times ten.

Me, I do have to go out: I have a physical therapy appointment to discuss exercises for my knee. I am so tempted to cancel or postpone, but I don't do that. I can benefit from both knee and back exercises! 

The PT person reviews my file (darn computers record everything!), and of course, finds a previous PT visit, also for back issues. He asks, as if knowing full well what the answer will be  -- have you been doing the exercises you were told to do four years ago? No? Too bad. Let me print them out for you again.

For this, I braved the cold weather. Ah well. I have a new printout, tucked into my "must do" folder. Yep: must do.

Snowdrop's school is, of course, closed. It was closed yesterday, it will be closed tomorrow and it may well be closed Thursday. In all my years (decades!) in Wisconsin, we've never had so many closings for terrible awful winter weather.

(At the farmhouse, she gets on her toy phone right away and does a perfect imitation of a "very important work phone call.")

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I had decided that we need to introduce something new to the mix of our usuals (book reading and pretend play). I bring out a set of watercolors, hoping that at the ripe old age of four she can keep the little box of colors fairly clean and separate.

She can and more importantly, she loves the possibilities!

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She is the water color queen, swirling colors on a bitter cold winter afternoon!

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Afterwards, Ed helps her hang her work. We have a museum! All her babies visit as she explains to them the meaning behind each painting.

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Later, much later, we play bookstore. I find this to be funny, because Snowdrop has rarely been inside a bookstore. Nearly all her books at the farmhouse come from Amazon and I'm sure this is true at home as well. In this particular game, I am told to read a book (any book) to her babies. I choose a book that I love, but that Snowdrop has yet to warm to (Miss Rumphius -- the lupine lady). As I read, Snowdrop pretends to be busy at her "book shop," but I can tell that she is listening and she is doing it with four year old sensibilities. In other words, she takes in so much more of the story than she did just a year ago.

Shortly after, she slides into role play. She tells me -- I am the old lady who lives alone because I chose adventure, but not marriage. I sit in my house and I look at the lilies growing outside.

Lupines, lilies -- same loveliness.

From here, we spin into a make believe world of the aging, as seen through the eyes of a four year old.

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Time to go home. Even for the short walk from house to car, and then from car to home, I have to protect the little girl's skin.

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We all have to create clothing guards and barriers. Icy sharp wind hits us as we step outside. Thank goodness for cars that warm up fast! For houses that warm up even faster! Tomorrow may well be the coldest of all cold days here. Hang in there, furnace. Hang in there, coop heater, and lightbulb in garage! We are so counting on you!

Monday, January 28, 2019

digging out

It snowed all night.

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This morning, we have a gift -- a window of kindness. A modest cold spell (as opposed to a furiously frigid spell which comes to us tomorrow). Time to dig out. But first -- the animals.

Here's Stop Sign, by her food and by her lair. 

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And here's a lucky moment: I pull out my camera before these two disappeared. They're very excellent at disappearing.

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Ed reminds me -- they could be hanging out here for ten, fifteen years.  Snowdrop provides the names for the two kittens -- Dance and Bridge. Appropriate. Little girls, or little boys or maybe one of each.

Maybe you've missed seeing the cheepers? They're still under lock and that's not a bad thing: in huddling, they stay reasonably warm. Here's a photo of them, awkwardly taken inside the added coop space. The three big girls -- Peach, Java, Henny.

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And brave Pepper...

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And sweetly shy, yet quite resourceful little Tomato...

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Food, water, coop clean up. As I fix up their space, I worry, too. Record cold, coming up: do we even know how cheepers fare in record cold? We'll get down to -30F (that's -35C). Ed and I kick around ideas on how to protect them. We have to do something!

Breakfast. How lucky we are to have these foods in the thick of a cold January!

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Schools are closed in Madison. I'm sure in all Wisconsin. They'll be closed tomorrow and the next day too. We are at the cusp of a significant weather event.

Snowdrop comes to the farmhouse so that her parents can swap around baby Sparrow care and work tasks.

The little girl, of course, is delighted with a relaxed day of play.

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And of dress up. (Gaga insists that she keep some extra layers on: I mean, the farmhouse is warm, but we're all walking around in sweaters, so that tells you something.)

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An afternoon of story telling. Of writing too. Snowdrop loves to write.

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I look outside. The snow has tapered off. I see wisps of sunshine. For once, that's not a good sign. Clear skies mean even colder temperatures come night time.

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For once we bundle up for the drive home.

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(The snow is up to her chest.)

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We have three very cold days and nights before us. Let's hope they pass without major hiccups or calamities. For anybody.