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The Walipini

February 5, 2014

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The name sounds a little weird, but the concept is AMAZING! It’s a walipini! Have you ever heard of it before? This solves a lot of problems for us in the Northern Hemisphere.

A walipini is an underground greenhouse. In general, it’s a wide trench, six to eight feet deep, with a slanted, plastic roof. According to TreeHugger.com, you can grow plants in a walipini all winter long.

There are a few YouTube videos that I found interesting.



The Benson Agriculture and Food Institute has published a guide to building your own walipini. It’s definitely worth a look!

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Old Windows vs. Vinyl Replacement Windows

January 16, 2012

3 Comments

In a previous post, Plaster vs. Drywall, I battled the snob appeal regarding plaster and lath walls. In this post, I’m once again picking up the sword and combating the “old windows versus replacement windows” argument. As an old house owner and a person who has lived in old homes all my life, I’ve had my share of old windows experiences. Most of them have been bad. Yes, people, I HATE old windows. New windows rock.

I love old stuff as much as anyone. My favorite old house style is Federal style, so you know I’m an old house lover. My own house, a Greek Revival, was built in 1855. I have researched the history of the building and its original owner (and owners after that). I know that of the original windows to my house, only two remain. Both are in terrible condition.

Garage Window

One of the original 9/6 windows, behind a storm window.

The other windows to the house were replaced in 1910 or so. Most of those windows are still in place. They are BARELY in place, but they are all still here. The house has a total of 15 windows, and only two windows had ever been replaced since 1910, the kitchen got an aluminum replacement window in 1972 and the upstairs bathroom window got a crank-style Anderson window in the late 1980s.

When we moved here, we could only afford to get 5 windows replaced, the ones that were broken or cracked. We got very inexpensive vinyl replacement windows. They’ve been in place since 1997. Even though they were the cheapest window we could get and even though they are over 14 years old, I LOVE THEM.

Yet among the “old house experts,” old windows are somehow superior to new ones. Old house folks are always saying that old windows are better than new ones because… well, just because. Old windows look better, they say. They say there is no difference with heat loss between the two, that old windows are more historic, and they are just “better.” I say: BAH.

So I’m here to debate the “old window” snobs. I think new windows are great, and old windows — especially MY 100+ year old windows — need replacing. And there’s nothing wrong with replacing old windows with new ones.

Snob appeal says: When it comes to insulation factors and heat loss, old windows play a small part and do not lose THAT much heat.

Reality Check: What planet are you from?!

My old windows rattle, shake, and leak. Cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer blow through the holes all around the frame. True, the glazing on parts of the window is flaking off (another problem with old windows) so air leaks through some of the windows (but glazing is not the problem with some of the others). Old windows are made of glass– thin, 1/8-inch thick glass. This house has 15 windows that are 32 inches by 62 inches– that’s 13.78 square feet of windows for the entire house. Which means that approximately 207 square feet of the walls here was covered by 1/8-inch glass. Brrr. Just yesterday with temperatures falling into the single digits, the old windows were caked with a thick layer of ice. The ice melted during the day and water was everywhere. I have to lay a towel on each windowsill to prevent the water from running all over the floor. Even with storm windows on some of the old windows, we still get thick ice on the glass. So for me, ALL my old windows, the ones that have storm windows and the ones that do not, develop thick ice on the glass when it gets cold. None of my vinyl replacement windows have EVER developed ice, not ever.

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My old window. Don't let the snobs tell you there's no measurable heat loss difference between old and new windows!

Vinyl replacement, on the other hand, has two panes of glass in each sash. When we installed vinyl replacement windows in our dining room, the change was remarkable. Before, my hair would blow around at the dinner table on a particularly blustery day; new windows stopped that. Before, we could almost hear our neighbors in their homes discussing with each other how to kill my flower gardens and hack at my trees; after the new windows were installed, I live in blissful ignorance of their schemes. Windows will never really be very good at keeping out the extreme temperatures, no matter what kind of material they are made from. But vinyl replacement performs better than the old glass. That’s a fact.

Now let me temper this argument with a few points. YES, storm windows installed over old windows help reduce heat loss. YES, vinyl replacement windows will most likely not last 100+ years. Old wooden windows were *usually* made from “old-growth” wood, the hardiest and strongest part of the wood. I don’t know if the original builder of my home made his windows from old-growth. This home was always a “middle income” home in a “middle income” community. The biggest expense the owner made was to install black walnut trim in the living room (which, incidentally, had to be removed because it was soaked with lead-based paint from other owners who had painted over the wood!). Everyone’s mileage may vary because everyone’s house and windows and weather is different.

But in my experience, I have noticed a considerable difference between the old windows and the new. The old windows would stick in the summer and freeze up in the winter. The glass is thin. In all the windows, the glass is so old that is has melted and has drooped from gravity and weather changes. Some people like this kind of “character,” but I don’t. I like to SEE out of my windows, thanks.

Snob appeal says: Old windows look better than vinyl replacement windows. It’s better to keep your rotten old wooden windows than replace them with vinyl windows.

Reality Check: I don’t care how ugly vinyl windows look, rotten wood windows look worse.

It’s true that most “old house” building materials were build with better quality than the trash manufactured today. But there does come a time when you just have to say goodbye to certain things. Moldy plaster and rotten windows are some of them, in my opinion.

I KNOW! I KNOW! I am going against the entire old home snob community when I say these things! But please realize that I am addressing the 99% of us who are middle-income and who own non-state-historic-site houses. We just don’t have the cash to pay for elaborate repairs to old windows or spend millions on new custom wood windows. Those days are gone. For most of us old-house homeowners, vinyl replacement windows are terrific. They are more weather-resistant, easier to clean, have screening, and open and close easier.

Snob Factor: Vinyl replacement windows might look ugly and out of place in an old home. Old windows have more character and appeal.

Reality Check: Character and appeal are code words for “expensive” and “high maintenance.”

I am all for curb appeal and beauty in an old home. But just because SOME replacement windows look ugly, it doesn’t mean that ALL replacement windows are ugly. I have seen some wooden windows installed improperly and look horrible. Just because a window is wood or old doesn’t make it beautiful by default.

I think that my vinyl replacement windows look great. If a millionaire dumped brand new, gorgeous wooden windows into my lap, I’d take it. Heck, yeah. But that hasn’t happened, and I have some kids that need to eat. So we buy vinyl replacement windows and they look pretty good!

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My 14-year old vinyl replacement windows still look fabulous! This photo taken after we had gutted and were restoring the room, in 2010.

 

Snob Factor: Removing painted old windows contaminates the house with lead dust.

Reality Check:
Painting new coats of paint does not cover the lead, it chips off and exacerbates the lead problem.

Lead paint removal is a touchy topic. Every state regulated lead-based paint in old homes differently. Here in New York State, a homeowner can remove lead-based paint articles VERY CAREFULLY from the home. If you hire a contractor, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the high-tech removal and disposal system.

I have tried both methods: leaving the old windows with their lead paint AND removing them for vinyl replacement. Removing them — WHEN DONE CORRECTLY and SAFELY — is much, much better than keeping the toxic articles. I sleep better knowing that those old time bombs are out of my house and far away from my kids.

Most windows in old homes were painted with oil-based paints that contained lead. You try to slap new paint onto those old windows, that paint is going to come off in no time. And every time you open and close the window, the paint is scraped and lead dust goes into the air. I don’t care what the “experts” say– all that opening and closing the window removes the new paint and just makes dust spew everywhere.

I personally believe it’s best to get rid of the stupid things altogether. No more dust, no more peeling, no more painting every couple of months…. Old windows that are coated with lead-based paint are best removed, in my opinion. The windows MUST be removed safely, however. Make sure you know your local regulations. Some towns even offer financial aid for the removal of these toxic items.

So if you decide to replace your crummy old windows with vinyl replacement, I say good for you. Don’t let the Window Snobs influence you! Shop wisely– get high-quality windows from a reputable company and install them properly. They will last a long time. Mine have.

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OH. NO.

March 31, 2011

3 Comments

What the heck is this?!??!

Sheesh! And I saw robins today, for the first time this season!!! Man!

Come on, winter, end already! Nobody wants you around!

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Snow Shovels and Planned Obsolescence

February 26, 2011

2 Comments

The Husband and I are rather sensitive to planned obsolescence. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see this post I wrote, Watch This Stuff. It’s a real eye opener!

Planned obsolescence is that deliberate scheme by a manufacturer to intentionally build a product that will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a period of time. I know you’ve encountered planned obsolescence. If you are older than 40 years old, you remember the good old days where if the toaster or VCR or RV or umbrella broke, you’d fix it, not throw it in the trash because it was unfixable. Well, manufacturers make things deliberately unfixable. That’s called “planned obsolescence.” And we just added another product to the list: the snow shovel.

Show shovels are PRICEY. And they do not last very long, either. The handles are pretty sturdy– and The Hubs loves the fancy handles with the thick spongy neoprene on them– these handles don’t hurt his back and give him superior grip. But the scoops of these shovels break. Like, after a few weeks! :-p The scoops are flimsy plastic.

My husband likes his fancy handle, so he attempted to remove the flimsy plastic scoop from the nice handle, and replace the scoop. No can do. The manufacturer glued and pinned and bolted and sealed it together. You have to buy a completely new shovel, another $35, please.

UGH.

That’s just wrong.

Oh well, spring is coming, spring is coming! I know it is! 😀

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Oh No. More Snow.

February 25, 2011

1 Comment

We expected it. It’s still *only* February in Upstate New York. :S We really can’t breathe a sigh of relief until about mid-April, really. And I honestly don’t mind the snow, except that… well, this late in the season, it’s not that nice, fluffy Lake Effect snow from Lake Ontario. It’s monster snow, loaded with moisture chugging up the Eastern seaboard from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s obese snow, it’s snow that weighs about 100 pounds per shovelful! (Well, it feels that way!).

I’m watching it, before my eyes, turn from a grainy, misty kind of snow to flakes that are increasing in size. Last night, the weather dudes said maybe 5 inches. Today, it’s been upped to 10 of 12 inches.

Whoa!

Here’s a quick 1-minute video I took of the snowfall this morning. If the weather dudes are correct, multiply this by 10 and that’s what we’ll have by the end of the day. Yeehaw.

Winter is nice, I think. The fresh snow covers all the mud and debris left over from fall. I’m pretty happy right now about it, because all the ice dams are gone from the roof. 😀 Last week, it was over 50 degrees, which melted everything off the roofs! I was elated. Then, the next day, it was near 0! Such is New York.

Have a great weekend. 🙂

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Things Your Mail Carrier Won’t Tell You

February 21, 2011

20 Comments

My husband is a part-time mail carrier. It’s not an easy job, especially in Upstate New York in the winter. Since the United States Post Office is in the news a lot right now (with all their financial problems and the threat of cutting Saturday delivery to make ends meet), I thought it would be cool to mention a few things about the post office– things you may not know because the media fails to report it.

Just for the record, I am against the USPS ending Saturday delivery. I think it would be fatal to the USPS, a really stupid move. What they SHOULD do is end the mandatory (super-expensive) pensions and perks that they dole out to retirees and veteran workers. [Note: I know this is a touchy subject, especially in light of the hooplah going on in Wisconsin. I feel the same way about things in NY– it’s too expensive to maintain a top-heavy government, and painful choices are being made.] There’s also quite a bit of waste in the USPS that can be slashed, but it takes acts of Congress to make these changes. The USPS is under government control, but they don’t receive a PENNY in tax money. Another example of waste is that some postal areas blend delivery areas– this doubles the expense of delivering mail because TWO or more offices serve ONE area.

Anyway, I saw a list at rd.com/13-things/13-things-your-mail-carrier-wont-tell-you/ 13 Things Your Mail Carrier Won’t Tell You at the Reader’s Digest website, and thought it was very worthy of passing on. These are all things my husband has brought up in one way or another. I include the best here. My own comments are in regular type.

  • Maybe your dog won’t bite you. But in 2009, 2,863 of us were bitten, an average of nine bites per delivery day. That’s why I wince when your Doberman comes flying out the door. My husband has told me quite a few stories of some VERY close calls he’s had with dogs that “wouldn’t hurt a flea.” Uh huh. Folks, do you want your mail? Keep the dog inside. My kids need their dad home, not in a hospital.
  • Remember this on Valentine’s Day: It takes our machines longer to read addresses on red envelopes (especially if they’re written in colored ink).
  • Photo from Wikipedia

  • Media Mail is a bargain, but most of you don’t know to ask for it. Sending ten pounds of books from New York City to San Francisco through Media Mail costs $5.89, compared with $16.77 for Parcel Post. Besides books, use it to send manuscripts, DVDs, and CDs; just don’t include anything else in the package.
  • The USPS doesn’t get a penny of your tax dollars.
  • UPS and FedEx charge you $10 or more for messing up an address. Us? Not a cent. My husband will even make up the difference if an envelope is not properly stamped.
  • Paychecks, personal cards, letters—anything that looks like good news—I put those on top. Utility and credit card bills? They go under everything else. Junk mail, flyers, and mail for stuff like is cased at the bottom.
  • Mail carriers also have to endure- day after day– the smut and glut of porno and “ladies” magazines. Some magazines, like Playboy, are required to conceal their magazine covers with plastic or paper, but the “ladies” mags like “Shape” or “Cosmopolitan” do not, and those covers are sickening. I feel so sorry for mail carriers who have to endure that junk. You know, if the USPS forced such magazines to pay a little extra to cover their stuff, I’ll betcha that would solve the USPS financial problems in a one week, not to mention a whole lot of consciences and marriages.
  • Sorry if I seem like I’m in a hurry, but I’m under the gun: Our supervisors tell us when to leave, how many pieces of mail to deliver, and when we should aim to be back. Then some of us scan bar codes in mailboxes along our route so they can monitor our progress.
  • Yes, we do have to buy our own stamps, but a lot of us carry them for customers who need them. Very true! My husband always has a stash of stamps and he adds them gratis. He’s such a swell guy. Sad thing is, no one ever seems to realize how generous he really is. He also gets out of the car and moves your trash cans that have blown out in front of your mailbox, even though he does not HAVE to legally deliver your mail if there’s an impediment to your box.
  • Please dress properly when you come to the door. A towel wrapped around you doesn’t cut it. And we definitely don’t want to see you in your underwear—or naked! My husband has had a few very uncomfortable encounters with ladies who treat the mailman as if he was some kind of nobody, not worthy of respect. It’s not fun to have to deliver mail to jiggly ladies who wear less cotton than an aspirin bottle. :-p
  • We serve 150 million addresses six days a week, so we’re often in the right place at the right time. We pull people out of burning cars, catch burglars in the act, and call 911 to report traffic accidents, dead bodies, and more. My husband actually came to the rescue of an older, heavyset gentlemen living in a rural area who had fallen and couldn’t get up. His wife was trying to help him, but she was too weak to lift him. Together, my husband and the lady couldn’t even lift him, so my husband waited with the couple at their home until a rescue team arrived, because the wife was so stressed. It took the rescue team half an hour to get there, and that was time out of my husband’s day (and he was late for his second job, too).
  • Most of us don’t mind if you pull up to our trucks while we’re delivering and ask for your mail a little early. But please get out of your car and come get it. Don’t just put your hand out your window and wait for me to bring it to you.
  • We go to great lengths to deliver to every address, no matter how remote. That’s why, in the most rural areas, even UPS and FedEx rely on us to make their final deliveries. True. And some places are VERY remote. I have had to rescue my husband out of some places, too. One rural place, he ran out of gas. And another time, during a snowstorm, the van slipped into a ditch and fell in sideways. I had to try to tow him out (couldn’t) so we called a tow truck. All the while, the mail delivery was delayed. What was really sad was that, while we were out in the storm waiting for a tow truck, a customer on the route with a honking big SUV roared by us, didn’t even stop to help. 🙁 But he got his mail with a smile, anyway.
  • Those plants around your mailbox are beautiful, but I’d like them better if you kept them trimmed back. Please don’t plant flowers because bees and ants like them.
  • Is it hot enough for me? The heat index is 110 degrees. What do you think? (Instead of asking that, offer me a cold drink.)
  • Despite the “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” motto, we’re instructed not to deliver to a mailbox if the snow and ice around it isn’t cleared. Most of us take the motto to heart, though, and do our best to deliver in even the most hazardous conditions. My husband does everything humanly possible to deliver the mail, even for rude people who do not shovel their boxes out. And you know what? If the mail can’t get delivered that day, it has to be delivered the NEXT day– that’s TWO days mail that has to be delivered in ONE day in the same amount of time. And my husband has actually had to call in unavailable for his second job because the mail delivery was so heavy that day– so, he LOST money because he lost HOURS on his other job, because some folks didn’t shovel their mailboxes out and that made a chain reaction with the mail load. So give the mailman a break.
  • I have people who leave a letter in their box and tape 44 cents in change to it. I’ll take it, but the next day I’ll be waiting in line like everyone else to buy you a stamp.
  • It’s a small thing that makes my job so much easier: Please park your car in the driveway instead of in front of the mailbox. I live on a busy street, and while I never park in front of my mailbox, lots of people do. That means, I don’t get my mail because their car is in the way. 🙁

I hope this gives a little perspective on the USPS and the millions of men and women who work there. These people work very hard and deal with a multitude of mail products, people, weather and animals. I think they deserve our support! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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She Begged. I Relented.

February 15, 2011

9 Comments

GOSH I spoil this cat. Must be old age or something, I NEVER used to be this way. Or maybe it’s Livvy’s adorable face and charm. I’m in love, lol.

Well, the temperatures finally crawled up into the mid 20’s, so she sat and meowed at the door, giving me those dopey sad eyes and batting her feline eyelashes at me. How could I resist? I strapped on her harness and out we ventured into the snow. I figured as soon as she tried to walk around in 2-foot high snow, she change her mind and want the creature comforts of the house again.

Not so fast.

I barely snapped the harness buckle before she bolted out the door. Whoa, talk about cabin fever! She haz it!

Livsnow4

When I talk to her, she ignores me! She wants to be independent, be a Great Explorer.

livsnow5

BIRD!

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On a wild goose chase. The snow is deep and only slightly crusty. It can’t hold her weight, so her legs go BOOP into the snowbank. I had to laugh (sorry, Liv!) because she was jerking her legs around to keep them out of the snow. No puss in boots for kitty cats!

livsnow7

Finding refuge from drowning in snow.

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Getting a little cold now.

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Yeah, ready to come in. 🙂

Livsnow2

As soon as she was back in the house, she groomed her fur all clean, and took a long, deep nap. Ahhh peace and quiet at last!

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Ice Dam Damage

February 13, 2011

4 Comments

I was pretty happy and contented with winter until the temperatures tumbled into the double-digit SUB ZERO numbers, causing ice and ice dams. I found myself browsing the selection of gorgeous patio furniture at CNS Stores yesterday. *Sigh* They have over 200 stores– stores loaded with furniture and home decor and linens. I’m torn between getting a porch swing or a rocker, because I am going to be OUTSIDE all summer long this year!!

Back to reality. Lots of Northeasterners groaning about the ice dams these days, and no wonder. 4snow2011We got ICE. All the snow on our roofs promptly froze. Then, the temps bounced back up, and the ice melted. Then it refroze. Not to mention that my attic leaks tons of heat because it is a) improperly insulated (another thing I need to fix), and b) there’s no insulation in the second floor walls (we have to renovate that section of the house yet).

Here’s a photo of an ice dam, for those who don’t know. Ice works its way up and under the shingles, where it meets with the warm air from the house. Leaks commence, and can be extremely destructive.

Photo courtesy of lyonscontracting.com

This house has evidence of some very serious ice dams from the past (scars of ugly, patched plaster are on some of the upstairs bedroom ceilings), but we’ve never had bad ice dams until this year. Maybe it’s because the house was never really WARM due to the disgusting forced air furnace system that was here. This year, with the new heating system, it’s downright toasty in the house. But I guess I’m paying a price…

We discovered some damage in our garage. Bad ice dams. This is the ceiling, from the inside:

IceDamdamage2

IceDamdamages

Yes, that IS old tin ceiling. I think it’s about 120 years old, maybe. And above the tin ceiling is even older wallpaper– that probably dates back to the 1870s, I assume. The previous owners before us covered all these ceiling layers over with a 70’s drop ceiling. The drop ceiling has been collapsing, so that explains why we can see the old tin ceiling and old wallpaper and original plaster ceiling.

I’ll betcha there’s a human-sized icicle in the attic above the garage. 🙁 I’m too afraid to look.

There’s not a whole lot we can do. Our roof is too steeply pitched to climb up on it and loosen the ice. I considered throwing rock salt up on the roof…. we tried to get roof rakes, but all the home centers are sold out. Yeah no kidding.

So we want spring to come now. REAL bad. lol. I am SICK of ice!!!!

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The Tweeners

February 10, 2011

2 Comments

I’m a tweener right now. Probably most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are! A “tweener” is what I call a person who is stuck between one weather season going out and another struggling to get in. In other words– we’ve reached the end of our tolerance for one season, and are eager to get into the next! While I like the snow and even the cold, I am sick of the ice and ice dams. Yet, I am torn, because I am one of the very rare people who dislike spring. Spring is wet, soggy, damp, cold, muddy. I am chilled more in spring weather then I am in the winter! I think it’s because spring is so clammy and damp. I dislike it. So I’m a tweener. Ready to see the winter go, but not really eager to see muddy spring come. Hmmm….

freshsnow2

So far, spring is nowhere in sight...

In other news, we got approved for a home equity loan! HURRAY! I used credit cards and cash for the renovation expenses last summer. The cards had good promotional rates, which have now ended. So we applied for a loan and got approved. I like the scheduled payments, I like the routine. I’m praying with all my heart that we can get this loan paid off very soon, because we have the entire UPSTAIRS of the house to do yet!! Then, we tackle the exterior– we’ll need a new roof, new siding…. *sigh*

I am relatively new to home equity loans. Any kind of loan, especially on my beloved home, makes me nervous. It’s all out of pocket, all on our own. It is a REALLY gratifying feeling, though, to see your home’s value skyrocket because you sweated it out one summer. I am so proud of my kids, who helped with our renovations– thanks to our persistent work, we increased the value of our home AND “earned” money enough to refinance everything with a little extra, too. No wonder it’s called sweat equity! I am so thankful for my kids. I couldn’t have done this without them. And now, of course, comes the paying it all off!!! Which reminds me, I better get back to work….

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Winter’s Walk Through the Neighborhood

February 7, 2011

3 Comments

The temperature rebounded into the teens over the weekend, so the kids and I enjoyed a brisk walk in the neighborhood. This is what Upstate New York looks like in February: gray and overcast, snowy, brown. We almost look forward to more snow because it whitens everything again and we don’t have to look at dingy snowbanks.

Here’s a big snowbank in a parking lot.

snowbank

You know what’s really weird? There were NO children outside. Not a one. When I was younger, we were outside in the snow all the time, especially when the snowbanks were this huge.

We took a jaunt through the town. Some folks don’t shovel their walks, but some do. I am so very thankful for the people who do. We don’t have to walk in the road. Thank you, neighbors!!

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Gives you an idea of how high the snow is here.

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A woodpecker is digging for gold in this old tree, huh? Well, sure looks like it, anyway.

treewoodpecker

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Doesn’t it look like this car is smiling?

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We came back into our driveway and I saw this. It’s transmission fluid. Our van is bleeding it, terribly. 🙁 I hope we get a new vehicle soon. I’m too nervous to drive the van anywhere.

transmiss

About an hour after we got home, the snow started falling very heavily. The flakes were fluffy, but huge- some the size of half dollars. It was so pretty. And it covered all that brown for a day!

heavysnow

Thanks for reading. 😀 How are things where you are?

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