January 10, 2017

We’re going on five days snowed in on the homestead. We didn’t get a ton of snow, but the 9-10 inches that we did get was enough to prevent us from being able to make the winding drive through the woods to the main road. As the sun has popped out here and there it has melted some of the snow, but overnight temperatures in the single digits have turned the puddles into sheets of ice too treacherous to attempt to drive over. The kids and I will be hunkered down here at home until the ice melts and the driveway is passable again.

My husband, who had planned for the snow, parked his truck at the top of the driveway and hiked home so that he would be able to get out again. Currently we are full time caregivers to my grandfather, so it was important that one of us was able to get back to him after our weekend home. He will stay with my grandpa in town until I am able to get my SUV onto the main roads, and then we will trade places so that I can take over the caregiving duties for a while.

The kids have enjoyed playing in the snow, sledding, building snow men, having snowball fights, and playing in their pallet playhouse, dubbed the “snow castle”.  Little Elias, who will be six in a few months, played and played until his cheeks were so red and his fingers so frozen that he finally tearfully gave in and retreated indoors. His misery was quickly lost over a cup of homemade hot cocoa.

Yesterday, while the kids played, I cooked wheat berries over the wood stove for a hot cereal lunch. The warm, chewy grains sweetened with chopped apples, golden raisins, and maple syrup was a welcomed treat to the hungry children.

It has been a full time job staying on top of the pile of wet winter clothing shed at the door every time someone comes in to warm up. A half-dozen pairs of boots, wool socks, and gloves, hats, coats, snow bibs, long underwear, and sweatshirts are constantly being placed by the fire to dry. The large floor drying rack is full of wet clothing, trays with dripping boots sit by the stove, and cold gloves are clothes-pinned to a line hung across the fireplace mantel.

Keeping the fire going has also been quite a chore. This house we live in must have terrible insulation. It gets so darned cold! Every two hours I’m loading more wood into the wood stove, doing my best to keep the chill at bay. Overnight is particularly difficult. My husband, Jerry, stuck plastic wrap over all of the windows in the house, which helps, but it still gets so cold inside once the sun goes down. Last night I nailed a wool blanket over the back door to help block the cold draft that was coming in. I have the kids sleeping in sleeping bags, with box fans blowing from the living room down the hall toward their bedrooms to circulate the hot air from the stove. On super cold nights we pile mattresses in the main living area and close off all of the bedrooms to keep warm.

The chickens seem to be doing alright. Before the storm blew in, Jerry wrapped the windows and door of the chicken coop with thick plastic, and filled the interior with fresh straw. He also experimented with putting a bottle of salt water in the chicken water to keep it from freezing… a trick he’d read somewhere. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The two liter bottle of salt water didn’t freeze, but the bucket of water it sat in froze around it, trapping the bottle in ice. We’ll just have to continue refilling their waterer with hot water every morning. The chickens will venture out into the snow, but I have to rescue them and return them to the warmth of their coop when their feet get so cold that they seem to freeze in place and they refuse to take one more step, even as the sun is going down (which is when they always return to the coop). So far none of the hens show signs of frost-bite on their combs.

Right now the house is a cozy 72* and smells of pumpkin pie, which is baking in the oven. We’ve been fortunate that our power hasn’t gone out in the storm. Usually we lose power as soon as ice forms. We have the generator parked under shelter behind the house, and lots of water bottles filled, just in case. And of course we have plenty of food. The solar panels aren’t getting any charge from underneath their blanket of snow. We’ll just have to wait until the sun melts it off.

The kids are getting a little stir crazy when they’re indoors. We don’t have cable or internet or gaming devices to entertain them, though we do have a DVD player to watch movies on when we get desperate. The kids have mostly been playing with their toys, reading books, pretending the clothes basket is an airplane, and cutting up colorful seed catalogues making collages of flowers and edible gardens. We all look forward to gardening season.

Speaking of gardens, I’m regretting not wrapping our young fruit trees before the snow came in. It has been on my to-do list since fall, but kept getting pushed off. Hopefully none of the trees will have damage to their trunks.

I love the way everything looks when covered with fresh snow. Especially the fir trees. However, I can’t say that I like the cold. I’m grateful we don’t live in an even colder climate. Our winters are typically pretty mild here in the southeast. Hopefully it will be cold enough to kill the larvae of bothersome garden pests.

This evening I was putting the chickens up for the night, my snowboots crunching their way through the frozen garden, when I took notice of the Jerusalem Artichoke patch. A few dead stalks are still poking up through the snow, the only evidence that anything ever grew there. I suddenly felt comforted knowing that just underneath that cold, white blanket lies a food source, still perfectly harvestable. I need to be more intentional about growing food that can stay preserved in the ground overwinter, just in case we should ever depend on it.

Anyways, I think I’ll go grab another cup of coffee. I’ve been drinking way too much lately. I said to myself that I’d quit drinking it starting at the beginning of the new year. That lasted about two days. Wintertime is no time to quit drinking delicious, hot coffee when you’re used to waking up to it each morning! Maybe I’ll quit in spring when dandelion root tea will be in season.

It’s supposed to warm up tomorrow. Maybe we’ll be able to venture out. Until then, I’m grateful to be safe in a warm, dry home full of love, laughter, and good food!