Tag Archives: Snow

In Praise of Snow Removal Technology


My snow blower Monday morning, when I had just cleared the drive from the last snow storm.


It must be a sign of advancing age. For much of my adult life, I clung to the romance of the snow shovel—if white ice crystals were to be moved by a human, I would do it the manly way, with back and arm and muscle and bone and grit.

And now, the heck with it.

Several years ago, concerned, legitimately, with the health of my aging body, my wife suggested that we purchase a snow blower.

I do not seek proximity to gasoline fumes, and the noise of an engine totally lacks charm, for me. Yet snow removal can be back-breaking labor. I have arthritis in my knees and a history of lower back pain—where my bones meet other tissue, there seems too often seem to be issues that aren’t aided by heavy shoveling.

And there is the heart, that key organ of life, which I would like to keep going, thank you. Old men sometimes expire from the exertion of snow shoveling. Walking behind a smelly, noisy snow blower might not be all that pleasant, but I’m sure it beats having my heartbeat interrupted by a heart attack.

The blower that my wife and I purchased was the second one that we owned—I had many years ago inherited a small electric blower from my father, but it had a gap in its auger (the turning thing at the front that lifts snow), and never worked all that well. The gasoline using model that we purchased for ourselves seems to do the trick more effectively.

Except when it’s broken—a year after we purchased it, I broke the starting chord. I purchased a new chord at a local hardware store and attempted to replace it, and failed badly. The snow blower sat idle through a couple of mild winters, but, thanks again to my wife and to my two sons, over Christmas this year a new chord module was installed.

The best kind of mechanical work in my house happens while I blog and stay away from tools.

Snow is falling tonight. I had to babysit some grandkids, and was out in it. Please don’t hate me, but when I went to drive home in it, I did think it was pretty—silent white flakes drifting from the sky and coating the world in a fresh white cover. Yes, it’s the second half of February, yes, the active weather pattern we are in will be best looked back on than lived through. But snow is pretty.

Then again, I’m ready for spring. Nevertheless, come what may, this fragile old coot feels he can handle the Iowa winter.

I have a snow blower.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside—No Joke!

yard light
Social media feeds are freezing up with dire warnings about the cold that is headed our way.

“This is not something to mess around with,” warns a Facebook post by the Cedar Rapids Police Department. “The cold temperatures combined with the wind could be potentially life-threatening.”

crystalsAnd no, I don’t think when I was a lad in the 1970s that we would have been terribly hardier and more able to stand it than we are now. I recall lots of school snow days, and our older homes were vulnerable to cracked pipes. My dad used to have to put a heating lamp on the battery of the VW micro bus overnight on these super cold nights in the sometimes-vain hope it would start in the morning. Cars back in my youth were terrible winter vehicles—the VWs would take forever to warm up, but at least had their engines over the drive train. American cars, with their ridiculous rear-wheel-drive, were hopeless compared to today’s relatively hardier, better-designed vehicles.


Still, I want to praise winter. Hear me out before you throw something.

In December, the weather was so mild that we wondered if winter would ever come (spoiler alert, it would). I had planted several milkweed seeds, and in December I wondered if they would get the cold-weather signals that they needed to germinate. Native milkweed is planted in fall because it won’t sprout until it experiences winter.

Well, I’m guessing the seeds have got the memo by now. Sure enough it does look like winter has arrived—with a vengeance.

One student who I follow on Twitter had lamented a few weeks ago that she was wanting some snow. As an Iowa gardener, so was I. And to quote a meme posted by Fr. Dustin Vu, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

But, yeah, I’ve had enough snow now, thank you.


The thermometer is going to drop and keep on dropping as the winds pick up. We already have a substantial snow pack, and got more snow last night.

It is also supposed to warm up this weekend—and rain. On the snow. Followed by another chill down. And more snow.

The winter of 2019 is making a name for itself, and I’m too polite to repeat it.

cardinalBut winter still has its charms. Snow is pretty. All of the images on this post are taken by me in January 2019 in my Iowa backyard. I think they are pretty. Snow crunches pleasantly underfoot, it makes it easy to pick out the cardinal couple that visits my bird feeders, the winter air is fresh and wholesome—when it’s 20 above zero and not 20 below.

So, no, I do not hate winter. But no, I’m also not completely out of my mind—I don’t love the deep, deep arctic blast we are in for.

Stay safe out there my friends. Pay heed to the CR PD and weather service and every weather station. Don’t mess around when Mother Nature is seeking your demise.


And there is an upside to this season. I like winter when it is not so extreme. The fall bulbs I planted are now somewhat protected by a white blanket. When it finally warms up a bit (and we know that the cold we have this week will not hold, our hemisphere is slowly turning again to face the nearest star), snow people and sledding and snowball fights with grandchildren will again become practical rather than dangerous.

The seed catalogs have started to arrive. A flowerful aisle has appeared as if by magic in a local farm store—filled with colorful pictures and little pots where you can start baby plants.

We’re almost to February. The signs are there. Even I, a fan of winter, will concede that the best thing about it is that it will end. We may yet have a long slog of cold weather ahead, but it is inevitable:

Spring is coming.

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The Third Phase of Fall


C Avenue, rising sun reflected in pond surrounded by snowy lawn–Dec. 9, 2018, 8 a.m. or so.

Like many Iowa seasons, to me, autumn falls into three parts.

There is the sequel to high summer, the final phase of the hot time of year, the September phase one of fall. In the evening there is a cool tinge to the air, but still the sounds of crickets as the day is still powerful enough to keep the freeze at bay.

Spiders are suddenly huge and everywhere.

But the plants know winter is coming—growth in all woody things is over and every plant that aspires to come back after the long sleep is hunkering down. There are still late flowers—mums and others—but the sex season in the plant world is mostly over. Dwarf bushes are starting to turn shades, and sumac, some of which were already crimson in high summer, are in full fall color.

Then the equinox passes and the night is starting to gain on the day. Lows dip into the 30s, and the first, tentative frosts arrive as the season turns to fall, phase two. Many trees begin to show colors and shed leaves. The night sounds begin to quiet, and the daytime insects are big and sluggish—unless they are in the sweat bee family, in which case they are pushy and obnoxious.

A few trees stubbornly remain green in this phase even as most others take on their sleep season look.

Then, sometime at the end of October or in early November, the hammer comes down. I always think the first definite frost is not really “it,” because a surprising number of hoppers and beetles and spiders can still be seen crawling around post-frost—they managed to hide in the night and appear in afternoon sunshine.

But when you get beyond mere frost to a genuine freeze, and for several nights in a row the temperature dips well below the ice point—well, it’s different.

This week, we had a dusting of snow. Lows dipped not just to freezing, but to the upper teens. Some leaves still cling to trees, but those leaves look dead and spent. The bare tree season is upon us. We’re not quite into early winter brown, but the shape of the world around us is suddenly there for us to see, as the green canopy that shrouded the hillside all spring and summer is gone.


Around 4:30, I arrive home, looking west at clouds now visible, where tree foliage would have obscured the view. Bare trees on Nov. 9, 2018.

I am not usually bothered by the first snow, even if it this year it seems a bit early. I miss the greens and flowers of summer, and it will be a relief in five months when some of the bulbs I buried before the hard freeze become early spring flowers, but the gardens need the winter break. It’s one reason our summers are so full of plant life—we get the cleansing of winter to clear out harmful, plant-eating insects.

So, phase three of fall is here. The snow this morning was not exactly a pretty white blanket yet, there wasn’t enough to hide the green stubble of lawns, but the bit of snow is a sign that the gardens are now in slumber phase, I won’t need to smell like lemon pie for months to avoid blood-suckers, and the cool morning air feels fresh, if a bit brisk.


Filed under Flowers, Garden, Weather

And as a Bonus, Snow Started Falling


Christmas cookies, baked by Katy, decorated by adults in a contest judged by daughter and son-in-laws who could not be there. I am sad to say that “Red Dwarf,” my thick, red star, did not win.

Merry Christmas, 2017—there are still some presents wrapped in the living room, so after Mass this morning, I’ll get to find out what my wife bought for me. For her, there will be less mystery because she was with me when I selected most of her gifts, and by “I” I mean “she.”

Still, we are going inexpensive this year with only a few low-key gifts, deliberately. We purchased a second vehicle this fall, and are counting the Dodge Dart as our main mutual Christmas gift. And there is one box that she doesn’t know the contents of—containing nothing of expense or of consequence, other than I wanted her to have at least some small surprises.

I hope you and yours are enjoying family and friends this holy holiday season, and whether you celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the secular gift-giving winter (or summer) school break or neither, I wish for you the joy of loving human connection this season of kin.

Although there are some presents still present in my house, our main Christmas celebration fell on Christmas Eve. Our oldest son and his wife were able to fly out from San Francisco for a week, and most of our local clan gathered—daughters from Dubuque, Marion, Monticello; and a son from Ames.

The house was full of noise and chaos on Christmas Eve, with the sounds of a few Christmas songs played on the piano by my oldest son mixed with jazz improvisations, especially when grandchildren decided to join in. Play was constant and boisterous. One son-in-law and grandson had to skip the party due to illness, which somehow seems true to family tradition, but it was good to have a full, loud house at this time of year.


At the piano.

The youngest grandson didn’t get his nap in, and it did show by the end of the day, but that’s just life.

We had a full Thanksgiving-style Christmas dinner, with turkey and most of the trimmings (we skip the cranberries and other fancy salads, and had been snacking all day on Christmas cookies, so pie wasn’t in the picture, but otherwise it’s the full TG deal, cooked almost exclusively by my wife). After stuffing ourselves with stuffed turkey, it was time for the big gift opening, which involved a few presents for adults, but mostly the grandchildren’s gifts.


Chaos of gift opening. Scooter, used as chair, is headed my way so grandson can sit on it and chat.

Several gifts were immediate hits. Two grandsons loved the remote-control spider that their grandmother found for them. A scooter for a 2-year-old from an aunt and uncle was mostly a pushed platform that performed as an impromptu moveable chair, but it was very much in use. A doctor kit led the daughters of a mother who is in the final stages of studying to be a nurse to become a medical team treating an ailing patient (said mom). Treating her included laying on her stomach and poking her face with various toy plastic medical instruments, and I’m happy to report she survived treatment, although it looked a bit dicey for a while.

The gathering was slightly delayed. For one thing, again true to Christmas tradition, we were missing a few items and there was a last-minute shopping trip. For another, Mother Nature made morning travel a bit hazardous with her own gift to us.

A White Christmas! We are in a mild drought in this part of Iowa, and true to form winter so far has been mostly dry, with just a few flurries here and there. The best chance of snow in the forecast was Friday, and while there were flakes in the air that day, it amounted to no accumulation on the ground.

But Christmas Eve started with genuine white stuff. Not a lot, maybe three-fourths of an inch, but enough to make it officially white out. As the snow ended mid day, it turned cold and will be bitterly cold today, Christmas Day, but only in a weather sense. Inside, we’ll look out on a pretty white world and think of a coming new year, of an ancient birth and its meaning, and of family—it will be pretty warm.

All in all, thanks Mother Nature. And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to us all and to you all. God bless us every one.

Eve Snow

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Filed under Food, Grandchildren, holidays

Well, Who Said February Would Be Easy?

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Winter staged a dramatic comeback in these parts Sunday. It began Saturday with several hours of rain in the afternoon that transitioned, well after dark, to slushy snow.

Sunday was all about the snow. It blew and fell all day, and the day began fairly nicely in the 20s but the temperature steadily declined as the day went on. It was a day of shoveling and playing (briefly) with grandkids under a grey sky and occasional flakes.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today--a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today–a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Today was shovel day, the sequel. I am glad I shoveled once mid-day Sunday—the snow, since it had a slow transition from wet to white, was of the heavy kind on Sunday, with an icy layer underneath. It was heavy labor to move.

Monday’s shoveling, since Sunday’s had been done, was not as bad—the snow a bit lighter, maybe 3 inches or so to move—while Sunday I shoveled 7 or 8 inches.

I’m not done with shoveling yet, since I haven’t done the path to the back or the back deck. I don’t like to leave snow on the deck, mostly because I’m worried that if it melts there, some will come into the back door, but it’s not urgent to clear that snow right after it falls.

It was a bit disappointing to watch the early morning news on Channel 9 today, as both my wife and I were waiting for the M listings. Kirkwood had called it off, as had all local public school districts—would Mount Mercy toss in the shovel and call it a day?


Grumble, grumble. But after breakfast, before I left for work, I put seeds in the bird feeders. And the early morning sun was riding in a clear blue sky and reflecting off the white coat that draped over the landscape. It was bitterly cold and beautiful all at the same time, and with chilled fingers (had to take gloves off to use the camera) I shot a few images. Here are some snow scene from Sunday. And here are some from today, Monday. Note how bright and pretty Monday turned out to be.

Warde Hall on Monday morning--blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it's an ash, so it wont' be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

Warde Hall on Monday morning–blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it’s an ash, so it won’t be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

It was the same on campus. I made it to MMU OK, the streets were snow packed but passable in town, and I even made it up the slick hill to the Warde Hall parking lot. Thank you, Rodrigo the Montego (so named by my youngest daughter, who owned the car for a while before passing it on to her parents).

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

I had to scramble to prep for my 10:30 a.m. class—it was already pushing 9 a.m.—but still I paused to shoot some photos. The morning light in the blue sky on the white snow was too tempting. It was just too pretty to pass up, a true winter wonderland.

OK, I’ll try to shut up now and join in the griping.

@@&**% winter. Ain’t it grand? (Oops. Sorry.)

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So What’s A Warm Saturday For, Anyway?

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

I spent part of the day indoors today, because I had to get some papers graded, but I was lucky to have two outings.

In the morning, I rode my winter beater bike, an old Schwinn mountain bike, to the gym and for a brief trail ride.

But the true fun was this afternoon. My wife had some errands to run, so I stayed home grading papers. She suddenly popped in the door, announced she was meeting some grandkids at the park, and did I want to come?

Well, I’m under the weather, just a bit. I have a cold. And I did have lots of work to do, but …

The sun was shining. The temperature was rising above 45 degrees. My wife had told a grandson just a few days before that it was always too cold to play at a park if the temperature was below 45, but that explanation just didn’t hold up today. So away I went.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

The park interlude was a blast. Among other things:

  • The ladder-slide area became a castle and my daughter transformed into a dragon who, along with the assistance of her minion, my grandson, kidnapped a prince and planned to cook her. They rode off on a giant bee, but never seemed to get anywhere.
  • A snowball war broke out. My wife isn’t sure whether she or my daughter instigated it, but they are the prime suspects. Some icy snow was left in little piles here and there, and my daughter, wife and grandson spent a fair amount of time chucking it at each other or me. Watch out for that grandson. He has an arm.
  • The merry-go-round was a very popular item—and grandpa (me) had the honor of supplying most of the power. One young granddaughter would yell “faster, faster,” until, a few seconds later she would yell “I need to get off.” Despite my cold, I did get some exercise today.

Well, what a fun afternoon. I don’t know how many sunny, warm Saturdays there will be before March, but we put this one to good use.

More park scenes--my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below--youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round

More park scenes–my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below–youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round


Finally, just because I can, I bought some flowers for my wife, who just returned from a trip to England. I liked how the morning sun streaming in the dining room window lit the bouquet, so I photographed it, and it seems a nice foreshadowing of the coming spring that is only a few weeks away:

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First Snow Reminds Us of Skills to Relearn

Cardinal eyes me through office window as I finish editing this post.

Cardinal eyes me through office window as I finish editing this post.

A spent rose in snow.

A spent rose in snow.

Well, snow has come to Iowa in mid-November. It’s not a huge surprise—we’ve had trick-or-treating delayed by snowstorms before, but seems a bit early, partly because we are in the midst of several weeks of January-like temperatures that are a bit of a shock to the system.

I had a daughter from out of town who wisely cancelled a visit Saturday, as snow flakes began filling the air in late afternoon. We went to Mass Saturday night, and it was a bit treacherous out—a reminder to get back into the winter driving groove. Watch the speed. Brake or accelerate gently and early. Watch out for all the other Iowans who aren’t in the winter driving groove yet.

Plant hook, sans plant, with snow.

Plant hook, sans plant, with snow.

After Mass, we headed down to Mount Mercy. I had forgotten my piano book, and don’t want to go a whole weekend without practice. Getting to my office proved more interesting than expected, because it seemed almost every street or entrance to the MMU campus was blocked by a car that could not make it up a hill or by a fender-bender accident. The Gazette this morning said there had been more than 150 police calls last night for minor crashes, and I think about 1/3 of those were within a block of Mount Mercy. Students, stay in your dorms. I finally managed to park in the lower Warde Hall lot (drive to upper lot blocked).

And then I had a moment of panic in my office—I could not find the book. My wife was waiting for me in the car, and I was just a bit worried—what if, by chance, I had slipped the piano book into my briefcase and had simply forgotten it was there, and our risky drive to campus and adventure in finding a way in was for naught?



Then, I spied it. All was well in the world. I could slip down the hill, piano book in hand.

Today began, unsurprisingly, with the shoveling of the snow. It wasn’t  too bad. Luckily the snow was fairly light for this time of year—the risk is that when it’s fairly warm, you’ll get heavy, wet snow. Well it wasn’t mid-winter powder, but it was dry enough that the 2 inches or so weren’t that backbreaking to move.

And, after that, I took a few photos.

The first snow is usually the prettiest. We may not yet remember yet how to drive in snow, but the Mercury I was piloting Saturday proved itself a pretty winter-hardy car. And I for one am not yet bored with the brown and white landscape.

Norway maple. Should feel at home, right?

Norway maple. Should feel at home, right?

Not that I won’t prefer the pretty greens and colors of spring. But the early Christmas lights looked right at home.

In Iowa, for now, winter is here.




Crab apple.

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