Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Driving Lessons

(This intrepid driver could have used a few lessons in winter driving. So could the guy at this link. He managed to set his car on fire trying to get unstuck.)

There are many reasons I’m thankful for my stepdad, Danny. I wrote a couple of years ago about him making sure there was something from Santa under the tree every year, but today I’m thankful for more practical things he taught me. Having survived Ohio winters as a kid and North Dakota winters as a member of the K9 guard at an Air Force base, he knew a little something about surviving winters. These are some of the things he taught me.

1. Shovel early, shovel often. Don’t wait until the full several inches has accumulated in your driveway and walkways. Begin shoveling while it’s still falling and you’ll easily scoop away those half inches bit by bit. (I wish I’d listened to this last night.) If you wait, shovel in increments, a few feet at a time. It’s easier on the back and heart, and the snow isn’t going anywhere. Heart attacks are a big danger for even seemingly healthy people because snow shoveling is more work on the ticker than you’d think.

2. Driving in snow takes skill, driving on ice is stupid. Living in the south I often hear transplanted Northerners like me say they can drive on snow. Yep, they probably can. But when I hear them say they can drive on ice, I start deducting IQ points. No one can drive safely on ice. But there are some things that make it easier. Go slow. Wherever you’re going will be there when you get there, the important thing is to make sure you and those who ride with you are still okay when you get there. Leave a lot of room between you and the car in front of you. Turn into the skid—works for ice, snow or hydroplaning. You’re increasing the natural friction and it helps to stop the car. Try to stay in the groves of the car ahead of you. If it found traction there, you probably will too. Think ahead of where you are; ask yourself, "What will I do if..."

3. Be prepared for the worst. Have a safety kit with you. It’s actually very easy and can be put together from things at home. Start with a metal coffee can and poke holes in the sides. In the can put a candle, matches or a lighter, an extra pair of gloves, granola bars or a couple of chocolate bars, a small cup like a 1cp. measuring cup, a red rag and an unwound and folded up piece of a coat hanger. Keep this in the car, but way from heat sources like the floorboard of the front seat. Always carry a blanket with you and a small shovel/hand spade and a bag of deice, kitty litter or sand in the trunk of your car.

The de-ice, litter or sand can help you get traction after you dig out a bit of the slush and ice under your tires. If you can’t get out, make sure your tail pipe is clear so carbon monoxide doesn’t build up in and under the car. Now get back in the car and pullout your can. If your car won’t run and you can’t use the heater, you can hang the can from the rearview mirror with the wire and use the candle for light and warmth. You have a bit of a snack, a blanket, dry gloves and a cup for snatching snow up that you can melt to drink if needed. The red rag was for the days before cellphones. You tied it to your antenna or rolled it up in the window to signal for help.

Well, enough of that. I need to go back out and shovel some more snow.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cold winter memories

Another forecast for winter weather and we’re all getting ready. We went to the grocery store and it was packed. Everyone was stocking up just in case. The odd thing was that there were no bananas. Banana? Really? So instead of that French toast igloo (milk, bread and eggs) you’re working on a banana-log house?

As we and everyone else stocked up--and with a forecast for 4-8” of snow in an area where there is maybe one snow plow per county and they’re usually on loan to the northern mountain area of our state it only makes sense, we noticed a lot of people buying fire wood as well. Our area is notorious for losing power to homes during winter weather or severe storms. All of this reminded me of winters back home in east-central Illinois. December, early January and March were known for ice storms while massive snow was usually in late January and February. And those winters are why I always want a fireplace or wood burning stove in my home…and a gas stove/oven.

When I was a kid, we had very little money. Not that I have much money now, but we make ends meet most months. Back then there was no cushion and the reality was that the money sometimes didn’t stretch. Cupboards sometimes ran bare. Bills were paid when they came on pink paper, cars were sometimes held together with coat hangers and duct tape, coaxed and nudged and rebuilt with hope and parts from a salvage yard. I’ve written before about how some Christmases, Santa found it all but impossible to get to our house.

I remember times when winter storms knocked out our power. Our furnace may have been gas, but without the electric powered blower, a gas furnace is all but useless. We didn’t have a fireplace in our trailers or in any of the houses we rented or the one my parents tired to buy with my step dad’s VA loan. So many winters’ days found us with blankets hung over the windows and doorways of the kitchen, blankets and pillows (or even couch cushions) scattered on the floor as we all used the heat from the oven trapped by the blankets to keep the room warm enough we didn’t freeze. Hot water bottles tucked in with us also helped to cut the chill.

Cold winters also meant frozen pipes. I remember a lot of winters where there was no running water and where one of my uncles or grandfather was under our trailer or in crawl space trying to unthaw water pipes with a propane torch or (later) a hair dryer. Heat tape is electric and not useful when there is not electricity. While we waited for a thaw, we hauled water from the Laundromat across the street or used the gas station bathroom. During one particular long spell, our toilet for number one was a Styrofoam ice chest that was poured into the toilet with a bit of precious water when it was full. Not exactly a happy healthy memory, but hey…it happened.

I look at a lot of my students these days, some the same age I was when much of this was part of my life, and wonder how they would handle adversity. I do think this current generation will have a better understanding of scraping, saving and self-denial than any generation has for a while. But I worry about the messages they are getting about what’s important. I know one 13 year old girl who still has her designer clothes and smart phone but told me how her family has lost their house. Another tells me how her dad is out of work, they have lost their house and she can’t afford to go on the field trip, but mom still drives a Hummer. I wonder if this will skew their priorities or if this generation will grow up rejecting the “me” status symbols of their parents. I sort of hope it will be the latter.