Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ice Dams and Energy Audits

It’s only -3F this morning. Harper got up, ate her breakfast and went back to sleep; she’s in no hurry to take a walk. Me neither. I’ve been walking and running in all kinds of weather so far this winter, but today I’m heading to the treadmill. Harper is good, and speedy. She’ll let me know when she needs to go out.

In front of the kitchen door we’ve got some huge icicles. As the icicles melt they form a puddle in front of the door, and then the puddle freezes, causing a small skating rink. Harper thinks it’s great fun to go skidding across the deck; me, not so much! 

The icicles are beautiful, and last year I took admiring pictures of them. This year they’re still beautiful, but they are worrisome. We know now that the icicles are a sign that we are developing ice dams on our roof. Ice dams can be a serious problem. As the snow builds up on your roof, the bottom layer of snow starts to melt. It drips down the roof, but unless it stays warm for more than a day or two, it refreezes, forming icicles. The snow behind the icicles also melts and refreezes, slowly backing up. If this goes on for very long the ice can get under the shingles, damaging the roof and potentially causing water to leak into the attic.

We’ve done enough research to recognize that the problem lies in our attic insulation. The attic should be cool, and to keep it cool there needs to be good insulation on the attic floor, so that the heat from the house doesn’t leak into the attic. We’re pretty sure we need more insulation, but we don’t know exactly how much. So, we’re going to get an energy audit.

Energy audits cost around $400, but they can save you lots of money in the end. Our heating bills this winter have been outrageous, and we keep the house fairly cool. We run the gas fireplace for a little while in the morning, and sometimes in the evening as well, but we close off the rooms we’re not using, and keep the bedrooms chilly during the day. I get cold sometimes, but drink lots of hot tea and that usually helps!

While we’re on the subject of keeping warm, I’ve discovered a product that is just amazing. For years and years I’ve used silk long underwear in really cold weather. I’ve always thought it was the best thing to wear; light, warm and it wicks moisture away from your skin. But a couple of weeks ago, Lee told me they were having a sale on a special type of wool sock at the mall, called Smartwool. I had never heard of it before, but I was in dire need of more warm socks, so off I went to investigate. I ended up buying a giftpack of three Smartwool socks on sale, and I also bought some Smartwool running tights.

I usually try to avoid wearing wool next to my skin. It itches terribly and makes me feel cranky and uncomfortable. But this stuff is incredible. It doesn’t itch at all; it’s warm; its lightweight; it REALLY wicks moisture, to the point where even if I run and get sweaty, it still stays dry. I actually went back to the mall yesterday and bought a Smartwool top as well.

So Harper and I will be staying warm today. We have our fire, we have tea, and we have the NFL football playoffs. It’s that kind of day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January Blizzard

I'm feeling quite blase about the massive snowstorm we had on Wednesday. They are just so GOOD about clearing the roads and getting everyone moving again. And for the most part people are smart. They stay home until the storm is over and the roads are cleared, and then (again for the most part) they drive cautiously.

This storm was a true nor'easter I guess. We woke up Wednesday morning to about 7 inches and it just kept on snowing all day long and didn't really stop until that evening. Lee had the snow-blower out several time and our plow guy took care of the driveway in the afternoon, coming back one more time sometime Wednesday evening.

I took a few pictures on Wednesday, but the visibility wasn't that good. But today I took a few more so you can see just how deep it is. I had to use my snow shoes to fill the bird-feeder!

Harper has a very nice winter coat, and booties too! The coat is comfortable and she doesn't seem to mind it. She doesn't enjoy putting on the booties (they are like little balloons that go over her feet) but they keep the ice and salt off her paws and she enjoys her walks a lot more with them on.

I got a rain chain for Christmas, but we had to take it down after the first snowstorm at the beginning of January. It collects ice and Lee was afraid it would tear the gutter. It looked very pretty though. I guess it will work better once winter is over.

The official snow depth in the Nill back yard is 16 inches. We are at lawn chair seat depth and the rock wall has disappeared. In the picture below with the arbor you can see the path Lee made so Harper can go potty. This storm is WAY over her head, but as a true Westie, she still goes plunging right into it at times. I think (in small doses anyway) she loves snow almost as much as I do...

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I am not coordinated. I’m not saying this to invoke sympathy or encourage people to say “oh, yes you are”. My family certainly won’t argue with me about this. I jokingly say that any activity involving sticks and balls is not for me, but it is more than that.

Some of my earliest school memories involve the humiliation of gym class. I remember an exasperated teacher trying to show me how to catch a ball, cringing as the ball came toward me, staring in puzzlement as it bounced off my hands. There were the typical indignities of being picked last for a team, being told I couldn’t play because I “would make the sides uneven”. I learned to avoid organized physical activity at all costs.

But I wasn’t an inactive child. I loved riding my bike. It was often a horse, and was used in many complicated games of let’s pretend. I made up intricate games involving balls and the side of our apartment house. I liked rubber-band rope, and hop-scotch, as long as I played with other little girls that were not very coordinated themselves, or overly critical of my lack of physical prowess.

As I got older I tried different sports occasionally. Tennis proved to be another example of the “no balls and sticks” rule. Powderpuff football was fun, involving random running around in the cold air. In college I discovered I liked racquetball, because even though I missed the ball more often than not, at least it came back to me, so I didn’t have to spend all my time running after it.

I’ve been a runner off and on since my twenties. Its still one of my favorite activities, since I can actually do it well, and even correctly. Running isn’t complicated. And I even rode REAL horses for a number of years when we still lived in Missouri. This is an activity that involves a LOT of coordination, and a fair amount of physical courage, but I had a kind, if demanding teacher and I loved the patient horses. I didn’t let my klutziness turn me into a couch potato.
When Daniel was eight years old some friends invited him to visit them in Colorado. While he was there, they took him skiing for the very first time. When he came back home he announced that we ALL needed to go skiing. It was great! So later that same winter, we did.

We went to a small resort in Colorado named Silver Creek. It doesn’t even exist under that name any longer, but it’s close to Winter Park, for those of you that know the area. It was very small by Colorado standards, but perfect for beginners. 

That first time skiing was a lot of fun. Since everyone was a beginner I was no better or worse than the rest of my family. I found skiing fun, but a little scary. I didn’t like it when the slope opened up into a big bowl toward the end of a run, and you could see far down into the valley below. I quickly discovered that in situations like that it was best if I didn’t look too far beyond the ends of my skis.

Everyone in our family liked skiing. Living in Missouri, the most sensible place to go was Colorado, so that’s what we did. Usually once a year we would head west and spend four or five days on the slopes. Everyone else progressed rapidly, gradually attempting longer greens (the easiest runs) and soon blue runs (intermediate slopes) as well. Except for me. I liked skiing the beginner slopes but I didn’t like to go very fast. I skied with great control. I started joking that I was the slowest woman on the mountain. There was some truth to that, but it also started to be a problem. It didn’t take long before nobody else wanted to ski with me.

We started expanding our skiing horizons. Silver Creek became too small and easy for everyone, (except me!). One year we spent a day at Winter Park. In what became a familiar pattern, the rest of my family went over on the “big” mountain, while I stayed on the easy greens. The problem with Winter Park was that the greens all ended in a big bowl. Places like this were supposed to be easy because there is so much space to make big wide turns, but the steep vistas gave me the willies. I ended up using the super-easy green that went all the way around the mountain. This way turned out to be TOO easy, and such a gentle incline that I had to use my poles at some point. I was bored, but I also was scared. What to do?

A started on a quest. Surely with the right lesson I could overcome my fear and improve my skiing enough to go faster and ski a blue. Every year I would try another lesson. My form definitely improved, but my fear did not. With some further experimentation we discovered Copper Mountain. This was a great resort for us, big enough to keep the rest of my family happy, and lots of easy greens to keep me from getting bored. Besides the greens ended in the same general area as the blue and black runs, so at least we could all meet for lunch!

It retrospect it was pretty funny to watch the different reactions of various ski instructors over the years. Some found me exasperating. Some found me amusing. Some threw up their hands (or poles) in defeat. All those years of lessons gave me excellent form, but didn’t remove my fear or make me go any faster. In one of the last years that we went skiing before we moved overseas, I took a 3 day lesson “guaranteed to make you ski blues” by the last day or the lesson is free. Did I ski a blue? Yes I did! Did I ever do it again after the class was over? Well, no. Was I still the slowest woman on the mountain? Guess.

During our years in Asia we never managed to go skiing, so when we moved to New England last year it had been at least 3 years since the last time I had been on a mountain. When we went to Bretton Woods last year it was beautiful, but very, very cold, and windy. The first day we tried cross-country skiing, but that’s another story. The second day we tried downhill. Three+ years with no skiing had magnified my fears tenfold. I was in such a panic that I went to the very baby-est of the slopes at first. As I cautiously made my way down this slope I realized that I did remember how to ski. But I was apprehensive about getting out on the big mountain. I took a lesson, but it was a hard day. I didn’t really have fun and never really found my groove. Maybe it was time for me to relegate skiing to the “sticks and ball” sport category. But the rest of my family loved it. What to do?

A couple of days ago Daniel, Lee and I drove up to Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire. That’s one of the wonderful things about this state. There is pretty good skiing within a couple of hours of where we live. As it turned out I liked this resort a lot. The green runs are on a different mountain from the blue and black runs but other than that I had a fine time. The greens were just my speed, fun without being too scary. I was happy to have found the pleasure in skiing again. I guess I won’t have to give it up after all!

Since the slopes are so close to where we live I expect that we’ll go skiing several more times this winter. Who knows? With a little more practice maybe I’ll improve. Maybe I’ll be able to go faster and I’ll no longer be the slowest woman on the mountain. Maybe I’ll even ski a blue again! Who knows.


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