The first snow has fallen and temperatures are down to minus seven at night and not much higher during the day. The roads are covered in black ice and side paths are treacherous. My neighbour’s pond is now a mini- ice ring and more snow is promised. Its at times like these, that I think of the most vulnerable around us, the birds and animals. Thousands of birds will die over this winter and many species of birds will become extinct never to be seen again. We cant save them all but by feeding the birds in your garden this winter, you will make a difference. Don’t forget to break up the ice in your bird bath or pond so that they have somewhere to drink. Peanuts and fat balls are great for birds to build up their energy reserves in snow and ice.
I had a small chaffinch in my back yard today with a broken wing so I brought down a small bird house and lined it with cotton wool and carefully placed him inside and put in on ground level in the dogs kennel with a supply of seeds and fresh water nearby. The dog wont be using the kennel until spring so hopefully the bird will stay there until his wing has healed but they are such delicate creatures, that even the stress of breaking a wing might cause him to die but I will hope for the best anyways.
Don’t forget to look out for your own pets, bring your cats and dogs or whatever you have indoors, if not into the house then into a warm shed. No pet should be left out on nights like these. They will be extra hungry with the cold so make sure to buy enough supplies if you cant leave the house for a few days. If you have small dogs, you can make or buy little jackets to keep them warm. Make sure they have enough water to drink and if you do take your dog out for a walk, don’t go too far as they will tire easily with the cold. Keep a close eye on them at all times as they could slip and break a leg or fall through ice on a frozen lake and drown. If you have any elderly pets, a spoon of cod liver oil will help with arthritis or stiff joints over the winter.
If you do manage to get out walking, look out for horses, donkeys and livestock in fields to make sure that someone is feeding them and that they have a supply of fresh drinking water, and if they look seriously neglected and you are worried about them, call your local animal sanctuary.
Don’t forget to call into any elderly neighbours you might have as maybe they could use some turf, or a bit of shopping or just some company on dark days. It wont take much of your time but it will make a big difference to them.
My cottage is two hills above the local village and last winter for a few weeks, the road up these hills resembled a ski slope so dangerous they were and they are rapidly becoming that way again. Last year, I broke my wrist, a few days before Christmas naturally, when our house was flooded with 3 inches of water and after eight weeks in plaster, I don’t want to go down that road again! So I have been preparing for the weather and looking into the different ways you can protect your home and family against the winter storms this year. Here are some ways you can do this:
-Insulate your home, from your attic to your water tank, water boiler, pipes, windows and doors, there are many ways to stop heat from escaping outside and are well worth investing in
-Keep up to two weeks supplies of food over the winter in your cupboards, particularly things like rice, pasta, flour…if you have a freezer keep it full
-Buy some large bottles of water in case your pipes do freeze or a mains pipe bursts
-Stock up on fuel whether it be oil, turf or wood
-Have a really good first aid kit in your house with essential things like a burn blanket, large and small bandages, burn salve, first aid cream, plasters and finger splints. Keep the emergency number of West Doc on your fridge in clear sight. It is also a good idea to have things like boxes of painkillers, aspirin, cough bottles and heat packs in the house.
-If you live in the country, good walking boots are essential for icy conditions, gloves, scarfs, hats, fleeces and extra blankets are great to have also. An electric blanket at night is a low cost way to keep warm.
-Keep lots of cheap salt in the house in case your chimney goes on fire or you need it to de -ice steps or your driveway.
-If you are worried about flooding, go to your local county council and take as many sandbags as they will give you and carefully pile them up against your outer doors and sheds.
-Close your curtains as soon as its dusk to preserve heat
If you have a car, don’t forget to get your car serviced, your tires checked, anti freeze topped up and maybe buy a car cover. If you are driving in snow or freezing fog, don’t forget to keep your lights dipped so you wont be blinded by the snow flying at the window screen. Remember to allow extra time for turning or braking and to look out for black ice [sparkles like diamonds] and any oil spills. Don’t drive too fast, as so much can go wrong so quickly in icy conditions. Needless to say, don’t ever drink and drive as even a shot of alcohol in cold conditions can affect your judgment. Keep a spare tire and repair kit with you, as well as hazard lights and of course, a small first aid kit. If traveling long distances, make sure your mobile phone is charged and that you have credit in case you break down. Keep a reflector jacket and a torch in the car in case you have to walk a while to get to the nearest house for help. If driving through floods, keep a steady pace as if your car cuts out in a flood, you will have an awful time to restart it. In Europe, they sell chains for car tires for ice and snow and if you live in an isolated party of the country, it might be a good idea to buy some from the internet. Keep some extra fuel and oil and a small bottle of water in your boot in case you have a very long way to go that doesn’t have many petrol stations along the way.
I have a job in the city that requires me to leave the house once or twice a week very early in the morning so I have been thinking of ways to safely negotiate my way down the hills to the village and my bus in the dark and the ice! I now have a Highlander Walking stick which is lightweight flexible aluminum and has two different settings for either snow or ice. It also handily can be made into a compact stick, smaller then an umbrella for popping into a bag when I reach town. When the winter is over, I can use it for hill walking so it will be useful all year round. For the ladies out there, just to let you know the Highlander range comes in many styles and you can buy lovely sticks with flowers on them, just because its sensible doesn’t mean it has to be boring! 🙂 Oh, and it wasn’t too expensive, I paid e16.50 for it in the Great Outdoors, so not too bad.
I have ordered Yaktrax Walker Ice Grips from the Irish Times reader offers site and hopefully they will arrive before I have to go back to the city. They were dear enough at e29.90 but if it means not breaking a leg or a arm, they will be worth it. I did a lot of research on the different types of ice grips out there and these seemed to be the best as they have silver and steel grips which are flexible as opposed to the cheaper plastic models out there, so will let you know how I get on with them when they arrive. I have a feeling I’m going to be needing them a lot this winter! If I’m really stuck, I’ve heard that putting large socks over your shoes will give you some grip on ice.
I also have a lightweight torch with high intensity beam, a reflector jacket and a reflector arm band and as they say on TV, Be safe, be seen! I will probably look very silly but at least I will hopefully arrive at my destination in one piece. If it gets really bad, maybe I could figure out a way to ski down the hills! I’m not sure what going back up the hills in the dark will be like, I might yet need a ice pick and climbing ropes! 🙂
Last but not least, once you’re properly prepared, go out and enjoy the snow. Its a harsh expensive stressful time but its also full of beauty and wonder. There’s nothing quite like sitting by the fire, wrapped up in a blanket with a steaming cup of hot tea and watching the snow falling onto the frozen land outside.