Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Important New Years’ Reminder on Home Safety

As you prepare for the New Year, whether it be with a champagne toast or new list of resolutions, I’m asking you to take one more step to help keep you and your family safe in the coming year.

Recently, I lost a very dear college friend to carbon monoxide poisoning. My friend, her husband and two children passed in their sleep when a snow melt system for the vacation home they were staying in malfunctioned. It was a terrible and needless accident and a tragedy that could have been avoided if a carbon monoxide detector had been installed and working in the home.

What You Need to Know:

Whether you live in apartment or a house, carbon monoxide can cause real and serious danger – it is considered a silent killer. Gas, oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, and wood are all sources for carbon monoxide. Gas heating and cooking systems, propane space heaters, fireplaces, generators and car engine exhaust can all be sources of carbon monoxide build-up that can lead to poisoning and/or death.

Symptoms of poisoning can include headaches, nausea and fatigue, and can often be mistaken for the flu. It is impossible to detect carbon monoxide - you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. It is completely odorless.

This New Year, Please Take These Steps to Protect Yourself and Your Family:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide poisoning claims nearly 500 lives, and causes more than 15,000 visits to hospital emergency departments annually. To protect yourself, please take care to do the following:

· Inspect your home heating system, chimney, and flue each year. Ensure that chimneys are clear of any debris (nests, fallen bricks, leaves) to ensure proper ventilation.

· Be sure your furnace and other appliances, such as gas ovens, ranges, and cook tops, have adequate ventilation.

· Do not operate gasoline-powered engines in confined areas such as garages or basements. Do not leave your car, mower, or other vehicle running in an attached garage.

· Do not block or seal shut exhaust flues or ducts for appliances such as water heaters, ranges, and clothes dryers.

But of course, the best thing to do, is to MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR – and use it.

There are two types of carbon monoxide detectors: stand alone detectors as well as a type of detector which interconnects (wirelessly) with others installed in a home. If you have multiple levels in your home and one goes off, the other alarms will be triggered.

According to reviews from Consumer Reports, Kidde is an excellent brand, as is First Alert. The important thing is to have it and ensure that the battery is checked (along with your smoke detector) twice a year. New Years and Fourth of July are good dates to keep in mind.

Following are links to two detectors that were highly rated by Consumer Reports. They are both available through Amazon (along with many other types and models). Places like Home Depot and Lowes also carry them.



This year, please take some time to check to see if you have a carbon monoxide detector. If you don’t, please make sure to have one installed in your home. If you already do, please take time in the coming days to install fresh batteries.

Thank you and a safe and peaceful New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

I'm Still Standing: One of two fir trees standing
tall on our property.

I know we're still kind of "all about the storm," but, well, we're still all about the storm. Not to mention the foot of snow that came a week later, this past Friday.

As it turns out, the weekend of the ice storm, John and I had originally planned to get our first real Christmas tree together (and he had convinced me that it would be okay to go to a tree farm and buy a tree vs. purchasing an artificial tree at the store -- it was further confirmed that a real tree from a local tree farm is far better on the environment than a plastic tree made from oil products and shipped from China, but that's another story...).

So, our best laid plans to choose a tree, cut it down and drive around town with it on our roof of the LR3 were sidelined when we lost power, and the power to get out of our driveway.

But when John pointed out that while other people had a tree strapped to the roof of their car -- perhaps we had the next cool thing, a Christmas tree strapped to the roof of our house. Ever the optimist, he put a plan in place and, well, you'll see what happened next...

Left: John stringing the lights.

Left: John preparing the garland.

Left: John posing in front of our "Christmas tree."

Above: Mido gets in the act.

Above: Our First "Real" Tree in a Winter Wonderland!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Mido in the Snow...

I know, I know...more cats.

Watch out, this could be next year's Christmas card...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cats in the Hood: Tiger

Okay, I know, we're cat fanatics. But here's a photo of Tiger, a barn cat that lives down the road a bit and who we had the pleasure and honor of feeding while her normal feeder-person couldn't get to her because of the blocked roads after the ice storm.

Tiger is a mouser, and extremely affectionate. She's very independent and has six toes on each paw - "pawesome!"

We love seeing Tiger around the neighborhood and her humans, whom she chose about 2-1/2 years ago, enjoy spending time with her as well. When they get together, they stroll down the lane with Tiger walking in stride with them, more like a corgie than a cat...and without a leash!

Here's to Tiger, she's true blue...

P.S. If you're interested in your own cat, or have a feral cat that has adopted you, Animal Kind in Hudson, NY is a great resource. Not only are the (non-feral) kittens on the ground floor adorable (and adoptable!), but the upstairs Cat Lounge is cool...and trippy. Don't miss it!

They are also very active in helping the feral cat community with information about how to build a shelter for a feral cat and much more about the feral cat culture.

The Lights Are On...

Word came last night that our power is back on. (Of course I don't want to be too optimistic as National Grid seems to think we are still out...). But then again, if we *do* have power, well then, let's just say I've got a few ideas for lighting up the Valley...

Yeah, baby!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ice Storm 2008 – Part 3/Recovery & Angels Named Dave

On Saturday, with the roads now cleared and the sky a crystal blue - everything seemed just a bit brighter. We were moving from a storm situation to recovery.

The first step of that included Dave Roberts and his team arriving at 10 a.m. with chain saws and plows in tow to free us from our driveway. They had that done in no time and were starting work on bringing down the tree from the roof when our tree guy, Bob DiRuzzio arrived with his team of four to finish the work and patch the roof. Within in a short time, they were on to the next job -- superheros -- all of them.

Dave Roberts to the Rescue!

John and I then went down to our other friend Dave's in Millerton. As we drove toward Rt. 11 (The Beauty Highway), we saw that this road, not even two miles from our house, had gotten by relatively unscathed. A bit further up on Rt. 11, there were more wires down, but less tree damage and the surroundings didn't look so...frozen. The deer seemed to congregate in the area as well - a place to get food, I guess. Up in the hills, we could see the ice line but the further we got to Hillsdale, the more and more things looked, well....normal.

Our friend Dave once again provided us with refuge. Seems like when the going gets tough we go to Dave's. Just like last winter, we went to his place when our electric line into the house that was underground got water in it and coroded away and froze our pipes. Having Dave nearby makes me feel like camping in the back yard. If things get scary, we're sure to find safety with him.

Anyway, Dave provided warmth, hot showers and electricity to recharge our flashlights, etc. , while we pondered his ongoing water (and mouse) issue. He ooohed and aahhed at our photos while we ooohed and aaahed at the water seeping into his sub-basement.

Then we drove back up through Pine Plains
, which looked like it got hit worst of all -- I mean really battered, before stopping by the Taghkanic Fire House to see what they had to offer in terms of warmth, shelter, food, supplies. The volunteers were awesome and we met a few of our neighbors, which was nice, as they set up cots for people who were without any type of heat. On Sunday, we went back for dry ice, which worked wonders and noticed many more cots, and people showing up for assistance. (It's actually a pretty humbling experience showing up at a Red Cross Shelter and being in need of help).

But, alas, by Monday, I was "done." My super-trooper mentality had waned and with the temperatures expected to hit 60 degrees, I wanted out. I had work to do, went into Hudson where dozens of entreprenurial types like myself holed up at the Muddy Cup looking for a working outlet, getting lost in emails, warming up with hot chocolate. When I got back to the ranch, John gave in to my disheartened-ness, and we headed home.

On Monday, there was barely a word spoken between us. We weren't angry with each other, just totally drained and worn out. And now we sit by, hoping for the best, having taken all the proper precautions to protect the house (draining the pump and other stuff too technical for me to note).

I'll post more photos from the recovery when I get the camera back in my hands. But for now, fingers crossed.

Icicle Trees

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ice Storm 2008 – Part 2/The Morning After

The view from our road in E. Taghkanic

It’s the morning after the ice-storm and John, myself and our wonder kitten Mido are shell shocked. And cold. We look out the window to see the carnage. We can’t believe this is for real and we can’t believe that the trees fell the way they did, managing to avoid the house for the most part (one tiny section of the roof was struck). The angels were looking out for us, we remind ourselves, we could’ve been flattened.

With two trees and a lot of debris across the driveway, John took a walk to the end of the drive to see what else he might ascertain – finding that we wouldn’t be able to get to the main road (Rt. 27) until at least one (that we could see, three in total) trees were removed from blocking the road.(See picture above).

So we took a walk in the other direction.

Me, trying to smile. Having a tough time with it.

Note the fallen trees in our drive and the tree leaning against the house.

Alone in the middle of the street, to the left and right of us, the limbs continued to fall, with the sound of ice crashing around us. It’s an eerie and sad sound. It's truly the sound of live trees wailing and sobbing to their death.

Reaching another tree across the road, we knew we were lodged in – realizing that we better make ourselves comfortable in our home. Somehow, we had to get the gas fireplace going. But continuing to walk to see what other obstacles we might find, we saw a figure up ahead walking our way. If ever there is an image in my mind of what a post-apocalyptic world might look like, this was it.

‘Bob’ met us halfway and let us know that there were probably another five or six trees blocking the road that would take us to the Taconic State Parkway. We walked back with him as he headed over to the farm where he needed to feed his horses. “They’ll be in a mood,” he said. Indeed.

John worked with the folks at the fireplace company to get the heat going, and then we waited. For help. For information. For light. For heat. For something.

About 10 p.m. a State Trooper and folks with National Grid came by to cut open the road. Someone nearby had a medical emergency – they needed out.

As we settled in, we decided to draft a list (our complete) version here, of Things You Want to Have on Hand When "The Storm" Hits:

The List:

  • Flashlights, lanterns, extra batteries.
  • Warm blankets and thermal gear (base layers and socks especially). A warm hat.
  • A radio for updates on the situation.
  • Chain saw - not the electric kind.
  • Canned goods (and a hand cranked can opener) and an eating strategy to get through your food items as they thaw.
  • Matches to light flames if you’re lucky enough to have a gas stove or grill.
  • Purell or anti-bacterial wipes (to use on hands after using the bathroom).
  • Baby wipes – if a shower seems like an unlikely luxury, these will make you feel at least half human.
  • A back-up battery-charged power strip to charge cell phones, play radios, etc.
  • A Petzel head-lamp to make reading, cooking...everything easier by dark.
  • If you’re dependent on landline phone service, make sure you have a cheap, non-cordless phone on hand. Cordless lines don’t work when the power is out.
  • Also, remember, if you think things might get bad, fill up the bathtub with water so that you can flush your toilet when the power goes out.

We’ll devote a whole post to generators. We realize now we need one if we want to be able to protect our home should something similar happen in the future.

Above: The icy Valley. Below: Same Valley this Fall.

Ice Storm 2008 – Part 1/The Night From Hell

Thursday night was like most nights for our Upstate getaways. I took my screenwriting class in the morning, and then hopped on a train from Penn Station to Hudson, NY. The weather was bad, seemingly getting worse, so I was worried about train delays, but pleasantly surprised when John met me at the station, the train arriving a few minutes early.

We hit up Price Chopper to lay in supplies given the weather, then headed home. I asked John, who was driving, if it felt like the roads were getting icy. Nope. Not yet anyway… Fast forward to a chicken roaster, a half a bottle of wine and at about 8:45 p.m. the lights when out.

Ever the Eagle Scout, John went into action, getting the flashlights together along with an assortment of plug-in hall lamps that illuminate when the power fails, as well as this huge back-up power strip that stays charged (and helped us continually recharge our cell phones and provided juice for our radio).

John checked in with National Grid via his Crackberry and they indicated that we’d be back up by 11:45 p.m. that night. Fair enough. Oops, make that 8:15 a.m. the site alerted us a bit later. Okay, we’re tough. We bundled up under the covers and cuddled up on the couch until around 11 p.m. and that’s when things started getting hairy…

It started with a cracking of a branch. Then another. And yet then another. All of a sudden, our secluded wooded setting that we always thought protected us seemed to be turning on us. A large crash and a rush to the bathroom window revealed a fallen pine tree that just missed the house…

At about 1 a.m. after we decided to go to sleep upstairs, another pine tree hit the roof of the house, startling us out of our sleep. We then realized we needed to take cover, too cold in the basement, so we took up refuge back on the living room couch as a cacophony of trees and limbs crumbling to the ground around us went on, and on, and on…until sometime around 4 a.m. as I can best recall.

John wonders how I managed to sleep through some of it. Survival tactic, I responded. In fact, sitting there in the dark, hearing the trees fall around us, thinking it was too dangerous to stay – and just as dangerous to leave, I just prayed that we got through the night with our lives. Thankfully, we did.

In the end, I’ve counted that on our small “just under an acre” slice of heaven, we lost about 30 trees. Twenty-five yards away on our neighbor’s property, the trees piled up as if loggers had moved in overnight and wiped the area clean, I’m guessing 75 or more that I can see with my bare eyes. On the other side, poplars fell over while the tops of the maples and hickory trees make is appear doubtful that they’ll make it 'til Spring.

Below, a few photos from the night. More on the aftermath in the next post.

Above: A view out our top floor window into the backyard.

Above: A large pine in our backyard.
Below: More of the same from the side of our house.

Below: The porch view.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Introducing Mido, the Coolest Orange Kitten in the Whole Wide World

This is Mido (Mee-doh), the coolest cat in the world. I know, I know, just like any parent, I think Mido is not only gorgeous (seriously - look at him), he's brilliant. Like if they had a Mensa club for cats, he'd belong. He'd go to the kitty version of Cornell. Oh, and did I mention that he's crazy affectionate too?

Anyway, he really loves hanging out on the porch at the house and even though he's squeamish about getting into his little Sherpa bag to go Upstate, once he's in the car, he's great, totally naps the whole way.

Mido "owns" the porch. At first I thought the porch was mine, but no, it's really his. He sits there watching wildlife (more on that later): bees, squirrels, chipmunks do their thing without having to engage -- kind of like watching a movie.

Anyway, part of the reno work on the house included installing a cat flap for the little guy so that he could romp around out there all day and night without us freezing to death (it was a bit tough going last winter with that). Here's a video of him going through the cat flap (in case you're at all curious). He's getting much better at it now -- and hell, he's got a nice cat butt as well -- if I do say so myself.