Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn Colors

Through laziness and thoughtlessness, I have nearly missed the window of opportunity to capture the beautiful fall colors we've had this October. However, there are still a few leaves left on the trees, so I decided to get some quick pictures to show you all.
Right at the house, the Catalpa trees are still pretty green but are starting to lose their leaves. The Black Walnut tree in the back is almost completely gold. With the rain yesterday, we can attest to the fact that a lot of leaves have fallen as our gutters were completely blocked and we had a waterfall outside the front door.
Across the street, the cottonwoods are still a beautiful gold, but looking at the neighbor's yard, he's got a lot of raking to do, with more to come!

And with the rain came a rainbow.

Sunday morning it looked to me like the clouds were going to break up and I was going to get some beautiful "sun peeking through the clouds" pictures. Unfortunately as I made my way north, the clouds closed in even more, so these will have to do.
Many of the trees along the river have already lost their leaves, but the native grasses along the county road are sporting their autumn colors.
Along the river, the gray overcast day didn't do anything for the quality of pictures, but since I know it's going to look a lot more bare in the weeks to come, I thought this was better than nothing.
From the predictions I've heard, we're supposed to have a colder than normal winter, but also drier than normal. I've always thought that if it's going to be cold, we might as well have snow. Sure got my wish last year, but this winter may just be cold.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee's always on.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Agriculture in the News

There have been a few news stories concerning agriculture recently that caught my attention. The first one was an unfortunate analysis by a contributor to CNN news that predicted dire outcomes for U.S. food prices because of the high prices of commodities, It made me so mad I wanted to throw something at the TV. Unfortunately, I was in the hot tub at the time, and I was afraid of getting shocked if I splashed too much water.

In fact, there's a website out there called The End of the American Dream, which basically claims the world is coming to an end because of high food prices, and it's all the fault of the American Farmer who is making so much money. So how about some truth?

When field corn is priced at $2.28 per bushel (the 20-year average), the actual value of corn represented in the box of corn flakes is about 3.3 cents (1 bushel = 56 pounds). (The remainder is packaging, processing, advertising, transportation, and other costs.) At $3.40 per bushel, the average price in 2007, the value is about 4.9 cents. The 49-percent increase in corn prices would be expected to raise the price of a box of corn flakes by about 1.6 cents, or 0.5 percent, assuming no other cost increases.
Or how about this:

Currently, about 4.1 percent of U.S.-produced corn is made into high-fructose corn syrup. A 2-liter bottle of soda contains about 15 ounces of corn in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. At $3.40 per bushel, the actual value of corn represented is 5.7 cents, compared with 3.8 cents when corn is priced at $2.28 per bushel. Assuming no other cost increases, the higher corn price in 2007 would be expected to raise soda prices by 1.9 cents per 2-liter bottle, or 1 percent.
And it's the same with bread:
More than 80 percent of the retail cost of a loaf of bread or a box of pasta is attributable to transportation, processing, marketing, packaging and labor costs. These are the primary factors currently increasing consumer costs. To put this in its proper perspective, a family consuming one loaf of bread and one box of pasta per week would incur an additional annual outlay of roughly $20 per year due to the increased cost of wheat and durum in the finished product.
Now to put all of tht in perspective, here's an estimate from 2009 on the cost to produce a bushel of corn.
Taking all these uncertainties into account, the preliminary estimated costs of production for continuous corn are $5.40, $5.10, and $4.88 per bushel. For expected yields of 125, 145, and 165 bushels per acre, respectively. For the medium yield, the 2009 estimated costs are 22 percent higher than last year for continuous corn. They are 67 percent higher than 5 years ago.

The estimated costs of production per bushel for corn following soybeans are $4.48, $4.32 and $4.21 assuming 140, 160, and 180 bushels per acre, respectively. These cost estimates are, for the medium yield, 24 percent higher than last year’s estimate and 68 percent higher than the 2004 estimated costs.
Granted, the costs have gone down somewhat to produce the 2010 crop, but to put it in perspective, corn prices reached a two-year high on October 13 of $5.88 per bushel. Wow, it doesn't sound as if the farmers are making much money, and the money that they are making doesn't really have that much impact on the prices you pay for food.

The American Farmer - the only businessman who buys retail, sells wholesale and pays the freight both ways.

The other two articles were both from USA today and the first concerned how the vertical integration of the meatpacking industry is hurting both the ranchers and the consumers. When I was growing up, our calves were trucked to market in the fall and sold at the sale barn, or possibly we fed them ourselves after weaning and then they made the trip to town. Competitive bidding resulted in the highest prices available. Now, producers are lucky if they have ONE bid for their cattle, a fact that may point to possible collusion among the large meat packers. Either way, it means ranchers are making less money, and consumers are getting poorer meat for their tables.

The other article concerned catfish farming. Once a lucrative business, cheap imports of dubious quality are driving the prices down so far, that hard-working farmers are no longer able to make a living producing catfish. What's more, there are serious food-safety issues with imported catfish, given the lack of any types of quality controls in the nations producing it.

The American Farmer isn't the enemy here. They are hard-working salt-of-the-earth, backbone-of-our-nation people who deserve to be well paid for the job that they do - producing the highest quality food possible for us to put on our tables. It would be nice if they weren't vilified in the press for making a little bit of a profit, or for receiving government subsidies designed to keep food prices down, and if they didn't have to compete against cheaper, lower-quality imports, or fight for fair prices from the large meatpacking companies.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ken O'Malley in Concert

Some of my awareness campaigns are obviously paying off because we had a crowd of between 30 and 40 people (can you believe we didn't take the time to count?) to enjoy Ken O'Malley in concert Wednesday night.

It was our first try at a Wednesday night concert, and despite a number of conflicts, it seemed to go well. Wednesday is traditionally church night, and a few of our regulars either attend a service, teach or host a service, or their kids attend. Add to that Sutherland School scheduling their high school parent-teacher conferences on the same night and needless to say, I was a little worried!


Ken O'Malley gave an absolutely outstanding performance, and our audience loved him. I was a little nervous at first as he started out talking about Irish history beginning with the Vikings. I was afraid he'd lose the crowd, but I needn't have worried. He made it all so interesting and personal, is such a great storyteller and absolutely fabulous musician and vocalist that I think people would have been comfortable if he'd played all night!
We even managed to convince him to close with an Irish drinking song - the very risque "Seven Drunken Nights", which garnered him a standing ovation - only the second one in our House Concert history.

Ken related his take on his experiences in Nebraska on his blog.

An added highlight to the night was the wonderful Irish step dancing by Susan Ritta of the Thunder on the Plains dance troupe. She did three dances for us, a hornpipe, and a soft shoe, then went into the brush or broom dance.
According to the information I found,

Brush/Broom dancing is another traditional Irish dance form. There are many tales on how this dance form originated. One version is that men outnumbered women so the gents polished up their skills at home with a broom as a partner. Once mastered, they'd go to their local dance gatherings to display their skills in hopes of garnering the ladies attention. Another version is that the Irish Tinkers/Pavees/Travelers would perform this "showy" dance to attract attention and make it easier to sale their wares, like brooms, tools and pots. This dance tradition has been handed down for more than a century & is very entertaining.


You can also hear Susan on the Radio as she hosts an Irish music radio show on Lincoln station KZUM, which is live streamed at http://www.kzum.org/ Tuesdays from 1-2 and Sundays from 6-7pm.

Thursday morning our guests didn't have to leave until about noon, so we headed north on a road trip up into the Sandhills. We went as far as one of my favorite places in the world - Tin Camp Ranch.
I know how deeply my love for the Sandhills flows in my blood, and my family has only called the area home for three generations. Through his music and stories, Ken did a fantastic job of relating the history of the Irish people and their love for the land and their heritage.

All in all, the first House Concert of our 2010 season was a resounding success, and we're already looking forward to the next one on November 19 with Midwest Dilemma. As always, it will come and go way too quickly!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just Some of the Things Sutherland has to Offer

I very much appreciated Trenda’s editorial last week. As one of the locals who was hosting the tour, I can clearly remember the sinking feeling I got when the bus driver pulled OFF the road rather than just to the side of the pavement. The tourism counselors (those wonderful souls who staff the Interstate rest area visitor centers throughout the summer) were good sports about the delay.

I really wanted to be at the Comprehensive Plan listening sessions, but I was in Kearney along with the rest of the staff of the North Platte/Lincoln County Convention and Visitors Bureau (NP/LCCVB) staff at the national Watchable Wildlife conference (www.watchablewildlife.org). While I learned a lot about how nature and wildlife tourism can impact a community, what struck me most is that whenever any of the attendees learned I was from Sutherland, they immediately commented about what an amazing birdwatching area the Sutherland Reservoir is. These were people from all across the country, officials with state and national fish and game agencies and others interested in nature tourism, and they were all jealous that I lived so close to such an area.


Sutherland is so blessed to have this recreation area just a few short miles out of town, not only because we all get to have fun on the lake, but also because it can serve as an attraction to bring outside dollars into our community. It is a phenomenal facility, with beautiful campgrounds at the Inlet and Sutherland beach, the Oregon Trail Golf Course, great fishing and hunting opportunities, and as I mentioned before, an exceptional reputation as a birdwatching location. And you can add to that the Flatrock Riders OHV track (www.NOHVA.com) nearby.


Each year the NP/LCCVB represents the area at the Denver Boat, Sport and Travel Show in March. I can speak from personal experience that visitors from Denver would consider a trip to the area to spend time at the Reservoir, and might even extend their stay when they find out about the great fishing at the Interstate lakes in the area. These visitors would need to buy groceries, refreshments, bait, fuel, lodging or camping, and may possibly drop some money at the Golf Course too. We already have all of the great facilities, all we need to do is to get the word out.

The NP/LCCVB has a promotional grant program which could fund the creation and distribution of a brochure or rack card, and we would certainly be happy to take it to the shows that we attend to promote the Sutherland area. All we need is a local group to spearhead the project and complete and present the grant applications.


Shall we talk trains now? The Sutherland Railroad Park is uniquely positioned to become a Mecca for train spotters. For an idea about what might be possible, check out the Folkston Funnel in Folkston, GA (www.folkston.com/trains/trains.htm). This small town boasts 40-60 trains a day going through on CSX lines. In 2001, they built a viewing platform based on a Lionel Trains model railroad depot. Now several thousand visitors each year stop to watch trains from the platform. With the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center and Rail Fest in North Platte as well as the new emphasis on the “Rail Town USA” identity, Sutherland should capitalize on what we have – a beautiful park located right on the tracks.


A small way to start would be to make a little modification on the pedestrian overpass. By simply cutting a few camera-lens size openings in the chain link fence on the overpass, it could become a wonderful place for train spotters to get unique photographs. Of course, once it was made photographer friendly, rail fans would have to be made aware that Sutherland welcomed them with this convenience. From there, developing some type of viewing platform in the park might be a possibility.

In another nod to our transportation heritage, Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway that runs right through Sutherland will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013. The national Lincoln Highway conference will be held in Kearney, and plans are already being made for antique car caravans to start at both coasts to converge on Kearney for the celebration. Sutherland is unique among the small towns, at least those on the highway in Nebraska that I’ve been through. We have three, admittedly in need of restoration, historic service stations dating from the 1930’s or thereabouts, when the highway was realigned on the current alignment.

While there might not be much reuse potential in the three stations, there could certainly be some curb appeal gained from their restoration. If fans of the Lincoln Highway stop for a photo op at the stations, it’s just possible they might also stop for refreshments or to fill up their fuel tanks. There are definitely possibilities there. The Lincoln Highway Byway through Nebraska can be found on the Internet at www.lincolnhighwaynebraskabyway.com. The Association is open for membership, and definitely needs more representation from main street businesses that can benefit from tourist dollars and can also do the most to enhance a visitors experience along the byway.


I haven’t even begun to touch on the other tourist potential in the area. Have you heard of geocaching? A quick search of geocaching.com found 100 caches associated with the 69165 zip code. These high-tech treasure hunters will make it a point to stop during their travels to find caches and many schedule dedicated vacations just to geocache. What about our agri-tourism? Mark and I have the opportunity to open our home to many travelers, most of whom have never been through Nebraska before, or if they have, have never been out of the I-80 corridor. We always take a short jaunt with them up into the Sandhills. Never have we had anyone who wasn’t awed by the area. One comment we have gotten more than once is “It’s good to know that places like this still exist.” Not only would we be helping the local economy and probably some individual operators if tourist activities associated with the Sandhills were developed, we would be doing our part in helping our fellow citizens find a place of peace and tranquility.

At the Upper Midwest Convention and Visitors Bureau conference in September, the CVB staff learned about Agri Culinary Tourism – a group tour comes to the area and tours some of the agricultural operations, then a chef prepares a meal with local foods, paired with local wines. This would be a great program to develop in our area. A full motorcoach overnighting in a community will drop between $5,000 and $8,000 on lodging, shopping, food and fuel. We definitely need to find more reasons for bus tours to visit our area.

Sports Tourism was another educational track that we attended at UMCVB. The North Platte/Lincoln County Convention and Visitors Bureau is now working with the Nebraska Sports Council to develop a local sports commission/council to help all of the organizers of local sports activities and tournaments to attract more participants to the area. With all of the wonderful facilities in the rural communities surrounding North Platte, we have quite an inventory of high-quality sporting venues. Our staff will be looking to network with school and community officials to create a network of facilities and contacts that can help grow this segment of the tourism industry.

The Nebraska Travel Association (www.nebraskatravelassociation.com) is an association of tourism businesses across Nebraska. They work with the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism (www.visitnebraska.gov) to strengthen the industry. Right now one of their most important activities is to author a bill and get recreational liability reform passed. To do that and the other legislative activities that need to take place, they have hired a lobbyist. The Association is open to membership, and not only do they need your financial support, they also need the strength that comes with larger numbers.

The Division is one of the only departments of government that actually has a strong revenue stream through the lodging taxes, and many other departments are going to be looking at that money this year. In a workshop at the Nebraska Travel Conference this past week, we were given many examples of how a state’s economy can be devastated when tourism marketing spending is diverted to other programs.

Tourism is the third largest earner of income from outside the state behind agriculture and manufacturing. It supports nearly 42,000 jobs across Nebraska, 2500 in Lincoln County alone. If we want to keep those visitors and their dollars flowing into our communities, we need to continue the marketing efforts as a state. The Nebraska Travel Association will work hard to make sure that the lodging taxes dedicated to tourism marketing and development of the industry remain in place.

I’m sure the editor of the Courier will agree when I say that I have rambled on long enough. I’ll just engage in a brief bit of shameless self-promotion and encourage all of the readers who have made it this far to go over to my personal blog at www.outbacknebraska.com. It isn’t always about Sutherland, but I do post regularly about the wonderful area we live in.

I am available either at the office (After all, it is my job to develop and promote local tourism) at 308.532.4729 or you can always reach me at home if you have some ideas about things we can do to help increase the tourist potential of Sutherland and the surrounding area.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guest Blogger - Sutherland Courier Times

The editor and publisher of the Sutherland Courier-Times recently wrote a column including some great points about local tourism. I think it will make an excellent guest-blogging post.

Some years back, a large bus load of tourism counselors came through our area to learn about interesting sites in Western Nebraska. A couple of us locals were on the bus with them while they were here, to help them find some of the points of interest.

When we reached the Mormon Trail ruts north of Sutherland, we told the bus drive to ‘pull over here.’ He pulled all four wheels of the large bus off the paved road onto the sandy shoulder. About two hours later we were rescued by Al Boggs of Al’s Towing in Hershey, as he used his largest truck to wedge us out of the sand.

Meanwhile, the tourism counselors had a great chance to get out and walk part of the North River Road, walk up the hill and look at the wagon ruts, and cross the historic North River Bridge. They also got a first-hand lesson on the nature of the Sandhills, just as the Mormons on the trail had so many years ago. The same sandy hills that wouldn’t support the weight of a loaded wagon wouldn’t support the weight of a bus, either.

Later, some of the counselors mailed notes to us saying things like, “I’m stuck on Sutherland.” Despite the inconvenience, they seemed to enjoy the experience.

At last week’s Lincoln County Comprehensive Plan listening sessions, I am told that there was a good response in Hershey Tuesday morning – and a good response Wednesday night in Sutherland. Part of the discussion in Sutherland was about tourism.

While facilities such as the Golden Spike are popular draws, local tourism opportunities don’t have to include the expense of new buildings in order to be successful.

Railroad tourism has been active for probably as long as anyone can remember, because lots of people all over the world like trains.

History tourism has brought people from across the United States who stopped in our local towns while following the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Pony Express.

Hunting packages, another form of tourism, have also brought people into our area from across the nation.

A newer form of tourism that was briefly discussed at the Sutherland meeting is Agri-Tourism. Farm tours and farm vacations bring people who are happy to help you do your farm chores and spend some time outside. Feeding the cows or chickens, gathering the eggs, milking the cows, bottle feeding calves or lambs, and riding in a combine can be a lot of fun for someone who has never been exposed to what we have all around us.

Whatever the form, tourism can bring people into the area who purchase fuel and lodging and eat at our local restaurants.

I once heard a community leader say, “We’re all just trading around the same dollars, and there are only so many dollars to go around.” Tourism is one small way to bring some additional dollars into the local economy.

Likewise, our spending habits also have a direct impact on the local economy. If we purchase everything somewhere else, then we have no right to complain about the lack of local businesses. I haven’t been able to research Hershey and Paxton, but there is a long list of businesses that used to operate in Sutherland. “Use it or lose it,” has long been a phrase describing the need for exercise to keep our body healthy. Perhaps the same phrase can also describe a healthy local economy.

I submit to you today that one of our best moves in making a better community may be to ‘pull over here.'

True words. Infusing tourist dollars throughout our community IS economic development and will result in a better quality of life for everyone - those enjoying their visit to our community and those who live here.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Debt of Gratitude

This morning I had the privilege of attending the Cowboy and Bikers Church service at the Vietnam Memorial Tribute Wall in North Platte. If you ever have a chance to visit a traveling wall, I encourage you to do so. I have not yet had the chance to visit the original Wall in Washington, but I can only imagine the impact.
Link
The service itself was extremely moving, as was watching the many people who visited the wall during the service. This particular traveling wall has a wall of dog tags representing those service men and women who have lost their lives in the global war on terror. Especially tough to see is the six lines of dog tags representing the hundred who were lost during the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. President Reagan presiding over the memorial service for those killed in the bombing is my first real remembrance of a President in action.

Also included in this wall is a tribute to those Americans lost during the attacks on 9/11, and a tribute to fallen police officers and firefighters. So many Americans who have lost their lives defending our country against enemies, or innocently going about their daily business, only to be struck down by an act of terrorism, or protecting their communities against crime and calamity.

I came away with a feeling of gratitude but also one of insignificance. Here am I, whose mission in life I have proclaimed to be "helping people have fun", standing alongside those who have given their lives for my safety and freedom, and I came up short.

I love the life I have chosen to live. I give, but not significantly - I try to share the wonderful life I live here in Nebraska with the world, I open my home to wayward couch surfers and traveling musicians, I bring music to my community in the form of House Concerts. Other than that, I simply do the things that I love to do, with people whom I love. Really pretty selfish on the whole.

Just an average American leading an average American life, owing a huge debt of gratitude to those who chose to lead an uncommon life with uncommon courage, ultimately giving an uncommon sacrifice.

So... thank you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Through The Seasons Part Six

Apparently there is nothing quite like logging a photograph each month to make the seasons speed by. I can't believe that I'm half a year into the series already.

May 5, 2010 6:10pm
June 5, 2010 8:30am
July 5, 2010 10:00am
August 7, 2010 8:30am
September 6, 2010 7:00pm
October 3, 2010 9:00am
Here it is the first part of October already, well into fall. Notice this photograph was taken at 9:00am, and the June 5 photo was taken at 8:30am. The shadows of the hillside to the east are more than twice as long. The corn is well on the way to being ready to harvest. There is a distinct tinge of yellow in the trees of the river valley. When you get close, there is still a lot of green left in the Sandhills, thanks to some recent rains, but from this distance, they appear to have taken on their winter brown.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.





Monday, October 4, 2010

The Melting Pot of Tourism

We have been told that the great “melting pot” of American culture is not a soup, but rather a savory stew, made up of large chunks of individual cultures, which when combined create a wonderful, rich, savory society.

I feel the same is true in tourism. We may go to a particular area to visit a specific attraction. Say something big like Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg or the Empire State Building, or something small, for instance, Rail Town USA.

When we get there, we are awed by the main attraction that brought us there in the first place. We enjoy it to its fullest, then find that we have more time, energy and money and wonder “what else is there to do?” This is where the stew comes in. We’ve experienced the meat, now where are the chunks of savory vegetables, the tantalizing spices, the rich broth that will make our stay complete? Or maybe because of our unique taste, it was one of the complimentary ingredients that brought us to the area in the first place, when we’ve enjoyed that, we are still going to want to experience the full combination of the components in order to be completely satisfied.

This analogy came to mind recently as my home of North Platte has begun to embrace the concept of “Rail Town USA™”. Being the home of Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, we truly are Rail Town USA. Bailey Yard is the largest rail classification yard in the world, Union Pacific is the largest railroad in North America. What better place to call itself Rail Town USA than North Platte?

But, if we are Rail Town USA, where do our other attractions fit in? Cody Park as the home of the first-ever spectator rodeo and forerunner to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; Scouts Rest Ranch, Cody’s home when he started the Wild West Show; Our Native American Heritage in such attractions as Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center and the Stones and Bones Museum; Our Western Heritage in NEBRASKAland DAYS, Fort Cody Trading Post and the many historic sites related to the westward expansion along the Mormon, Oregon, California trails and the Pony Express; Our Military History at Fort McPherson National Cemetery and the 20th Century Veterans Memorial; The story of our settlement and growth and World War II Canteen at the Lincoln County Historical Museum; Our ever expanding Arts & Culture offerings such as the Neville Center for the Performing Arts, Art and Gift Gallery, Prairie Arts Center, Feather River Vineyards; our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities along our lakes, rivers, wildlife areas, golf courses, shooting ranges; the fun and adventure of Cody Go-Karts and the Childrens Museum. This is a long list, and I know I’ve missed some of the things our area has to offer.

The point is, how can we tie all of these things together under the umbrella of Rail Town USA, so that each has its own unique niche, that all benefit from the increased visibility of the designation of the brand, that each can continue to grow, expand and thrive from increased visitation. While pursuing what is best for each individual attraction or event, no one feels hindered by the identification of Rail Town USA as our identity, yet all work together to make sure that the visitor experience is the best that it can be.

Let me offer the caveat here that Rail Town USA has not been formally adopted as North Platte’s brand, lest I ruffle any more feathers than have already been ruffled. The community is currently seeking to pursue the research into brand identification through Roger Brooks of Destination Development International. However, because of our heritage as the home of the world’s largest railroad classification yard, to me at least, it’s a foregone conclusion that rail will figure prominently in our brand.

Even in the initial stages of the process, which began with a Community Assessment, it is obvious that territorialism and turf wars loom on the horizon, regardless of the brand identified. If we work at developing our downtown as the hot-spot gathering place, where does that leave our other designated districts – Platte River Mall, Westfield Shopping Center, East Fourth Street, Original Town; If we pursue expansion of our rail attractions, where does that leave our western heritage attractions such as NEBRASKAland DAYS and Buffalo Bill State Historical Park; If we develop additional rail attractions such as a viewing platform adjacent to the tracks downtown, where does that leave our existing cornerstone rail attraction the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center; Where does the Lincoln County Historical Museum fit into the mix? Lots of questions, and no clear answers.

It takes all of the ingredients blended together to make a stew, just as it will take all of our attractions and events blended together to make a complete, satisfying experience for our visitors.

This will be a blog post without a conclusion, as I have no solutions to offer, only the encouragement that if we all, in our own unique ways and in our own unique niches continue “to help people have fun”, it’s going to benefit all, not just one.


Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow...

Well, maybe not really, but at least if it does, we're ready! It may seem a little farfetched to be writing about being ready for winter on October 1, but remember just a year ago? The great October Blizzard of the Nebraska Outback. It's not too early to be prepared.

So, for now, we have two large stacks of wood, plus a nice dry supply stacked in the garage. We'll still need to get some more, but we're comfortable we're ready for the first few months of winter. You may remember earlier this spring I mentioned about some problems we had with our chimney. When we first installed our fireplace insert, the manufacturers rep told us that at night, we should build the fire up, then pull out the damper to restrict the oxygen flow so it would smolder all night long. After nearly burning the house down because of the creosote buildup in the chimney, the chimney cleaner said that no, you shouldn't let the fire smolder all night long. Build it up big and let it burn down to decrease the smoke output.

Very good advice which we are now following. However, it means burning more wood and building more fires from scratch rather than hot coals. Firestarters from the store are expensive, but our son gave us a recipe for homemade firestarters, which I will now share with you.

The first thing you're going to need is wood shavings or sawdust. Here you can see The Mister using his chainsaw while we catch the shavings on a tarp.
Next, you'll need some wax. We collect old candle stumps at garage sales. You can often buy a very large amount of wax for only a few pennies. Here I am melting the candles in a double boiler. After my first batch, I have learned it is much quicker and not any more messy to melt the wax in the microwave oven.
You'll be placing your wax and sawdust mixture in paper cupcake cups, so make sure they are ready to go in your muffin tins.
Add the sawdust/wood shavings to the melted wax.
As soon as our son saw my first efforts, he let me know that I was using way too much wax, or way too little sawdust, depending on your point of view. Fortunately, that problem is easy to remedy - just melt down your first firestarters and add more sawdust. Below is the correct consistency. Rather than a mixture that resembles soup, it should look more like a well tossed salad.
Just to make sure, I fired up a test sample in the fireplace (I can't believe we haven't cleaned it out since last spring!). It burned for about ten minutes, which should be sufficient to light a fire with some nice kindling and dry wood.
After your wood and wax is well mixed, press the mixture firmly into muffin tins. Let cool completely before removing the paper cups from the tins. The paper will serve as your wick to light the firestarters, and it should remain adhered to the hardened mixture within.
Here you have it, the finished product. The beginnings of our first 100 fires of the year! So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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