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Don't write winter off yet; be prepared [Senior Circles]

On Christmas Eve, after putting the mangers and Baby Jesus statues in the inside and outside crèches at my church, as I was walking back to my car, I noticed that the Lenten rose bush, as I have always called it, on the side of the church was blooming. I was surprised because I thought the Lenten rose bloomed in early spring. We have had a mild winter so far, so I thought the plant was blooming early. I hoped it was an early sign of spring.

Upon researching this flower, I learned that there is a Christmas rose that blooms from late fall to early spring. It is an evergreen perennial, which blooms during the darkest months of the year, even if the ground is frozen. The Christmas rose, known as a hellebore, produces pure white flowers tipped with pink, which often age to pink in late winter.

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"According to legend, a young shepherdess named Madelon was tending her sheep one cold and wintry night. As she watched over them, a group of wise men and other shepherds passed by, bearing gifts for the newly born Jesus. Madelon wept, because she had no gifts to bring the Newborn King, not even a simple flower.. .. An angel, upon hearing her weeping, appeared and brushed away the snow to reveal a most beautiful white flower tipped with pink - the Christmas rose."

I would like to think this beautiful flowering plant is a sign of an early spring but I have to be realistic. According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, "Winter will be colder and slightly wetter than normal, with above-normal snowfall. The coldest periods will be in late December and early and mid-January. The snowiest periods will be in mid- and late December, mid-January, and early to mid-February." That December prediction did not materialize. However, weather is so unpredictable, that we have to be prepared for the worst possible winter weather yet to come.

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Mother Nature could bring us a major winter storm that might last for several days or we could have freezing rain or sleet and very cold temperatures. We have all probably experienced a snowstorm that has kept us homebound, without utilities.

Remember "Snowmageddon," the blizzard of 2010? My husband and I and our two dogs were without power, with no lights and no heat for five days. After three days, we couldn't take it anymore; boarded the dogs and went to stay at a local hotel where we could thaw out and keep warm. Quite an experience!

The Red Cross suggests putting together a supply kit to be prepared for a winter storm. Items to include are: a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day); at least a three-day supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare food; flashlight; battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible); extra batteries; first aid kit; seven-day supply of medications and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.); multi-purpose tool; sanitation and personal hygiene items; copies of personal documents (medication list, pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies); cell phone with chargers; family and emergency contact information; extra cash; pet supplies; tools/supplies for securing home; sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery; warm coats, gloves, hats, boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for all household members; and ample alternate heating methods (fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves). I would also suggest battery-operated candles, lanterns and lights; and don't forget non-electronic entertainment such as books, cards and board games.

Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, garage, crawl space or any partially enclosed area. Locate the device outside away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. Carbon monoxide kills, so invest in carbon monoxide detectors/alarms to warn you of accumulating carbon monoxide.

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You should also prepare your car for winter. Keep the gas tank full so the fuel line won't freeze. Make sure that your home is properly insulated to keep cold air out and have your heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year.

If you go to Florida in the winter, leave the heat on in your home, set no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't forget to run water at a trickle to help prevent pipes from freezing, whether staying at home or going away for the winter.

Driving and walking in winter weather — sleet, freezing rain, drizzle or snow — can be extremely dangerous. The best decision is to stay safe at home, off the roads and sidewalks. Speaking of sidewalks and driveways, if you still own a home, these surfaces will need to be cleared of snow. Don't get out there yourself and shovel heavy snow. Make arrangements ahead of an impending snowstorm with your grandchildren or a young neighbor to do the shoveling. An alternative is to contract with someone to shovel whenever it snows. We have a contract with our lawn mowing service to clear the steps and driveway whenever it snows.

Keep your cell phone charged. If the power goes out, use it sparingly but do contact a family member, friend or neighbor to let them know how you are. It would be a good idea to set up a winter weather buddy contact list ahead of time, so that those who are most vulnerable get a call checking on them.

Be prepared. "Winter is coming," George R. R. Martin, "A Game of Thrones."

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