Save on Energy Bills Right NOW!

We knew natural gas prices were way up but our $80+ November bill both surprised and pleased us.

Surprise:   That’s a high bill for us.

Pleased:   Our efforts at energy efficiency and wise house management kept the bill from being higher.

Nearly everyone can reduce heating costs. Some actions are long-term, like adding insulation, replacing drafty windows, or installing a wood stove. There’s not enough time this year to put these in place this winter.

Here are short term ways to reduce the heating bill at either no, or low, cost:

  • Open south-facing window blinds on sunny days. The sun will warm the room and never send a bill. Close the blind when the sun calls it quits and sets for the day.
  • Caulk holes and cracks. We bought a spool of “rope caulk”. It’s putty that won’t harden, comes in a roll, and is easy to press into cracks, especially around windows.
  • Replace the furnace filter. If it gets clogged with dust the furnace has to work harder, and that costs money. Write on the filter the date you replace it so you know. Then, make a note on your planner to check and replace. Some furnaces also send alerts to change a filter.
  • Wear comfy sweaters and socks and set the thermostat down a few degrees. We often nestle under a blanket or throw when watching tv or reading in the evening.

It’s going to be an expensive heating winter, but taking a few simple efficiency steps will remove some of the monthly bill’s sting.

Deer and COVID-19

Two years ago, hardly anyone knew what the novel Coronavirus was, but since then this crafty virus and the nasty disease it causes, COVID-19, has hardly been all over the news.  Like most people we thought it was a disease of only humans.

We were astonished to learn that a high percent of Iowa tested deer has been found positive for COVID.   With deer hunting season approaching we wondered if deer pose a threat to people either butchering an animal or eating the meat. So, we contacted Dr. Tyler Harms.  He’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Program Leader.

Gloves and knives for cleaning deer.

Dr. Tyler Harms, head of deer project in Iowa recommends safety gloves and hand washing when processing and preparing venison.

According to him the threat seems minimal, however, he recommends the following actions for anyone processing a deer:

  • Wear rubber gloves when processing an animal.
  • Wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling deer meat

According to Dr. Harms, Iowa’s deer are asymptomatic. They don’t seem to be getting sick or dying.





Buck in woods

Bucks are still active in December.

December is Iowa’s main deer hunting season. Over 100,000 animals are likely to be harvested. Here at Winding Pathways, we enjoy venison as local, organic, free-range meat.  But we’ll be sure to follow Dr. Harm’s advice when handling meat.




In many ways COVID is a mysterious disease. Where it came from remains a hazy mystery, and its variants continue to perplex people.  Now it’s been found in animals.  Iowa’s deer aren’t the only animals that test positive.  The disease has been found in leopards in zoos and mink.   It’s likely that many other animals and deer nearly everywhere carry COVID.  How they got it and how it’s spread is a mystery.

Refresher On How to Be With COVID-19

With Kathleen Horan,
president and CEO of AbbeHealth

We are all now several months into coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic and subsequent COVID-19 disease.

It’s felt like having to walk across a high wire above Niagara Falls with no safety equipment. That stunt was done in 1859 by Jean-Francois Gravelet, also known as Charles Blondin. Totally dangerous. Crazy.  Yet, Blondin understood the dangers and had prepared for many years ahead of time.

A salient lesson for today.

While initially, everything seemed topsy turvy in our world, many have found a semblance of a routine that has helped keep insanity at bay. Yet, as this wears on, we find we are wearing out.

Now is exactly the time to remain mindful. And, remember we do have individual and communal safety nets. So, let’s take a look at these.

The Importance of Routine

Kathleen Horan, director of AbbeHealth, points out that “Most people find comfort in routine and predictability. These fundamental comforts have been disrupted leading to anxiety and stress and sometimes a sense of helplessness because it feels like everything is out of control.”

While some compare the coronavirus pandemic with stressful and location-specific disasters such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, or plane crashes, these disasters are different and require different responses.

“With the 2008 Epic Surge of floodwaters in Eastern Iowa, the lead up was relatively short-lived, the surge came and was devasting, and then we quickly moved in to clean up and recovery stage.  We had things to do to start moving back to what we considered ‘normal’.

“With the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease, the anticipation of what might be coming and the unknowns about what lies ahead are very difficult because it feels so out of our control.”

A joke going around is that while the Greatest Generation was called to go to war (WWII).  We are called to the couch.  We have developed “new” routines and habits. Let’s continue the positive ones after the pandemic has passed.

Revisiting the Grief Cycle and Spiral

With no obvious end in sight, many feel stuck. Spring’s warm weather is coming in the Northern Hemisphere. Fall’s coolness is settling below the Equator.

For those who don’t personally know anyone who has been sick or died, there is even a sense of unreality. Kind of “What’s it all about?” Then, something happens that jars us into the reality of the time. We sink into the sadness of grief.

Remember the cycle comes and goes. Sometimes we are up!  Sometimes down for no discernable reason. And, random events trigger a re-visit to the anxiety of an event or time.

It helps to remember that the trigger was NOT the event. The memory is just that. A memory.

Horan reminds us, “Understanding the phases of grief can be helpful for managing the feelings you may be experiencing. There is no special order to the phases of grief that tend to flow back and forth.

  • An early phase is Denial & Isolation. It may include a feeling or belief that this isn’t real or that what is happening does not affect us.
  • Another phase is Anger. Often this stems from fear and focusing on what has been lost or the things we can’t do right now.
  • Bargaining is sometimes referred to as “What If” or “If Only.” “What if I am careful to wash my hands, then I can go out and be safe.” “If only I had….”
  • Sadness or Depression is another phase and can include feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Acceptance tends to be an end phase. The recognition that the current situation simply is, and we can figure this out.

Moving back and forth between different phases is normal.

What is in Our Control?

Lionhead Rabbit resting

A pet can help us stay calm.

Horan reminded us we DO have safety nets. “Now is a great time to practice self-care. That old adage ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first’ really applies.  That we all take care of ourselves is essential.  This isn’t selfish; it is important.” Care for yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Engage your mind and your heart. Then, we find we can reach out and support and inspire others.

  • Exercise. If you haven’t had a routine or have fallen away from one, break activities into small chunks a few times a day. By the end of the day, you will have exercised more than you realize. This technique breaks up the monotony of being at home most of the time and improves your fitness which can boost your immune system.
  • Practice deep calming breaths. Allow your ribs to expand, the diaphragm to drop down and the belly bulge out. After a few times, return to regular and mindful breathing.
  • Mantra and mudra. The first is a short saying that helps focus your mind. Some examples that accompany a four-count breath are:
    “I am all right.” “I am here now.” “I am calm now.” “I am safe here.” A mudra is a hand gesture. Again, with a four-count breath touch your thumb to each finger as you say a mantra. Together, the breathing, mantra, and mudra help focus your mind and allow positive hormones to counter stress.
  • Release tension from various parts of your body starting with your face and shoulders. Mentally move through your body to your feet.
  • Other ways to help quiet your mind include: Meditate, journal, read or listen to inspirational music or words, and notice and appreciate the beauty of nature are all.
  • Take care of a pet.  Caring for another sentient being can give a sense of purpose and calm our nerves.

Horan points out that these simple activities center you in the reality of what is happening now, in this moment.

She adds, “Another great way to calm anxious thoughts is to focus on those things for which you are grateful. Start and end each day identifying five things that make you feel thankful. Write them down. Look at them when you feel distressed. This will help re-center you in gratitude.” And, gratitude produces side benefits.

Reach Out

The free, on-line Yale Class, The Science of Well Being with Dr. Laurie Santos, points out that when we do kind acts for others, we elevate both them and ourselves.  Recently we found some flamingos in our yard and a note with homemade chocolate on our porch.  My friend and I were bummed out that events we had planned got canceled. So, she and her husband cheered us both up with this hilarious and kind gesture.

The upshot

flamingo statues

Make friends laugh!

In this “dangerous opportunity” time, doors do actually open for us.

  • We can choose to follow current safety guidelines – stay home and wear protective gear when out. We can reach out by phone or other digital means to check on those we love, our neighbors, and our friends.
  • We can work on those projects at home that we never get to but now have a little time.
  • We can spend that extra time reading to or playing with our children.

Chris Klug, a skilled practitioner gently guided class members through a difficult week. He reminded us that life is like a spiral. We may remember an event or situation. The memory might trigger an emotion. Yet, we have moved from that actual time. It is OK to be with the feeling of grief. Then, as you can, practice the self-care techniques.

Lots have changed and returning to “normal” will not happen.  We can right” this topsy-turvy time,  adjust, adapt, and form new ways to live and create meaningful lives.

Smokey Bear Re-Visited

A few months ago, we posted a blog honoring Smokey Bear on his 75th birthday. Smokey was created by the United States Forest Service in an effort to encourage people to be careful with fire. His was one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history.

Smokey Bear Cutout with a woman standing beside.

The allure of Smokey Bear.

Smokey is adorable yet commanding. When he said to drown campfires and snuff out cigarettes you did it without question. Today, we know that forest fires are a natural phenomenon with beneficial ecological impacts, but Smokey’s message still resonates.

Two Winding Pathways readers shared their memories of Smokey Bear.

Tracy McPartland of Cedar Rapids sent us a photo of her with Smokey taken at the Smithsonian. “I loved Smokey Bear as a kid. I used to voice imitate him even though I don’t know what his voice was like.”


Ancient Smokey Bear doll.

Smokey has been well-loved.

Jim Rainey is a retired US Army LTC who lives in Pennsylvania. Recently, he told us he received a Smokey doll from Santa in the early 1950s when he was four or five years old. “I was enchanted by Smokey. And, my doll still sits on the chair in my office.  Sometimes my dog uses him as a pillow. At age 65, or so, he has patches on his jeans, is missing some hair, and part of his nose is gone. A few years ago, we asked our three daughters what they wanted of our stuff and was surprised when our oldest daughter said she wanted Smokey. Before then I was thinking of having him put in my casket, but I really didn’t want him locked in a box for eternity. I’ll let my daughter enjoy him and think of me,” he said.


Rich also has pleasant memories of Smokey and passed his image whenever he entered the Boise, Clearwater, or Idaho Panhandle National Forests during his college years. In 1974 he was a US Forest Service Hot Shot and fought three wildfires in Idaho. He’s kept a Smokey poster on his office wall for years.

There is confusion. Technically he’s Smokey Bear, not Smokey THE Bear.

A former college contact, the Fazio Family, owns Woodland Catalog Smokey Bear Gifts and has a store in Moscow, Idaho. Anyone wanting Smokey items can order it online. There’s a Smokey Bear museum in a state park in Capitan, New Mexico. You can take a brief virtual tour at

Smokey endures for the ages.   His message is clear, and his presence is endearing.

How Do You Track Animals in Winter?

When the next soft snow falls, go tracking outside!  A mid-December 2019 skiff of snow delighted us. There was not enough of the white stuff to shovel but the thin white blanket that covered our yard revealed who visited the night before.

The dimples of deer tracks were clearly visible as we went out to get the newspaper, but one set of tracks was unusual and especially interesting. Four footprints, in a rough line, kept repeating with about three feet of untrod snow between them. Just what animal created them?

After a bit of sleuthing, we decided it was a coyote out seeking a mouse or rabbit dinner.  Coyotes aren’t rare around our home but they aren’t in the yard often. We wish we could have watched it lope across the yard.

A skiff of snow makes for a delightful walk in the woods, grasslands, or wetlands.   Often animals are easy to spot as their dark coats contrast with the white snow and tracking is superb. It’s usually not hard to figure out what animal made the tracks, and following them gives some idea of what the animal was doing and where it was going.

Many Websites and books help with track identification but we like because it shows tracks of animals most likely to be in a backyard.

Happy tracking.

Why Do Stinging Nettle Sting?

A delightful swatch of color flitted by as we sat on our back deck on one of spring’s first warm sunny days.  It was a red admiral butterfly that landed on a post just a few feet from us. It appeared to be enjoying the weather as much as we were.   

We’ve since spotted many red admirals in the yard, probably because stinging nettles thrive on the north end of our property. It’s the favored plant for red admiral caterpillars, although they’ll also live on other types of nettles. That poses somewhat of a dilemma.

What is a Red Admiral Butterfly?

Red Admiral Butterfly

These colorful butterflies depend on early blooming plants like nettles.

Red Admirals are a common butterfly across much of the temperate globe. They’re found across Europe and Asia, North Africa, Hawaii, and much of North America, especially the eastern half of our continent. The larvae feed on stinging nettles, which may not be native. So, if red admirals need stinging nettles what did they eat before the plant was introduced to North America in the early days of European exploration? It’s not even certain that stinging nettles are exotic. They may have been here all along, or early butterflies may have fed on wood nettles.  


We appreciate both the insect and plant here at Winding Pathways. Red admirals add color and movement to the yard, while nettles make delicious eating. It’s the first wild green we harvest each early spring.

Can You Eat Nettles?

Stinging Nettles

Carefully pluck the top three leaves off.

Stinging nettles are ready to harvest early – about the time when chard, spinach, and lettuce are planted. When the nettles are just a few inches tall we pluck off the top three or four leaves. They are called stinging nettles because the plant has tiny hairlike stingers. Walk through a patch in summer wearing shorts and nettles cause instant pain. But it’s temporary and not dangerous. Another name for the plant is the “seven-minute itch.” The sting comes from histamines.


We gather young nettles without getting stung by carefully plucking just the top leaves between our thumb and forefinger and snapping them off. About 100 young nettle tops make two servings. We bring them into the kitchen, rinse them a couple of times, and steam them for just a minute or two. The sting disappears and resulting greens are delicious. Plus they pack a nutritious array of vitamins and are high in protein.

Nettle season is short. By the time the plants are eight or ten inches tall, the new leaves are getting tough. But by then we’re harvesting chard and spinach from the garden.  

We’re happy to share our yard with both red admirals and nettles. Anyone with a partly shady yard with damp soil might want to start a nettle patch. Wear a pair of gloves and dig up a few and plant them in the yard. They aren’t fussy and will provide excellent table fare and a higher likelihood that the yard will be home to the colorful butterfly.