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Now that Christmas is over and the new year has begun, it is time to face the most daunting task of the holiday season. It is time to unstring the house and take down the outdoor decorations. (If you are one of those infidels who leave up their lights all year a la' Homer Simpson you can stop here, log out and go ahead and beat yourself with a 2x4 now.)

Chances are that when the lights and decorations went up, you had "help" in the form of on lookers and back seat decorators to make sure that everything went yup just right, and that you didn't do anything silly with ladders, tree branches, etc. Now that it time to go out into weather that has become pretty nasty all across the U.S. to take them down, you are going to be flying solo out there in the wind, snow, ice, rain, and unfulfilled Christmas wishes while everyone else is inside warm, toasty, and playing with their newest acquisitions.

As you undertake this onerous task I wish you luck, and a lack of trips to the local emergency room. I have a friend who was taking down his decoration a week or so ago who ended up taking that ride to the ER and is now recovering at home with enough metal in his arm to give the TSA guys at the airport a run for their money!

So as you break out your ladder, plan your assault on the eaves, and the subsequent invasion of the roof line, remember these tips I have come up with over the years:

  1. Re-check where you will be placing the ladder. This is not the same friendly yard you were working in back in November. Rain, snow, ice, and wind have had their way with it for 4-6 weeks, and your previous assault position may now be untenable!
  2. Frozen ground and snow are not good places to put your ladder! The only places worse are mud and ice.
  3. The pliable tree you climbed a month ago may now be a frozen statue waiting to snap and dump you into the hedges.
  4. If it has rained lately (i.e. pretty much anywhere in the U.S. at this point) test the ladders footing. Put it up, climb the first step and bounce a few times. This will let you know if it is going to sink, slip or tilt in the soft ground before you are 10 feet up with your jingle bells hanging in the wind.
  5. Be careful leaning too far over. This tip always applies to ladders, but especially when you are up one with out a paddle in less that ideal conditions. it is better to move the ladder a couple extra times than try to take them down again next week wearing a cast.

If you follow these and the tips from your ladder's maker, and you still are unsure you can try a couple other things. On soft earth you can grab a couple extra stepping stones to put under you ladder's feet to give then a better surface to work with. Just drop them where they need to go, and then jump up and down a few times to make sure they are firmly seated. Also you can try salting frozen surfaces or putting down a little sand to try to get your ladder some extra purchase. Be careful when using these measures as results will vary depending on conditions.

Above all make sure you follow the ladder maker's safety guidelines. After all they were most likely drafted after some idiot sued them after hurting themselves by doing something stupid with a ladder.

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