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Two Karmic Tales from the Polar Vortex

AAATwo true tales from the coldest winters we’ve seen in decades. One an example of how to treat others. The other, an example of how not to treat others. I hope that someday, both givers of kindness and meanness will receive their Karmic justice in this life or the ones to come.

First tale, as retold by my mother-in-law on an incident that happened to the grown children and grandchildren of their longtime friends:

In December, two families from suburban Long Island, each with two or three children with the oldest of age 12, followed each other caravan-style north to a ski vacation rental in Vermont.  There was a winter storm warning and, thinking they could push through, the families drove into the night. Main highways became impassible so the families decided to take alternative routes on local roads.

As the roads began to ice over, one family’s car swerved to avoid another car, slid and became stuck in an embankment.

Witnessing what happened to the first car, the second car in the traveling party pulled over to see if they could be of assistance. In trying to help, the second car also then became dangerously stuck in a snow embankment. On a strange rural street. In the dark. In the cold. In the storm.

All the while, the two stranded families were unaware that a family living on the property was watching them. They approached the families who were stranded on their property – a group of about 12 complete strangers – four adults and their children – invited them in for the night, and gave them dinner and a place to sleep, and shelter until their vehicles could be dug out the next day.

To that angelic New England family who opened their doors to strangers on a stormy winter night, they will most certainly receive good Karma in this life or the next.

Next story. My story. 

Funny how appearances change of buildings and streets in the snow. Especially in suburban Detroit neighborhoods you think you’ve gotten to know pretty well in the six months I’ve lived here.

I was on my way over to a good friend’s house to pick up my son from an extended play date. I was not sure of the exact address, and I didn’t feel like punching it into my GPS system. After all, I had been there several times in the summer and fall, to press cider and just enjoy the company of our new friends. I thought I knew my way and knew the house.

But like I said, something very disorienting happens in the low light and snowy landscape of winter. So disorienting that I pulled up the curvy, snow-covered driveway of the wrong house. Just one identical looking wrong house away were my friends, their daughter and son, and my son, happily playing.

Just one house away, I was catching some bad Karma.

I realized my mistake, and started to attempt to back down the driveway. Only, because of the curve and the snow, I missed it, and backed up into a soft, snowy part of the front lawn.

Funny how one can still use the word “lawn” in a polar vortex winter. Because no one has seen their lawn here since November.

So, there I was, on a lawn. If I just eased the car back and forth – Reverse, Drive, Reverse, Drive – I’d be on my way.

No luck.

Instead, my wheels spun and whirred deeper into the lawn.

A man living next door saw my plight. He bundled up (it was 9 degrees) came out with two shovels, and we both set to work trying to dig me out. He even offered to get some chains and hooks from his car to drag my car out. I thanked him, but turned down his offer, afraid of the damage either of our vehicles might incur.

Finally, after 20 minutes of this, she came out.

A thin, blond woman.

She was not helpful.

She was mad.

“What the hell do you think you are doing to my lawn???”

“I’m sorry, ma’am… I was going to pick up my son at your neighbor’s house and I mixed up the houses and – ”
“WHAT ARE  YOU DOING ON MY LAWN? WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS??” She went on and on about her poor lawn and the damage I was doing to it. She did not ask if I was okay, if I had called for help, if I was cold, needed a cup of hot coffee.

In suburban Detroit,  some people care about their lawns – even in the winter – more than they care about people.

Angry and embarrassed, I left my car and ran to my friends’ house. I’m not surprised that the two neighbors don’t even know one another. Usually, nice people don’t tend to socialize with mean people.

My car was eventually towed out by AAA, and my friend, her husband, and my husband came to my aid.

But not the mean blond lady, who actually took a photograph of my license plate as I was on my hands and knees trying to dig away the snow to free my car.

Mean blond lady, your lawn will be just fine. I’ll even come over with a bag of dirt and seed in the spring to fix your precious lawn. Because I said I was sorry 10 times. Because I’m that fucking nice.

Mean blond lady, you will also get your Karmic justice. It’s coming.

Has old  man winter been a bitch to you? If so, rant away and please SHARE!

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Here is why I didn’t buy that sweet little bouquet of Daffodils at Trader Joe’s

In my blog posts, I am trying to avoid having a bitter tinge in my writing.

I’ve heard advice to avoid politics in my blog, unless I want to have a political blog.

I want to write about happy things, like the anticipation of spring in this very cold corner of New York.

When you live in Western New York, winter can drag on until mid April.

When you live in Western New York, you hang on to your “sleeping bag” puffy black jacket until Mid-April.

“Spring” sports have begun in school.

Youngsters at this very moment are at an ultimate frisbee match.

Outside temperature right now is 28 degrees.

And it’s still snowing.

And when you are a Western New Yorker, a yearning for spring makes beautiful, sweet bouquet at Trader Joes – prices at $1.49 for 10 flowers – extremely hard to resist. 

So I picked two bunches and carefully placed them in my cart, as to not crush their happy yellow heads.

As I got on line, I happened to check the label of the flowers.

“These flowers were proudly grown for you in England.”

England. A product of England, eh?

Nope. I put them back.

Wanna know why?

Because my love for Israel is stronger than my desire for a floral impulse buy.

The UK, in the past decade, the anti-Israel atmosphere has only thickened and intensified.

In the UK, it is just fine and socially acceptable to call upon the boycott of Israeli products, Israeli-created technology, and even Israeli intelligence all under the guise that Zionism= racism. 

Zionism, by the way, is no way related nor does it ever condone discriminating one because of one’s race, religion or sexuality. Zion comes from the Hebrew word “excellence” which is what Theodore Herzl dreamed about – the creation of a homeland that would be for the Jewish people but would also serve as an example and a resource of excellence for the rest of the world.

At Oxford University, students are set to vote whether or not the university should boycott all products and companies that have ties to Israel.

In the UK, academics at top Universities call for a boycott of collaborating with universities in Israel. At one point, there was a petition to arrest any Israeli academic visiting England upon landing for war crimes. 

And finally, I thought about England’s Chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks address at last month’s AIPAC conference, which he referenced how anti-globalisation protests in England quickly devolve into anti-Jewish protests.  You can check out the video here:

All these thoughts swirled around my head as I admired the daffodils.

i didn’t start a protest to boycott Trader Joe’s, as many Arabs have done outside TJ’s around the country for daring to carry Israeli products.

No. I just had my own personal boycott.

No England. You can keep you daffodils. I’ll boycott you back. And I’ll wait for my own flowers to pop up in a few weeks, thank you very much.

Buy Daughter Skis, Feed the Chickadees, Mendon, NY

Ever since my daughter started high school, I don’t see her that much. She doesn’t talk to me that much either. She is either in school, at practice, or up in her room studying, texting or skyping.

So, when she starts talking to me about taking on a new challenge like cross-country skiing, even though it’s a language almost foreign to me, I had better listen.

I tried to downhill ski, once.  It was in California on a weekend away with my husband’s grad school buddies.  Long ago, on a bunny hill somewhere in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I decided that strapping waxed wooden pieces to my feet and then surrenduring my body to the mercy of gravity was simply a horrible idea.

I was better suited for a flatter, more level playing field. So, the next year, I attempted cross-country skiing. I thought, how hard could it be? There are no hills to hurtle down and cause bodily injury. There are no ski lifts to try to jump on. Again, my new husband and I headed to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It was a perfect, fresh-powdered blue-skied day to take my first five-mile trek on cross-country skis. I could run five miles at a time, so how much harder could skiing it be?

Much harder. Much.

Any ability to get my poles and my arms in rhythm with my feet in my skis completely escaped me. As soon as I would get any momentum going, I’d topple over into the snow. After falling over for about the 72nd time (I’m not exaggerating), I just sat there and wept in frustration. I took off my skis, walked back to the lodge and had a hot chocolate while the others effortlessly glided along the lakeshore.

So, when my daughter came to me with those big blue  eyes sparkling with the promise of a new challenge, I was not going to put my failure on the slopes and the trails on her. But how much was this going to cost us?

We head out to a ski swap and sale at a middle school surrounded by farmland. This is one of the biggest ski swap and sales in the area, and the gym is packed with parents like us shopping from the area’s ski retailers. Thankfully, the high school ski coach is there to teach us the lingo (Classic skis, Combi skis and boots, Poles, Bindings.) and show us what we needed to buy. We need skis that she can use for both disciplines.

No, the two disciplines are not scary downhill and frustrating cross-country, as I thought.  There are actually two disciplines of cross-country: classic and skate.  About 40 minutes, — and hundreds of dollars – later, she had what she needed to hit the trails.

On the way home, we stopped at one of our favorite places to hike, Mendon Ponds Park, where my kids have been hand feeding the chickadees since they were little. It is one thing they still like to do and each time a bird lands in their hand, I get a glimpse into the past, see the little kids my big kids once were.

My daughter brings her poles along for the 2 mile hike, just to get a feel for them. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter wants me to give them a try. I listen to her and slip my thumb in the proper hole, adjust the velcro secure around the rest of my hand. Bend my elbows just so.  And, in one final hike before the snows fall, my daughter and I take turns with the poles along the trail. Together. Side by side.

Yes It’s Hot, even in Rochester

Think cool! Rochester skyline on a wintry day

A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?

A few months from now,  will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?  

When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.

“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”

“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”

“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”

But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.

Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since …..  1894

One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.

Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone.  Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70’s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.

Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time.  There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing. 

Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.

So far, I’m getting  plenty of tomatoes – though still green,

a few pumpkins

and some peppers.

Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.

The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.

“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.

“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.

“Will summers get hotter than this even?”

For that, I don’t have an answer.

So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:

They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office

At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.

But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat.  After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.

As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week.  I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.

Stuck at the Airport with Kids? Here’s what to do!

As I write this, the curse of the Philadelphia International Airport has struck my family once again.  I last saw my husband through half-asleep eyes as he kissed me goodbye at 4 a.m. last Sunday. A conference out in California was taking him away during our February “vacation.” My vacation home with the three children. He is now stuck in Philadelphia.  I’ve shoveled nine inches of snow off our driveway. I really don’t know when he will be home.

I am sure that the curse of delayed or canceled flights due to the weather is not reserved just for those in the Philadelphia airport. No, with this winter, and this winter vacation coming to a close at the same time another snowstorm rattles our air traffic patterns, our story is not unique.

So this blog post is dedicated to all of you out there who have been stuck at an airport with children.

I really think that going away to get a few days of sunshine over February break is just not worth it in our age of “Welcome to the Hellish Skies.”  Indeed, we did a few years ago make an attempt at a Florida getaway.  But due to storms, we instead had a 13-hour destination vacation to the Philadelphia International Airport!

My son, an avid New York Mets fan, was dressed head to toe in Orange and Blue Mets paraphernalia. He cowered the whole time in his jacket, hood pulled up all the way. He actually believed that because he loved the Mets and hated the Phillies, someone in the airport of the City of Brotherly Love was going to kill him.  

Our efforts to escape the cold of Rochester for just one week had failed. We missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach.  Every flight to southern Florida was booked and overbooked for the next three days.

As we looked at the flight board, we slowly came to the harsh realization that the palm trees of our vacation dreams had been yanked out by the roots. We could stay in the airport as standby refugees, or head back to cold icy Rochester. We were not going anywhere.

But then I had an epiphany. I realized, Hey! We are still on vacation!  Vacation can be a state of mind, even if you did not make it to the Sunshine State.

So here are my hard-earned tips of what to do you if you are on a 13-hour standby hoping in vain to get your flight to paradise:

  • Immediately go to the “customer service” line and demand you get a pillow. Take two or three and don’t feel guilty. The airline has ruined your original vacation destination and they owe it to you to make you as comfortable as possible.
  • Forget the food court. You are on vacation and deserve the best of airport dining. In our case, it was Applebees. Any frugalities of ordering from a restaurant menu with children- like sharing – should be lifted. We were on vacation. Kids, if you want a beverage other than water, go for it! That naturally blue-colored smoothie? Go for it!
  • As far as the adults in your party, order an alcoholic beverage. You are going to need it.
  • After your meal, order dessert. Those desserts that stare at you all throughout your meal from those triangular placards placed strategically on the table. Remember, this may be your only vacation meal!
  • After your meal, don’t bother checking on your flight status. You know you are not boarding any time soon, if you board at all.
  • Find out if the airport you are stranded in has a Sharper Image or a Brookstones. Loiter there for an hour or so. Spend most of this time on one of their massage chairs. Ignore looks from salesperson.
  • Is the hot stuffy airport getting to your children? Do what my kids did and let them pretend that the bathroom is their own personal water park. Cool off by dunking your child’s head in the sink. Just like dunking into the pool at grandma and grandpa’s condo. How refreshing!
  • Around 10:00 p.m., entire sections of the airport should be clear enough to let your kids run completely wild. Make sure you pack a jumprope and maybe some in-line skates in addition to some healthy and sugary snacks.
  • At 11 p.m or later, if you are still waiting on standby in a nearly empty airport, abandon the rule about indoor voices. And the no running rule.  And the no climbing and jumping on furniture rule.  Moms, that glass of wine at Applebees must have worn off by now. Use the extra space to do a little yoga stretching to relieve the stress.

Airport authorities, if you cannot tolerate the wildness of unruly children, who have spent over 10 hours cooped up in your airport, you should have done more to get good, hardworking parents to their original vacation destinations. Airlines, you should have done the decent thing and not have overbooked your flights. So go ahead kids and parents, make all the outdoor voices, and screams, and wild laughter you can conjure up.  This is family time!

YOU ARE ON VACATION, REMEMBER?

Snow Blower vs. Snow Shovel

So here we go again. Another week, another snow storm. 

And this time, Rochester isn’t going to get off Scott-free like we have so far this winter. As we await the next deluge of snow, I know you are all sick of it. But up here in Rochester, we’ve only had 77 inches fall this winter. Only. But only in terms of “lake effect” showers and flurries. Never a mention of a storm. Just enough snow to fall each day to cover the ugly grey snow. And not enough to justify a snow day.

But our day may be coming this week. Finally!

This is a piece I wrote a few years back that I figure would be very timely right about now. I know it’s tough, but do try to enjoy and appreciate the quiet and beauty of the snow. Because in a few months, we’ll be wishing for some cool weather.

We actually do have a snow blower. A Toro Powerlite snow blower that our relatives gave to us as a housewarming gift when my husband and I moved to Rochester from New Jersey with our two small children nearly a decade ago.  It is nestled on the left side of our Tudor’s tiny one-car garage – a garage that was built to fit 1920’s model cars, not today’s SUVs or minivans.  Over the years, it has certainly served us well.  My husband uses the snow blower on mornings when he has to get out early On early winter mornings I often wake to the sound of him repeatedly pulling on its cord to get it whirring to a shuddering start, the smell of the gasoline seeping upward from the garage directly overhead to our bedroom.

But I left the snow blower in the garage today and opted for my ergonomic snow shovel.  If I used the snow blower, I wouldn’t have delighted in the soundlessness that a snowstorm creates, the snow’s ability to absorb noise in our motorized world.  I wouldn’t have had the chance to watch the snow change from white to the slightest tinge of blue when it is pushed aside by the shovel’s blade. Or hear the chickadees chirping in the backyard and think about how I may at some point want to train them to feed out of my hand.  

The snowy weather does get a bit old here in Rochester, here at January’s end when at least two more months of snow await us and with the knowledge that we could not afford plane tickets to Florida for this year’s February break. 

You can’t stir a sleepy child out of bed at January’s end with the exclamation of

“Look! It snowed last night”. 

Maybe you can get away with that in November, or even mid-December, when snow is still a novelty. But when one’s alarm has been buzzing before dawn since November, and grass and brick and garden beds have not been seen for over a month, the child looks at you as if to say “big freaking deal, MOM” and rolls over in a vain attempt for one more minute of sleep.

We are not bears. And we cannot sleep all winter.  So out we go into it.  Whether it is to school, work, food shopping, we must. 

And you know something? If you are wearing enough layers, and there is no bitter wind to bite your face, shoveling snow by hand, and then taking a walk in it can be very invigorating, just about as invigorating as the Zumba class that I decided to blow off today.  As I walk, I turn my feet outwards, and then in, just like that boy in Ezra Jack Keat’s beloved children’s book. (Need I tell you the name?) I think about diverting my children from the television and getting them into the snow to play as they get off the schoolbus. I feel the gentleness of the flakes hit against my hat.  And when the one other person out walking today in my neighborhood passes me, we smile at each other knowingly, as if we are privy to a very well kept secret.  

As I turn home, an enormous truck with an eight-foot high snowplow turns the corner and packs the snow bank blocking our driveway even higher. Okay, there is no romanticizing anymore, and I head to my garage to start up the noisy, smelly snow blower.

Winter Blahging

At the beginning of January, Mother Nature gave us Western New Yorkers quite the tease.

Every flake of snow melted away. Temperatures soared — SOARED – into the 50s. People were out everywhere that first week in January. We thought – so this is what the outside feels like again. So this is what it is like to go outside minus the hat, the fleece gloves, the silk thermals. This is what it is like to walk outside without guarding every step from a trecherous icy patch.

But we knew it couldn’t last. And the cold, along with the winter blahs, is hitting many of us as hard and unrelenting as this winter.

This week, temperatures refused to budge above the 20’s and the sun made a few cameo appearances, starring as a pale egg yolk in a grey sky.  As tempting as it is to fly away and visit my parents in Florida over February break, the $600 plane tickets say we are in the cold for the long haul.

Turning on the TV doesn’t seem to help matters. The grim news from Arizona, plus the loss of the contemporary Jewish song composer Debbie Friedman made the week even tougher to bear. 

Did I say that the days were getting longer in a recent post? Well, the darkness still seems to come very early these days.  And though I do try to get outside, I’m tired of fighting Old Man Winter, and he is starting to win.

I posted just how blah I felt on my Facebook status and was thankful for all the friends who wrote in their suggestions: exercise, a drink, getting out with other people, or staying inside with one special person  : ).

But there, in the seasonal aisle of Wegmans, I saw it. My cure for the winter blues.

A Jiffy Greenhouse Seed Starter!

With that, and a purchase of some organic Parseley and Arugula seeds, the smile returned to my face. Let the 2011 gardening season begin.

Ice Cubes in the Toilet and other Tips to make a Snow Day

Tonight, my kids will most likely go to bed wearing their pajamas inside out. The youngest will have tucked a spoon underneath his pillow.  My daughter told me that at middle school, the bets were already on at school today as to whether tomorrow would be a snow day. After all, that storm that slammed the midwest has now put Rochester in a “persistent band of lake effect snow.”  And here in Rochester, we may be getting 1-2 feet of this lake effect snow. All this snow, yet not a single weather report has used the word “storm” or “blizzard.” 

When my oldest children were very small, I feared that they would grow up without having a chance to play in the snow. Their first winters in New Jersey passed with hardly a flake.  Then, we moved to Rochester.

Moving to the snowiest metropolitan area in the lower 48 meant that we would have plenty of chances for snowball fights and snowman building. We also needed to adjust our perception of what constitutes a significant snowfall.

You see, we started our family in New Jersey, in the land of 2-inch snowfall snow days. One morning, when my daughter attended preschool at the Scotch Plains JCC, I bundled her up, along with her infant brother, to go to preschool. I traversed 2-inch snow-covered roads, only to find the building was closed.

Fast forward to a year later,  One morning, after a three-inch overnight snowfall, I actually called my daughter’s preschool – this time at the JCC of Greater Rochester – to see if it was open.

I think I heard the director silence a chuckle as she politely told me that schools here don’t close unless there is at least 18 inches of snow.

For schoolchildren and adults alike, nothing is more exciting than the possibility of a snow day.  And when I moved to Rochester, I thought that we would be having a lot of those days that are like gifts from God. Snow days are like God’s way of telling you to slow down, sleep in, stay warm, bake cookies. 

Well, the Rochester School District seems to care little about what God wants, because nary a snow day have we had since living up here in the snowbelt.

It’s been 11 years and my husband has yet to have a snow day from work. No, wait. The only “snow day” at his job had been in the summer. Why?  It wasn’t because of snow. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT snow in Rochester in July.

It was a tree that fell on a transformer and blew the power out at his office.

So, on snowy days, my husband braves the snow. He plows himself out of the driveway in the dark of the morning, and then plows to get back in the driveway in the dark of the evening.

Rochesterians are very lucky to have the equipment it takes to fight against Old Man Winter.   Brighton tax dollars – more than half a million each year — are hard at work so in the early morning hours, I can hear the sounds of snowplows large and small clearing our roads and sidewalks.

So, before I go to bed tonight, I will check the forecast one more time. And if I hear those blessed three words “Brighton Schools Closed” on the radio tomorrow morning , I know will be too excited to go back to sleep.  

But I know school will be on tomorrow.

In spite of the spoons

and the inside-out pajamas.

and the ice cubes placed in the toilet.

Because, in reality, it’s just too early in the season to cancel school tomorrow. After all, technically, it is still Autumn.  And this is Rochester.

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