Our Frozen Oasis

Here’s the thing about having a skating rink in your backyard: it’s not for the faint of heart.

It seems so sweet and idyllic, right? Your own private skating oasis; gleaming ice ready any time you want to use it; no one rushing you or bumping into you, no waiting for the Zamboni to finish, no new-fangled music that’s all the rage with kids these days; a cozy house to warm up inside; hot chocolate simmering on the stove.

In reality, you do have your own oasis – that much is true – but you have got to work for it, from the moment you lay down the framing and the tarp to the day you call it quits for the season. It’s a commitment, this rink thing – one that, in many ways, must be undertaken by the entire family. (I remember a neighbor, years ago, telling me that they too used to have a backyard rink but they’d finally scrapped it after she got tired of her husband calling when he was out of town and asking her to shovel it. I laughed at the time.

Ignorance is, indeed, bliss.)

We’ve had our rink for four or five years now, and each year we learn something new: how and when to flood it (a layer at a time or all at once? Before the first big freeze or not until you’ve got several sub-freezing days in a row?), how deep to fill it, where in the yard to put it, how often – and with what – to clear it off, how to smooth out the inevitable bumps, how to avoid chips and cracks, what kind of tarp to use, how to secure the tarp, how large the frame should be, and so on.

This year, we wound up having to flood the rink in a hurry to take advantage of some particularly frigid temperatures…
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… which would explain why Ella and Nick are doing this at night in a snowstorm…

But, in the end, the hard work paid off because two days later: strong, skate-ready ice.
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We were so excited to use it, we couldn’t wait until the following morning.
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Who needs sun when you have floodlights??

What followed have been – absolutely – many many idyllic afternoons, evenings, mornings, and weekends spent on that rink.

We’ve skated…
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We’ve tried our hands (and skates) at hockey…
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We’ve invited friends over to share in the fun…
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We’ve gone through gallons (literally) of hot cocoa, seemingly never-ending bowls of popcorn, numerous skate guards, at least one broken hockey stick, and dozens of pucks – long buried in the snow. In a lot of ways, it really has been sweet and idyllic.
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This is pretty much my dream winter set-up: perfect rink, fire in the fire pit, path for friends and neighbors to join us.

Much to my dismay, however, a smooth, skateable, nicely maintained ice rink does not just happen by magic (no matter how many Harry Potter spells I try). First, there is shoveling.
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When the snow is minimal, we use our indentured servants to help.

Next, there is more shoveling.
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What’s more fun that shoving ten inches of snow off the driveway? Shoveling ten inches of snow off the driveway and the ice rink!

As we’ve learned the hard way, you can’t just let the snow sit on the rink, no matter how much you’d rather relax on the couch. It creates this insulated cover and blah blah insert something science-y here and before you know it, the ice is all melty and bumpy and weird and then you have to not only shovel but also scrape the lumps off and fill in the holes.

Exhibit A: the rink after our one and only day of sleet this year.skating rink27
This was after I’d already shoveled. It was basically very cold sandpaper.

Exhibit B: the wonders of a scraper toolskating rink28
That one corner took 45 minutes. THIS IS A LABOR OF LOVE, PEOPLE. A very labor-ful labor of love.

Long story short, it really works best to shovel that puppy clean as soon as you can – which, in our case, means removing snow from an 816 square foot surface. On purpose. Voluntarily. We choose to shovel 816 square feet of snow in addition to our driveway and front walk basically every time it snows – whether it’s an inch or a foot, whether Nick is home or out of town, whether it’s below zero or above freezing – because we have a doggone ice rink in the back yard and we’ll be damned if we let it go to hell in a hand basket!

See what I mean about the whole commitment thing?
A (functional) backyard ice rink is a really bad idea if you’d rather hibernate in the winter.

Beyond needing to keep the rink clear of snow, you need to remove everything else from its surface, too, be it paw prints (the dogs do not respect the sanctity of the rink) or twigs or errant pucks. (One time, the dogs knocked a goal and some pucks onto the rink overnight and when I found them in the morning, they’d already created little ice molds for themselves.)
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I’m melllting! What a world!

In addition to shoveling and clearing, there is also the flooding of the rink – sometimes with the hose, sometimes with buckets of hot water; sometimes a thin layer over the entire surface, sometimes just a bit here and there. If you do it when it’s snowing, the snow can freeze into the ice layer and cause bumps. If you wait until it’s warmer, the ice won’t set properly. It’s a science, but a very inexact one; maybe this is what it’s like to be a meteorologist.

Oh! And there is also… shoveling.
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There’s a rink out there somewhere…
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First step: clear the edges and divide into fourths.skating rink19
Next: make sure someone has a bottle of Aleve waiting inside.skating rink20
Or a glass of wine.skating rink21
At least you won’t need to go to the gym today!
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Finally! If you’re not too sore, you can skate!

You might think, with all of the work – with the backaches and the frostbitten fingers, the late nights spent waiting for just the right time to lay down another coat of water – that it’s somehow not worth it.

But, oh. You’d be wrong.

It’s quiet in the backyard. You can barely see the cars in the cul-de-sac; for all you know, you’re the only people around. Your skates sound so crisp as they scrape along the ice, carving pathways and messages. No matter what else is going on – the vomiting dog, the broken car, the fighting children, the burned dinner, the crazy project, the looming deadline – everything seems to fade away the moment you step foot (skate?) on the ice.
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With a backyard ice rink, everything you need is right there. In an instant, you can go from stressed to calm, worried to serene, simply by venturing out over those boards. (Or you can get out your aggression by slapping some pucks around. Either way, it’s a win.)

You see beauty, too, in places you hadn’t before – the ice takes on different hues depending on the time of day, how sunny it is, how much snow is surrounding the rink. It’s like looking out onto an ever-changing portrait… except nothing has changed at all but your perspective.

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See what I mean? 8 a.m….

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… and 3 p.m.
(I could have Photoshopped out the dog pee but I decided to keep it real. #NOFILTER, baby.)

As I mentioned earlier, this winter started off relatively mildly; we didn’t have much snow (for Rochester) through January. As February wore on, we saw not only the coldest month in Rochester’s history but also an additional 50″ of snow. Although we normally see that much snow (twice it, actually) over the course of each winter, it typically falls in a steadier fashion rather than a lot at once. This was, therefore, the first year where we had significant snow build-up around the outside of the rink.

Personally, I think it added to the isolated, idyllic feel.

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Early January was pretty slow.
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By mid-January, the ground cover was solid.
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By early February, the rounded edges had begun to form.
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Then came… OMG SO MUCH SNOW.
(See: piles along our walkway as tall as the girls.)
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By the end of the month, the rink was completely encircled.

All of our previous rinks have been just fine, but there’s always been at least one problem with each of them. Some never properly froze over. Others were inadequately flooded, resulting in chipping ice and exposed tarp (we prefer more modest tarps over here). Still other years we didn’t get ourselves out to the ice quickly enough to clear away the snow; when you don’t commit, it isn’t pretty.

This year, the stars aligned. The cold February made for fantastic ice conditions. We finally understood how and when to fill the rink. We purchased portable floodlights so we could skate after dark. We learned from our past mistakes and were bound and determined to make sure that we took good care of the surface, to keep it clear and shoveled and smooth so that, any time – day or night – we can pop on our skates and go for a spin.

Quite frankly, we’ve all been loving it so much, it’s almost been easy. (In the emotional sense. Physically? NOT SO MUCH.) We’ve skated ourselves silly on that rink.

The frigid temperatures and unrelenting snow persisted well into March like a stubborn child’s tantrum – until, just like that, they’d exhausted themselves and were done. This week has brought forty degree temperature increases and days of glorious sunshine. Because the past month has been so brutal, the return of spring feels nothing short of miraculous.

But I am sad to say goodbye to our rink.

Yesterday morning, we awoke to temperatures in the 20s for the first time in five days – meaning that the ice, which had been evaporating and bump-filled all week, had somehow glazed over, leaving the surface just smooth enough to skate on. With the forecast calling for continued above-freezing days, I knew this was probably our last chance to go for a spin… and so, before school, the girls and I did just that.

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An hour later, I texted Nick to tell him that he’d left his lunch in the fridge – and that if he wanted to come back and get it, the ice was still good enough for him to take one last skate. It was an offer too good to pass up; for thirty minutes, he and I went around on the rink, savoring every moment.
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He came straight from work; note his dress shirt and bow tie. That’s how we (he) roll(s).

Soon enough, the remaining ice will turn to water. We’ll dismantle the boards and let it drain, carefully storing the pieces for the summer. I don’t know what next year’s winter holds; it’s certainly unlikely to be as record-settingly cold as this. No matter what happens, though, we’ll be ready to make backyard memories again – come hell or high water ice.
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Wild Thing

When I met Nick twenty-plus years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, except that it was played on ice and a black disk was involved. And sticks. But only sometimes helmets, because back then, helmets weren’t yet required. (Say what?!) Knowing Nick meant that it was inevitable to not hear about hockey; he was even the mascot for our college’s hockey team, which meant that he skated around the tin can of a field house in a life-sized camel costume. Let me just reiterate that: a camel. On skates. One time, he removed the head of his costume and scared the coach’s (toddler-aged) daughter so much, she hyperventilated.

As luck would have it, my inauguration into the world of hockey couldn’t have come at a more precipitous time, because the New York Rangers were headed for a playoff run in the spring of 1994. In fact, they were actually poised to win the Cup… for the first time in fifty-four years (I don’t normally keep sports stats like that in my head – that space is reserved for far more important information, like the years that “Like a Virgin” and “True Blue” were released – but Rangers fans were so hungry for the win, I’ve never forgotten it).

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Living an hour outside of New York City, the Rangers were a logical team to root for, and an especially fun team – given their chances at taking home the title – if one had only just been introduced to hockey. I fell for the team hook, line, and sinker. Nick and I were tremendously fortunate that my dad, who worked in midtown, was able – through his company – to get us tickets to game five of the Stanley Cup finals, with the Rangers up three games to one in the series, and thus poised to win the championship that very night. We watched with depressed resignation as the Canucks were ahead 3-0 several minutes into the third period, then felt the floor reverberate (I’m not exaggerating; the stands at MSG actually moved) as the Rangers soared back to tie it 3-3 — the Cup was ten minutes away!! — only to have the Canucks refuse to back down and win the game 6-3. GAH, THE HEARTBREAK.

I turned down a ticket to game seven (Nick was back in Minnesota and it was a single ticket; I was nervous that, as a solo eighteen year-old female, I might not quite make it out of the arena in one piece, regardless of the game’s outcome), but watched – on the phone with Nick – as the Rangers finally “beat the curse” and won the Stanley Cup. If you’ve got to be indoctrinated into a sport, I highly recommend falling for a team that wins the championship ten minutes later.

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Lousy photo of an already super-lousy photo, but still… We were there, man!

Over the years, I’ve come to not just tolerate hockey, but to really enjoy it. Nick and I have seen NHL games in Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, Hartford (so long, Whalers!), Boston, Montreal, Columbus, Denver, and St. Paul, and each one has been a thrill (although my all-time favorite game was actually the AHL Frozen Frontier game we shivered our way through in December). I am fully able to follow the games and understand what’s going on, even with the refs’ hilarious hand gestures (I think “tripping” is a particularly ridiculous movement) – and, despite their often bumpy noses, I’m more than happy to root for players from all teams who are particularly easy on the eyes (Mike Modano and Patrick Sharp, I’m looking – happily – at you). I’m more than a little proud to say that it’s gotten to the point where, when we take girls to games, I’m able to answer the majority of their questions (correctly, thank you very much) and can narrate what’s happening in language that they actually understand. I’d probably make a great color commentator. Now that my long-term sub job is over, perhaps I should look into that.

It’s no secret that Nick lives, breathes, and sweats the Minnesota Wild. He dreams in dark green and red. He knows every player’s position, alma mater, height, weight, and whether or not they prefer iPhones or Droids. (This is an exaggeration. But only slightly.) It’s been a tradition of ours for several years running to try to catch the Wild in person somewhere across the nation – this year, saw them play in Buffalo – but Nick watches the rest of the games at home.

And when I say “the rest of the games”… I do mean ALL OF THE REST OF THE GAMES. Every game. All of ’em. Right in our living room.

I’ve heard the term “football widow” used to describe women (or, perhaps, male partners of gay football fans?) who are essentially left alone on Sundays during the NFL’s season – which runs for, what, five-ish months? Sixteen games in the regular season, plus a few weeks of playoffs, right? So, we’re talking, like, twenty days devoted to football, plus some Monday nights too, maybe. Let’s bump it up to thirty just to be crazy. Thirty days spread out over five months. SUCH HARDSHIP.

By contrast, the NHL regular season lasts for SEVEN months, with each team playing 82 games. EIGHTY-TWO GAMES spread out over the course of SEVEN MONTHS. Or, to be more specific, that’s eighty-two nights, afternoons, and evenings where Nick was watching the Wild play. I’m not so good with the math, but that appears to be a crap-ton more hockey than football.

EAT MY JERSEY, FOOTBALL WIDOWS.

To be fair, although Nick makes us all recite the Wild roster every night before dinner, he does not require that he be home for each game. It’s not that he’ll skip them (don’t be absurd), but rather that he’s absolutely willing to “miss” a game to do something else – spend a holiday with family, coach soccer, have a conversation with us that doesn’t involve the words “penalty” or “icing” – and then watch the DVR’d recording at a later time. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer hours are devoted to the Wild, but rather that watching the Wild live rarely gets in the way of anything else on our calendar.

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Our backyard rink last year.
Helmets are apparently not required here, either.

When the calendar is empty, however, all bets are off (unless you’ve bet that Nick will be watching the Wild). The good news – for me – is that I really enjoy hockey (see above). The other good news is that Nick is one of the most amazingly fair-minded sports fans I’ve ever encountered. I don’t just mean that he’s a good sport – although he is certainly that – but that he always, always roots for the good game — the fair, evenly-matched, well-called, proper-sportsmanship-displayed game. He’ll be the first to say when the Wild has played badly, or to admit it when they score a goal that shouldn’t have been allowed. He also can’t stand what he calls “homer” announcers – the ones who call the games as though the Wild are the second coming of Christ and the opposing team is Satan – who cannot be objective and even. I mean, he wants the Wild to win, of course… but if the other team beats them fair and square, if they were truly the better players, then so be it. They deserved to win. The Wild did not get “gypped.”

Basically, while Nick may be a fan of the Wild (maybe their biggest fan, like, ever), he is an even bigger fan of the game of hockey. And, actually, of sports – and sportsmanship – in general. We have watched as our favorite baseball teams (Yankees for me, duh) lose, but if the other team’s pitcher is throwing a perfect game, we’ve cheered for the perfect game. Because as Nick has taught me, sport transcends teams. Even the Yankees or the Wild.

Last night, the Wild’s season ended. They had made it into game six of the second round of the playoffs, but couldn’t quite pull off the win against the Blackhawks. Throughout the game, Nick yelled, loudly, each time the Wild had a good scoring opportunity – which was often, with pucks bouncing off goal posts and coming *this close* to going in. But the Hawks’ goalie was on fire, making seemingly impossible saves time and time again, and every time – alongside the anticipation that the Wild might score and the crushing disappointment when, yet again, the puck didn’t enter the net – Nick would proclaim it a good save.

He’d said all along he’d be satisfied with the season if the Wild made it to the playoffs. They did, and then some, so I know he’s pleased. He’s also readily acknowledged that the Hawks were the deserving winners of this series. But I know he’s bummed that the Wild won’t be playing game 7 – or any games thereafter.

Well, at least not until October, when the 82-game madness begins all over again.

For my part, I’ve got mixed feelings about the end of the hockey season. On the one hand, it’ll be nice to not begin family meetings with a rousing rendition of “The Good Old Hockey Game.” Plus, now that the TV won’t be dedicated to hockey, maybe I can finally catch up on the dozen “Modern Family” episodes on our DVR. On the other hand, I love how much Nick loves the Wild – how fully invested he is, how much it psyches him up – and I’m sad for him that those days are over. Also, now that he’s more available to hang out in the evenings, some of my Pinterest time may have to give. *sigh*

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First skate this year. It was really, really cold… so Nick’s wearing his Wild hat. Of course.

———–

Because Nick is out of town today, I was the one to have the following conversation with Ella this morning:

“Mommy, did the Wild win last night?”

No, sweetie. They didn’t.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Daddy’s going to be bummed.”

Yup.

“But did the other team play well?”

Yes, they did.

“That makes it better, then!”

———-

Like father, like daughter

p.s. Go Rangers!!

A Sporting Chance

Having not grown up near any of my grandparents, living only ten minutes from my grandmother for the past six-and-a-half years has been a novel, and excellent, experience for me. It’s especially fantastic that Ella and Annie have the opportunity to grow up with their great-grandmother (whom they call Phoofsy) just around the corner. She’s been the girls’ “important person” at school Halloween parties, attended soccer games and dance recitals and swim meets, joined us for each and every birthday or holiday celebration, and has endured enjoyed countless impromptu “shows” in our living room  (“Oh, another rendition of ‘Let It Go,’ but this time you’ve got a full costume change built into the performance? Isn’t that neat!”). She even watches the girls for me every Thursday when I teach piano.

Plus, you know, there’s the lake – where Phoofsy lives from Memorial Day until Labor Day and where we spend at least half of our summer days. Annie and Ella have spent eons more time with Phoofsy since we moved here than I did in the previous thirty-plus years of my life. Which is cool in its own right, but which is really super because Phoofsy kicks ass.

There are plenty of great-grandparents who, understandably, aren’t exactly firecrackers. Not Phoofsy. She may be a few months shy of ninety-four (and she doesn’t mind that I’m sharing this with you), but she’s got a more active social life than I do. She’s played bridge online for years and has a Facebook account that she uses daily, commenting on our photos and accidentally “liking” pages that then continue to appear in her feed. (“Why do I keep seeing pictures of this Lady Gaga? She dresses very strangely…”) We used to email but now we Facetime. She also reads this blog and is okay with me calling her kick-ass. (Right, Phoof? ‘Cause you totally are.)

While all of the above is true, one of the best things about Phoofsy is that she is a tremendously good sport. She has hula hooped in our garage and downhill skied standing on the Wii board. She gamely wears Rainbow Loom bracelets to bridge and has attempted to catch broccoli in her mouth when it was flung at her by the chef at the Hibachi restaurant.  She even refused to take the pass we offered her when we played our ridiculous Lake Game last summer, and thus wound up wearing a life jacket inside the house and going all the way down to the dock – in the dark – and trying to hit the raft with a piece of shale.

And so it was no surprise, really, when she was over the other night for Nick’s birthday, took notice of the hockey gear he’d brought inside to warm it up before his game, and then proceeded to try on the various garments to see what they felt like.

It started innocently enough: “Do you really have to wear these enormous things?”
“Yes, Grandma. They protect my hands.”
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Side note: Phoofsy is always impeccably dressed
Side note two: I knew I’d have to act fast to get these photos, so I didn’t turn on the flash on my phone, meaning that they’re blurry. But that’s okay, because their bodacious awesomeness more than makes up for their poor quality.

Knowing he was already halfway there, Nick’s eyes took on an impish gleam as he suggested that, so long as she had the gloves on, she might as well wear the helmet, too.
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“It just slides on like this… Oops, your glasses are in the way – no, you can’t reach them because of the gloves… Here, I’ll take ‘em off… One second, just about there…”

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Annnnd this just became one of the best moments of my life.

Weighing the success he’d had, Nick decided to press his luck even further and get really cheeky.
“But Grandma – that’s nothing. You should see what I have to wear when I play goalie!”
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“You have to hold a stick, too? AND try to catch a puck? But these are already heavy as lead!”

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“Can you believe that your dad has to wear all this? How does he even move?”

Which prompted Ella to join the fray…
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She would like you to know that it wasn’t bedtime; she was wearing her robe because she was cold. Which makes total sense, ‘cause her closet isn’t full of at least two dozen sweatshirts or anything…

And finally… the pièce de résistance… The goalie stick.
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Bring it, Oshie. She’s ready.

I loved getting together with my grandparents as a kid; each visit was eagerly anticipated and memorable. I didn’t miss living near them because I didn’t know anything different.
But I’m damn glad that my girls do know something different. We may not live near any of their grandparents, but we live near their Phoofsy, and the wonder of that cannot be understated, nor can it be fully quantified.

When we’re out and about with her and people discover that we’re her only local family, they always remark how lucky she is to have us nearby. That’s probably true; after all, we’re happy to shovel her walkway in the winter and we’re generally awesome people. But I’m always quick to point out that, really, we’re the lucky ones. It’s not everyone who has the ability to spend time with their grandmothers or great-grandmothers, and it’s exceptionally rare to spend time with one who is as good a sport as Phoofsy.

Just wait until we decide to take up skydiving. That will really be something.

Take Me Out To The Ice Rink

Living with a certified Hockey Maniac, it was inevitable that we’d introduce our girls to the sport early. They wore their first ice skates before they were two (not necessarily gracefully or skillfully; being on the ice is different from being good on the ice); they know that the NHL rules the television from November through May (which isn’t the length of the season, but is the length of the bulk of the televised games); they craft a bazillion Rainbow Loom bracelets out of Minnesota Wild colors; they await the construction of the backyard ice rink that we erect each year; they cheer Daddy on with his beer league teammates; and they have seen a good number of Rochester Americans games (our local AHL team, usually referred to as the Amerks), although they have yet to make it to see the Wild (or any NHL team, for that matter) in person.

This year, the Amerks decided to up their game (see what I did there?) and host a 10-day outdoor hockey fest on a rink that would be erected in Frontier Field, where our AAA-league Rochester Red Wings play baseball in much warmer months. Over the course of these ten days, there will be all sorts of hockey played on the rink, from high school tournaments to private skating parties, but the Amerks kicked off the festivities on Friday with a nighttime game against the Lake Erie Monsters.

An outdoor hockey game. In a baseball stadium. Opening night of a ten-day celebration. Frozen Frontier, they’re calling it. There was pretty much no way Nick was going to miss it.

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That seemingly iiiiiiitty bitty little pond out there? A full-sized rink.

And, in turn, there was no way that the rest of us were going to miss it, either, because we are nothing if not all about introducing our girls to as many cultural opportunities as possible. Especially where hockey sticks and beer-wielding fans are involved.

As Friday loomed, it became increasingly clear that it was going to be a really cold night. Sitting in a baseball stadium in the middle of December in Rochester is pretty much guaranteed to be cold no matter what, but we’ve endured a particularly chilly December thus far, with temperatures not really rising much out of the teens and “real feel”s well below zero. While we Rochesterians are known for our snow, deeply frozen temperatures are not really what we’re about.

But, as much as tried to argue with Mother Nature, she gave us the cold shoulder (ah, see, I did it again!) and told us to suck it, so we had no choice but to embrace the frigid temperatures. “Bundling up” took on new meaning, as we donned shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, skiing “shells,” gloves AND mittens, our warmest socks, leggings, pants, snow pants, our winteriest boots, hats, and scarves. Actually, we didn’t don these right away, because we were meeting friends for dinner – the same fabulous friends who’d joined us for Thanksgiving – pre-game, because the idea of removing one’s gloves in order to eat a tepid hotdog in 14-degree weather just wasn’t really appetizing. And so we wore only our under layers (which still made us, how do I put it… thick) as we dined, then put on the rest of our outerwear in the car before heading off the game.

Have you ever tried that? Putting on snow pants (while you’re already wearing your snow boots) and two jackets and gloves and hats and opening up hand warmer packets and shoving them inside your mittens while you’re in your car? If you haven’t, I have a recommendation: don’t. You will need to remove your boots, which will already have snow on them, and said snow will plop unceremoniously onto your car seat or onto your daughter’s hair. Or you might slip slightly while putting on said pants – shoeless – and put an un-booted foot into a pile of snow, which will then make your feet feel oh-so-lovely for the rest of the freezing evening. You might also realize that you can only find one of the super-warm waterproof mittens you’d brought to wear over your not-at-all warm gloves, which will set you into a panic. But that panic will be nothing compared to the meltdown that will be had in the back seat as your cherubs attempt to wedge themselves into their boosters and buckle their seatbelts while essentially being unable to move. Can the Michelin Man buckle himself into his booster seat? Enough said.

While we love Rochester for many, many reasons, well-executed crowd-control is not one of them. Nick had assumed that there would be “pomp and circumstance” before the game — introductions of all of the players, some sort of commemoration of this Frozen Frontier awesomeness — and that the game would probably begin at least a half-hour late, by which time our girls would be a) icicles, b) bored, and c) begging to go home before the puck had even dropped, so we were in no hurry to arrive on time. Which was a good thing, because we got stuck just outside of the stadium in traffic so terrible – despite the police officers “directing” the cars – that it took us over twenty minutes just to move one block. We had three blocks to go. At least we got to stare out of our windows from our warm, cozy car seats, onto the chilly field… at the players zooming around on the ice, because of course the game had started absolutely on time.

Thankfully, the other blocks were quicker than the first, and we eventually found parking and tumbled out of the car. Ella announced that she had to go to the bathroom as soon as we set foot in the stadium (which was odd, considering that she’d just been given the opportunity to use the facilities when we’d left the restaurant and she’d declined; none of your children has ever done this, I assume?), but we elected to forgo the line of port-a-potties immediately inside the gates because we both wanted to at least find our seats and also, port-a-potties? No, thank you. We’ll wait for the real thing.

Finding our seats wasn’t quite as easy as we’d imagined, however, in part because they were (of course) located a good distance from where we’d entered, and also because the stadium was absolutely packed… with people layered up as though ready to tackle some black diamond slopes. You know how everyone moves in a ski lodge (even without the robot-step-inducing ski boots), with wide, just-got-off-a-horse steps, and how everyone is always bumping into one another because you’re all so padded, it’s like banging about in a slow-motion pinball machine? Imagine doing so in the bowels of a baseball stadium when it’s 15 degrees out and… yep.

This being Rochester, sufficient snow gear is not exactly in short supply, so our fellow attendees had also come prepared. Seventy-five percent of them were wearing snow pants (this is an extremely well-researched fact), fifteen percent were wearing full-body hunting gear (I had no idea that “camouflage” came in so many colors), and although it wasn’t clear what the others were wearing to stave off the chill, they were also doing the slow-motion ski-lodge walk, so they must have been sufficiently layered. The toddlers in attendance were particularly amusing, because their parents had (wisely) bundled them up so fiercely, they could scarcely bend their knees, so they waddled and tottered everywhere they went, swaying back and forth like chiming bells.

We eventually hobbled to our seats just in time to hear the announcement that the period would be ending in one minute. Fantastic. Ella still needed to use the restroom, so – hoping to avoid the crush of onlookers flooding out of their seats and toward the loos – I ushered her and Annie (just for kicks and giggles) back out in search of the toilets. We were greeted by these signs instead:
frozen frontier6

Super.

The girls and I fought through the teeming hordes all the way back to the entrance, where gigantic lines had formed in front of every port-a-potty because a) THERE WERE NO WORKING BATHROOMS (have I mentioned this yet?) and b) the majority of the crowd had – perhaps in a bid to stay warm – been consuming copious quantities of alcohol, which, having gone in one end, had to come out of the other sooner or later. Also? Port-a-potties and ridiculous amounts of snow gear do not mix. It was like trying to peel off a full-body wetsuit inside a disease-ridden gym locker; don’t touch the walls unless you want to lose a hand to gangrene.

As a result, it took approximately 4.57 minutes for every single person to do their business, which, when you multiply that by a minimum of five people in each line, meant… well, I still suck at The Math, but it meant a really long wait. By the time we finally emerged from the johns and had gotten ourselves all suited up again, both of the girls declared they were starving and freezing, so we attempted to scrounge up some food and drinks that could be consumed without needing to remove our gloves. It was almost surreal, seeing the vending stations – which we normally visit in the summer – surrounded by icicles and snow piles up to the counters.

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The chili was selling like it was liquid gold.

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Just a typical evening at the ballpark…

At long last, we waddled our way back to our seats – hot chocolate, a big ol’ pretzel, some popcorn, Twizzlers, and Swedish Fish in hand. The hot chocolate and the pretzel were immediately consumable, but the other items proved a bit trickier. Turns out that Twizzlers and Swedish Fish become rock-solid when the temperature hovers around 15 degrees, making each bite a bit of an adventure — who might break a tooth today? Popcorn is deceptive; it seems easy enough to scoop some up in your gloved hand and then shove a handful into your face, but apparently human beings actually use their sense of touch when they eat popcorn – a sense that is lacking when one’s hands are covered – and, as a result, we were unable to determine when the popcorn was actually in our hands and when it had fallen out. Not to worry, though; more popcorn fell into my purse than went in my mouth, so if we’re hungry later, we can go back for more.

Bladders empty, food and drink in hand (and purse), and nestled into our seats, we were finally able to just sit back and truly take in everything around us. The cliché at sporting events is that the feeling amongst the fans was electric. I could say the same, but instead, I will say it was electrified – there was such a charge running through everyone, it was as though the entire place was humming. Although there’s a certain general loyalty shown to the Red Wings and the Amerks, none of the games we’ve attended previously has been all that well-populated, so enjoying the true “roar of the crowd” has been virtually impossible. By contrast, this Frozen Frontier game was sold out; there were people almost literally hanging from the rafters and they were extremely excited to be there, which added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

The majority of adults were – in Nick’s words – well-lubricated, which also gave the event a Mardi Gras flare. You know, if Mardi Gras were held in a baseball stadium in the middle of a very wintery December and onlookers threw snow, not beads. People were chanting raucously, singing with gusto whenever there was a break in the action. It was the first time that the girls got to see people at a sporting event successfully do the wave, which was awesome but looked pretty freakin’ hilarious with everyone bundled up to within an inch of their lives.

Annie and Ella were particularly taken with the Amerks’ mascot, a large moose very cleverly nicknamed The Moose. The Moose took the job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy very seriously (not that the crowd was all to hard to whip, given the level of revelry and intoxication), and became especially excited whenever the Americans scored, pumping his hooves into the air with a very un-Moose-like flare.

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We jammed along with the music. We stood up and cheered like maniacs whenever the red goal light went on (which was pretty much our only indication that the puck had crossed the goal line, since we couldn’t really see the puck from where we were sitting). We threw our hands in the air and waved them like we really, really didn’t care whenever the wave came crashing our way. We clapped madly for anything and everything, which was a particularly amusing phenomenon, because gloved and mittened hands make no sound when they are smacked together. We marveled at the people who’d been smart enough to bring sleeping bags and goggled at the beer seller wearing shorts.

As for the game? Well, I know that the Amerks eventually won (in a wildly exciting and unexpected finish, as the Monsters tied the game with 0.1 seconds left – I kid you not – which had the inebriated party sports-goers shouting BULLLLL-SHIT!!! over and over again, to the shocked delight of our friends’ 9 year-old son, and the victor was eventually decided by a shoot-out). But the truth of the matter is that we really couldn’t see a damn thing that was happening on the ice.

In a hockey arena, the action is right there – quite literally, with only a couple of inches of glass separating the fans from the players. In a baseball stadium, the players are typically yards and yards away (save for the odd ball that is caught right at the bleachers) and the field is vast, so the hockey rink was positively dwarfed. Add to that the angle of the seats and the boards along the rink’s edge and we could only see about half of the sheet of ice, anyway. We could “follow” the play by watching the players swarming about the ice, but had no idea where the puck actually was.

But that wasn’t really the point. We weren’t there for the game; we were there to say we’d done it. We’d braved the frigid elements and donned every drop of winter gear we owned to teeter our way into a bathroom-less baseball stadium in the middle of December with a crap-ton of drunken revelers, just because. Because that was what it was all about. The hot chocolate and the singing. The wave and the bright lights. The nearly palpable joy and anticipation surging through the air. Come to think of it, it was, in fact, one of the most Christmas-y things we’ve done yet this season.

By the end of the second period, with the action stopped and The Moose taking a potty break (good luck with that), everyone seemed to realize all at once just how unbelievably cold they were. The universal Dance Of The Cold sprung up all around us, with people standing and jitterbugging about back and forth in a futile effort to get their blood pumping again. Our girls were frozen through, and asked to go home; as soon as the third period began (and the majority of fans returned to their seats, making navigating the stadium far easier), we obliged.

Naturally, Annie needed to go to the bathroom on our way out, so our departure was delayed while we waited for her to de-robe in the e-coli infested portable john, but we could still hear the patrons cheering frantically. By the time we reached our car, we could hardly feel our fingers and toes and the girls were beyond exhausted. We agreed that we had, indeed, been there, done that – just because – but we were glad that it was over.

And yet, somehow… we had a total and complete blast. Do I want to brave another Frozen Frontier game? No, thanks. Been there. Done that. But I’m awfully glad we did, because it was pretty much the best damn hockey game I’ve ever been to.

The popcorn that’s still in my purse is just a bonus.frozen frontier4
Why are the girls not wearing their hats even though they’re allergic to the cold? I DON’T KNOW. They must have terrible parents.

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Point Taken

Since forever, Nick and I have used a “points” system to call the other out when we’ve unwittingly said or done something simply because we’ve just been together too damn long, and our… peculiarities… have rubbed off on each other. When we’re out with friends and someone refers to workers at the Disney Store as “employees” and Nick corrects them, saying, “Actually, they’re cast members,” I get at least ten points, because my Disney-speak wormed its way into his vocabulary. When I note that Mark Messier must have won more Stanley Cups than Wayne Gretzky because he was with the Rangers when they were the champs in ’94, Nick gets a solid fifty points because his love of hockey has caused me to remember weird hockey stats.

Were you just singing part of Les Mis while you made dinner?
“Shit. I think I was.”
OMG, a hundred points for me. Maybe one-fifty.

“Did you just shake your bag of popcorn to spread out the flavor more evenly?”
Holy crap, did I?
“That puts me in the lead for at least a month.”

Naturally, since marriage is at its best when it’s essentially a competitive sport, we are also keeping points when it comes to the girls. There are some things that Annie and Ella do – ways they behave or phrases they say – that are absolutely because they’re my daughters. Becoming frustrated when someone uses incorrect grammar? Totally my kid. Being physically unable to turn the television off when The Sound of Music is on? That’s my girl! Knowing at least two verses to every Christmas carol? Naturally. WHAT WERE THEY, RAISED BY WOLVES?

And then there are the things that they do that are a direct byproduct of having Nick for their dad. Like last week, when Ella was by herself in the dining room and I heard her cheerfully muttering, “I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch! Here it goes down. Down into my belly!”

How do you know all of that?
“From that thing Daddy showed me*.”
You’re actually quoting Anchor Man???
“Yes! It was really funny!”
DAMN IT, NICK, YOU GET TWENTY POINTS.

(* don’t call CPS. He only showed them the trailer for the first movie. It was super fun to avoid explaining what “quite a handful in the bedroom” means.)

Sometimes, the points are given grudgingly. When Annie, age three, returned from a potty run (while we were out. In public) and loudly proclaimed that she’d just been “dropping a deuce,” Nick earned himself a few points, but also maybe the silent treatment on the way home.

Other times, Nick has had points deducted from the Official Points Bank (which is kept in my head; it’s exceedingly accurate). Years ago, as I was changing a then-18-month-old Annie’s diaper, I removed the offending nappy and she murmured, “Fuggin’ diaper.” Making sure I’d heard her correctly, I (stupidly) asked her to repeat herself. Nope, “Fuggin’ diaper,” plain as day. (Lest you think I’m being chaste, I’m not trying to avoid writing the word “fucking” — Annie actually pronounced it as “fuggin'”.)

Oh wow. Where did you hear that?
“Daddy said it.”

BUS.TED. Fifty points from Gryffindor.

(Nick lost even further points as Annie – probably in response to my shocked reaction – decided that it was fun to yell “FUGGIN!!!” at the top of her lungs, especially when we were out and about. “FUGGIN’ LIBRARY!” “FUGGIN’ GROCERIES!” I quickly learned that if I responded in any way to her outbursts – whether to scold or admonish, distract or quickly zip her the heck outta dodge – she would get a charge out of it and would yell even more loudly and jubilantly. “FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN CAR!!!!!” The only thing that would eventually quiet her down was to ignore her entirely, which meant that for a good three or four months — until she finally realized she wasn’t going to get a rise out of me, so it lost its luster — Annie dropped the F-bomb in every store we entered. FUN TIMES, THOSE. I was ahead in points for at least half a year.)

This isn’t to say that the girls haven’t picked up the occasional unsavory phrase from me. When Ella was frustrated with something a couple of weeks ago, she angrily yelled, “Oh, for God’s sake — JESUS CHRIST!!” Um, yeaaah. Oops. My bad.

Sometimes, they’ll tell me “secrets” just to see what I’ll do, like when they returned from a trip to Brueggers last weekend and Annie bounded up to tell me, “Guess what word Daddy taught us but we’re not allowed to tell you? GRAB-ASS!”

Isn’t that delightful.
“He said Grandpa Bill used to say it to him when he was a kid, so that makes it okay, right?”
Not really, but I’ve got to give him points for style.

And I will fully admit that I love how Ella has memorized comedienne Anjelah Johnson’s bit about Nordstrom and Ross employees’ responses** to the Raider cheerleader calendars. It slays me every time she – correctly, appropriately – drops, “I have three words for you – Fan. Tas. Tic!” into conversation. Okay, Nick. You win this round.

(** not the best recording of this, but worth a look if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about. Hilarious.)

But Nick’s greatest coup may have come when he least expected it. Last weekend, the movie Miracle was on cable, so he began to show it to the girls, starting from wherever the movie was at the time. I jumped in and said no, we had to start at the beginning — how else would they know about the Cold War? About the relationship between the United States and Russians in 1980? How could they miss Eruzione almost not making the team? How would they understand the significance of his saying that he played for The United States of America, whereas previously each player had always said they played for such-and-such college?

If we’re going to show them the movie about one of the greatest sports stories of all time – a HOCKEY story, at that – we must start from the beginning, damn it ! We need a Miracle family movie night! Oh, and totally ten points for me for standing up for the hockey movie.

Aside from watching a bit of A League of Their Own, this was the first sports movie the girls had seen, and while we hoped they’d enjoy it, we weren’t entirely sure. Our apprehensions were eased as they gasped aloud when the coach, Herb Brooks, made the team undergo a grueling practice after a half-assed effort in Norway, shouting “Again! Again!” until the players were vomiting from exhaustion. They shook their heads in bewildered disbelief as the Russians beat the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game just three days before the start of the Olympics. And they were beside themselves during the Big Game, covering their faces with worry, screaming aloud for every goal, dancing around (literally) as Al Michaels called out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” It was a good night.

Still, it was just a movie, and after going to bed that night, we didn’t talk more about it. The following day, we sat down to start one of Annie’s school projects, where the entire family was supposed to work together to “disguise” a paper turkey by turning it into something else, so it wouldn’t be eaten at Thanksgiving. We could use anything around the house – markers, glitter, dried pasta, feathers, scraps of paper – but we had to work together.

We began the discussion. Do you want to turn it into a Disney character? Maybe Phineas (of Phineas and Ferb)? How about a soccer player? A teacher? An artist?

Nope. Wrong, all of them. Annie had her own idea.

Once she’d decided, we all worked to help her disguise her turkey, cutting, glueing, drawing. In the end, he turned out pretty damn well.

And so, without further ado, I present you Annie’s Family Turkey:
Herb Brooks.

11.13 family turkey web
I am NOT a Turkey

Hi I love hockey. I coached the USA Olympic hockey team in 1980. We won the golden medal. We beat the Russians by one point because we had 4 and they had 3. They were mad because they never, ever lost. It was called the miracle on ice.

In case you thought the design was haphazard, please compare Herb-the-Turkey to Kurt Russell-as-Herb-Brooks from Miracle:
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I’d completely forgotten that he’d worn plaid pants (ohhh, 1980, you really were somethin’ else), a tan blazer, a blue shirt, and a tie. Annie sure as heck didn’t.

Please also note Herb Brooks-the-Turkey’s fuzzy hair (again, 1980, you truly were a gift).
11.14 herby turkey

When Annie presented her turkey to the class, not one of her classmates guessed who it was (which, you know… not exactly a shocker…). But she was so dang proud of our creation, she didn’t care one bit.

Neither did her dad, who won approximately 823 points for Annie’s efforts, at least half of which were given because he hadn’t even tried to influence her choice.

So Nick’s a little ahead right now in the points department, which is fine with me. This is the 2nd first-grade family art project we’ve done, which surely means there will be others, leaving me plenty of time to plot my revenge course of action. A Family Snowman disguised as a Caramel Macchiato would be pretty incredible.

Which would be fitting, since both Ella and Annie could identify the Starbucks logo before they turned one. ADVANTAGE, MAMA.