Best Snow Day Ever (Really)

Six days ago, we were slammed by a ferocious windstorm. Not a series of tornadoes… Not a hurricane… Just wind. TONS of wind that barraged the region relentlessly for hours. Topping out with gusts at over 80 miles per hour (yowzers), these were no gentle breezes. Trees weren’t just snapped; they were uprooted, literally. Power was knocked out to over 150,000 homes. Utility poles bent and broke, sending power lines flying. (Amazingly, we never lost power.)
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These were just a few trees within a half-mile of our house; to see truly incredible images, check out this, this, and this.

Our district canceled school for two days; several schools remained without power, buildings were freezing, buses couldn’t be fueled. Ella’s middle school was turned into a weekend shelter; other local organizations (a community center, churches, the JCC, the Islamic Center) became warming stations, offering spaces to charge devices, get water, huddle up.

If you did venture out, everywhere you turned, you’d run into stately pine trees on their sides accompanied by gas and electric (and tree trimming) crews working overtime. We don’t get a lot of natural disasters in Rochester – the lack of hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, and forest fires is a definite plus of living here – so this was a rather unprecedented occurrence.

It was a damned mess.

On the second “wind day,” the girls and I did something I’d been wanting to do for ages: brought flowers and notes of support to the JCC and Islamic Center. When I asked about other places that might need assistance, a friend suggested that we spread a little cheer to local fire stations, who were fielding emergency calls left and right, and gas and electric linemen who were working feverishly to restore the area to power. We did both, to astonished appreciation. It was kind of rad.

The following day was Annie’s Girl Scout troop’s cookie booth sale, which meant three hours of 4th grade girls freezing their tushes off in 18-degree snow while hawking boxes of Thin Mints from the gas station sidewalk. It was kind of surreal, cheerily shouting about cookies while watching people load up on bags of ice and cans of gas; obviously, 72 hours post-windpocalypse, there were still a lot of folks without power.

As a means to both move the cookies along and give us all a greater sense of purpose (not that Peanut Butter Patties aren’t life-changing), we set up a collection for boxes of cookies to be donated to gas and electric crews. The response was overwhelming; our box was overflowing. It seems, when faced with times of crisis, helping feels really, really good.
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Although our troop leader was able to deliver the bulk of the cookies over the course of the weekend, five additional boxes were donated last-minute. I bagged them up and stuck them on the front seat of my car, assuming, one way or another, that I’d come upon some utility folks sooner or later and could hand over the goods.

Because Jesus loves me, school was back in session yesterday. Today, however, we are being walloped by the edges of the blizzard-y storm that is thrashing away at Philly, New York, and Boston. With the governor declaring a state-wide state of emergency that called for no unnecessary travel and 12-18″ of non-stop snow predicted over the course of 36 hours, the district called official snow days today and tomorrow.

Yes, this means four cancelled school days in less than a week. Yes, this also means we have spent a boatload of time together.
Ask me how well my daughters are getting along. 

By 8 a.m., I’d decided that a Starbucks run was definitely “necessary” travel; my survival (and sanity) depended on it. It took me three hours to accomplish the rest of the stuff on my list, but shortly before lunch, Ella and Annie and I braved the roads to make quick stops at Target and Starbucks.

The roads were bad. I would’ve felt really crappy if I’d slid off the side and, when asked by the first responders why I’d ventured out in these conditions, I’d responded, “A latte.”

After explaining to the girls why this would not be a leisurely shopping excursion, I sheepishly admitted we really should get back to the house ASAP, with one caveat: if we happened upon any gas and electric crews, we’d lengthen our sojourn to drop off the cookies.

The roads were all but deserted (yet another sign that perhaps a latte wasn’t really “necessary”). The Target parking lot was much the same, with one notable exception: eight large, flashing-light bearing vehicles, idling side by side. The moment I glimpsed them, I startled the girls with a hearty, “OMG ARE THOSE GAS AND ELECTRIC GUYS?? WE’VE HIT THE MOTHERLODE!”
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Can you see the trucks back there?

We drove slowly by to get a closer look; the cabs of the trucks were empty, save for one guy on his phone and another taking a snooze at the wheel. I didn’t recognize the name of the company (National Grid) but a quick Google search told us they were, indeed, a gas and electric outfit. Gleefully, we took the car back toward them, coming to a stop in front of the gentleman we’d seen on his phone.

He exited his cab as we rolled down the window. (Considering we’d basically stalked him in the Target parking lot, he was understandably wary.) “Can I help you?”

So we explained – about the booth sale, the donations, driving around with the cookies. When we handed over the bag, his face registered only shock.

“For me? For us? You’re sure?”

We told him we were – very sure, in fact – but he was still incredulous. “You don’t understand. We’ve been here for a week. We’re eight hours from home and still can’t go back yet. This is the first time anyone has done anything like this. I honestly can’t thank you enough.”

He looked, standing in the wind-whipped snowstorm, as though maybe he might break down. Over a bag of Girl Scout cookies. Over people showing gratitude.

We explained further that it wasn’t so much us delivering the cookies and our thanks; it was the community, everyone who had donated the boxes and wanted to help. He truly could barely believe it. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and thank-yous and then were on our way. (Hey – at least now, if I slid off the road, I could say that I’d gone out for a latte and to hand over cookies.)

After the girls and I finished our shopping, I was placing our Starbucks mobile order (what? You thought we’d skip out on the lattes?) when I wondered aloud if I could put in for one of those ginormous box-o-coffee dispensers to bring to the National Grid crew on our way back… but there was no sign of them. They’d gone.

The rest of the (slow, slippery) drive home, we talked about the kind of person it takes to leave their families and travel to help others in times of crisis… how we wished we could do more to thank them… And then, just as we turned into our neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from home, there they were.
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I kid you not: a veritable fleet of National Grid trucks were lined up behind one another, lights on, crews out. (We soon discovered two more trucks were parked in our cul-de-sac.) The very same guys! It was our turn to be astonished. This one little crew from eight hours away… working in the Rochester area for a week… less than 30 minutes after we’d seen them in the Target parking lot and wished we could do more… was working on our street?? WHAT WERE THE CHANCES?

Slim, I tell you. VERY, VERY SLIM.

Since Fate had clearly spoken, we knew what we had to do: get these men a warm beverage. Which is how we found ourselves dispensing hot chocolate to the National Grid crew in the middle of a snowstorm.
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The guy said to us, “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. Some people have been really rude to us. This is so nice.” WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE TO FOLKS DOING THE HELPING?? WTF??IMG_1225

Best. Snow day. Ever.
(It’s also Pi Day and we have two chocolate pies for dessert, so there’s that.)

I know there’s a lot of scary, mean, selfish stuff going on right now. I know – I do – how easy it is to slip into frustration, anger, despair. But I also know a really easy way to feel better: thank someone. Help someone. Do something for somebody else. It’s clichéd, but it’s true. Doing good feels good. Really simple math.

No, it won’t solve everything (and with another snow day tomorrow, my cherubs might face off, Hunger Games style). But I am positive that if we were all just, I don’t know – NICER – that we really could change the world. Or at least our windy, snowy corner of it.

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You know you live in a snow belt when…

On Wednesday, I volunteered as a Parent on the Playground at my daughters’ school (which essentially amounts to being a referee for ninety minutes). There was snow up to my knees as far as the eye could see and the students had been prohibited from actually using the playground equipment (too slippery to navigate in bulky snow gear) or throwing snowballs (a byproduct of today’s Safety First! approach to childhood), but that didn’t stop the kids from racing around like maniacs, trudging through snow as deep as their thighs, building forts and snow piles, gleefully throwing themselves to the ground both forward and backward (because neither hurts when there’s enough snow to cushion the blow), burying their friends up to their chins in fluffy white goodness, and challenging one another to see how far they could plunge their heads downward before succumbing to the cold.

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Supposedly, this is fun…

To be sure, these are the types of games that all children would play if sent out for recess when there’s a crap-ton of snow on the ground; these kiddos are not unique in this respect. But, as I watched them traverse the snowbanks, tug their mittens on and off, and zip in and out of their snow gear quickly enough that no class was late for recess or lunch, it occurred to me that these youngsters don’t treat playing in the snow as a novelty; no, they are experts at it.

Living in Western New York, we are part of region that annually sees the most snow of any metropolitan area in the nation. Add to that the fact that we also experience a great deal of lake effect snow (that same stuff that drowned Buffalo in up to SEVEN FEET of snow in November) and, well… we know snow. Admittedly, we rarely get dumped on the way that Boston and the northeast have recently – our snow typically comes bit by bit and adds up over time – but still, we are super tight with Old Man Winter.

Nick and I have lived in Denver, which certainly sees its share of snow, and Nick grew up in Minnesota, which is known for its winters – so we are not strangers to frozen precipitation. But, after being completely flummoxed throughout most of our first couple of winters in Rochester seven years ago (It’s snowing!! It’s snowing!! OMG it’s snowing! Will you be able to get to work? How much will we get? Why are the forecasters so nonchalant? Why is nobody panicking? Why does no one care? People! It’s snowing!), I’ve come to learn that life in a snow belt is just a little different from other places. Snow is a way of being, woven into our culture in ways that just don’t happen when you get snow here and there (even in large amounts) rather than almost daily (24 out of 31 days in January alone).

And so, in thinking about those kids on the playground and how, unlike me, they know nothing else, I began to consider just how living in a snow belt – whether it’s Western New York or Northeastern Pennsylvania or Maine or Alaska or higher elevations in Arizona – is its own, special thing. To wit…

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YOU KNOW YOU LIVE IN A SNOW BELT WHEN
(in no particular order)…

1) It’s considered an annual romantic gesture every Thanksgiving weekend when your spouse makes sure you’ve got an ice scraper/snow brush in the car.

2) You don’t take that snow brush out of your car until mid-May.*

3) You can use a four-wheel-drive vehicle year-round… for the snow and ice in the winter and for the potholes in the summer.*

4) Children learn to put on their own snow gear – including the “tricks” for tucking mittens into coat sleeves and making sure the inner lining of the snow pants properly covers the boots –  before they are potty trained (this does not mean that they actually dress themselves, nor that doing so is anything other than a production… but they know how.)

5) Your neighbors use their snowblower to create a path for your kids to use so that they can more easily walk to school.
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6) You have an opinion on salting versus sanding and a well-honed, definitive shoveling strategy; you will silently eye neighbors who approach their driveways and sidewalks differently than you.

7) You receive a reminder from your child’s elementary school that appropriate snow gear is necessary every day because, unless the temperature is below 13*F, it’s raining, or the wind chill makes it feel like -10, the students will have outdoor recess.

8) You have mastered the art of smooshing snow onto your car’s headlights, license plates, and rear window as a way of wiping off the perma-salt.

9) You buy your daughter a beautiful Easter dress for tradition’s sake but know that it will likely never see the light of day; under that bulky winter coat, she could be wearing a potato sack — only you know the truth!*

10) Your employer – the largest in the region – sends an email to all staff asking that they bring shovels to work with them since they never plan on closing when there is inclement weather and they cannot guarantee you won’t need to shovel yourself out due to snowfall.*

11) You give up fighting the chalky white salt stains that decorate your shoes and jackets.
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It gives them character.

12) There’s no reason to bother checking for school closings or delays because they pretty much never happen.*

13) You carefully construct your child’s Halloween costume to make sure that heavy layers can go under it… or you simply assume that it will be completely covered by a coat and maybe snow boots.

14) You have serious doubts about the ability of your softball season to start on time… on May 1st.*

15) In discussions about the likelihood of a snow day, a friend declares – without a hint of irony – that she doubts school will close because, “It’s only supposed to snow 10 inches.”

16) There are debates about how many seasons your region actually has. Two? (Winter and construction/pothole season… Winter and summer…) Four? (Before-winter, winter, after-winter, and July 17th…) Five? (Spring, summer, fall, winter, and mud season…)*

17) Even pre-schoolers know one of the most important questions to ask about a snowfall: Is it packing snow or not??

18) You can’t help but chuckle at the national meteorologists as they warn about the latest “Snowpocalypse” or get blown into a slushy puddle while dramatically demonstrating just how treacherous the conditions are. (Sure, logically you understand that if a region isn’t accustomed to snow and doesn’t have enough equipment to clear things up quickly, it can be a disaster [likewise, everyone you know would positively melt if temperatures soared above 90*F in June – unthinkable!]. And, yeah, two storms that dump a couple of feet of snow at a time… in a one week stretch… would make for a helluva lot of snow no matter where you live…)
But still? You find the hysteria hysterical.*

19) You can sleep in a little bit later from December through March because your morning routine has shortened; why bother fixing your hair when it will just be wet/ icy/ flattened by a hat/ covered with a hood, anyway?

20) Except you can’t actually sleep later. Because shoveling. Because of course your employer will expect you to arrive on time and the school buses will be running on schedule, regardless of the five new inches of new snow on the ground.

21) You can take a break from any kind of yard care, however, because you won’t see the ground for at least four months.
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The dog can’t find his ball, either, but that doesn’t stop him from plunging his head into the snow as though he is looking for it beneath the surface of a pond.
Note: Labs are built for WNY winters. Smaller dogs will require that you shovel before they can do their business.*

22) As soon as the temperatures hit 40*F, virtually every child in the neighborhood can be seen playing outside… in short sleeves.

23) There’s never a run on bread and milk before a storm because no one’s terribly worried that they’ll get snowed in.

24) You can practically determine the date by the size of the snowbanks lining the sidewalks. “Calf-high? Almost time for Christmas!” “Up to my waist? Must be early February.”

25) You think of wading through snow up to your knees on playground duty as your exercise for the day.

26) Large, blackish mounds of snow remain in parking lots well into “spring.”

27) You appreciate spring and summer more than anyone else, anywhere, ever.

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Don’t get me wrong – I love living here, even with its snow insanity. I’m also not trying to diss other wintery areas where people know cold (hi, Twin Cities!). But there’s no denying that living in a super-snowy place has its own… peculiarities.

With that said, if we do manage to have another snow day on Monday and my girls miss five consecutive school Mondays, “peculiarities” may not be the word I’ll choose… But for today, come on over! The snow is fine!

 

 

* taken almost word-for-word off Facebook from my friends HWK, MGD, PCS, MK, SRW, AML, SLR, CB, and MLM, respectively. Thanks, all!

 

Booby prize: we win

So, let me guess: you’ve been having a really rough winter. (Unless you live in California, and then you can just be all smug and sit back in your short sleeves and sunglasses. It’s not like you’re living on an active fault line or anything. SMIRK ALL YOU WANT.)

This hasn’t been winter; it’s been hell. The unending assault of exceedingly low temperatures, gray skies, and constant snow have even worn down the likes of people who adore snow and cold (that would be me and the rest of my nutty family), so that each morning when I peek between the blinds whilst perched upon the ice-cold toilet and see a) an endless gray sky, b) that it’s snowing, or c) both, it takes an almost superhuman effort not to just give in, call it quits, and have a glass of wine at 7 a.m. Likewise, when the girls ask what the temperature will be and they hear, yet again, that it will not rise above the teens – and they know that recess will be cancelled – it takes everything we’ve got to force them to school, where they know they’ll basically be reenacting the story of the Donner party.

I think I may be responsible for some of this misery. See, I reveled in the early snow that blanketed Rochester well before Thanksgiving and continued – almost nonstop – straight through till New Year’s Eve.snow in early november
You’re trying to tell us that half an inch isn’t enough to sled in before school?
WRONG, Mom. Wrong.

I made Yay! First snow! pancakes.snowman pancakes
It’s snowing! Let’s CELEBRATE!!

I giddily took photos of the forecast on my phone.snow forecast in november
Ooooh!! SNOW!!!!

I joyfully documented the snow paths on the walk to school and the sledding and romping and attempted snow forts and gigantic snow piles.
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Sun on the path! So pretty!!

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Look how happy she is. In the SNOW!!!

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Oh! Just look at how much she LOVES playing in that snow! ADORBS.

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Hey, look – packing snow!!!

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OMG there is so much SNOW!!!

And we hadn’t even reached 2014 yet.

Then came the New Year… and the cold. The Polar Effing Vortex and its Elsa-like black magic chill.

Did that stop me from reveling in the unusually bone-chilling weather? Hell no. It’s so cold, you worry that the dog’s pee will freeze in midair and then you’d really have a lot of explaining to do to the vet? BRING IT.

I cheerfully took photos of the frozen fractals suffocating our garage windows.snow frost
Oh, perty!

I allowed my child – who is allergic to the cold – to stand outside with wet hair after swim practice because she thought it was fun to feel it freeze.
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The line for Parent of the Year forms right behind me.

We took advantage of the the sub-zero air to watch, with awe, as bubbles turned into malleable plastic orbs.snow bubblesYes, it was THAT COLD. How neat!!

I continued to take photos of the forecast on my phone – this time, not for the snow totals, but to capture how damn freezing it was becoming.

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Hm. I actually thought that was REALLY cold. Silly, naive little me.

I took pride in the fact that, no matter what the temperature, our kids still managed the trek to school with all of their digits intact.snow trudge
Feels like -20? We got this.

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Sun + snow = awesomeness.

In short, I not only endured winter… I celebrated it.

Which is something I sorely regret now. I’M SORRY, EVERYONE. I THOUGHT THE SNOW WAS FUN AND PRETTY. I THOUGHT THE ARCTIC TEMPERATURES WERE INTERESTING. My bad.

My very, very, very bad.

Because I am THROUGH. This is ENOUGH, already. I’m tired of being a hermit. I’m tired of having to don gloves just to feed the dogs in the garage. I’m tired of shivering in my own house. I’m tired of shoveling. I’m tired of there being so much snow THAT NO ONE CAN PLAY IN. The photo above, of the packing snow? Pretty much the ONLY packing snow this year, because it has been SO DAMN COLD, the snow is totally useless.

And it’s not even February yet. Shit.

Since moving here in 2007, I’ve been fascinated with Rochester and its snow, and have made a point to follow The Golden Snowball website each year to see just how much we’ve gotten. Rochester is pretty much always within the top five snowiest cities nationally, usually getting edged out by Erie, Buffalo, and Syracuse – all of which are within a couple of hours of here.

In other words, we live in the snowiest part of the country.

When people have asked how we stand living with so much snow, I remark that the snow itself is completely doable; it’s cleared quickly, the roads are salted well, schools almost never close — and, unlike, say, Minnesota, where it remains snowy not because they receive such a large amount of precipitation, but because the temperatures remain so low, the snow they DO get doesn’t melt — it’s not terribly cold.

At least… that’s what I thought. But then a friend posted a link on Facebook to the twenty U.S. cities that are allowed to complain about the cold – i.e., the twenty coldest cities in the country. And I almost didn’t even click on it because I was like, oh, Rochester won’t be on there – it’s not all that cold here.

Well. So much for that Master’s Degree (although it was in Music, so I get some leeway, no?), because Rochester is the 8th coldest city in America.

So. If you’re doing the math… We’re the 8th coldest city and (currently) the 6th snowiest city (although that will surely change in the coming days; Ann Arbor is going down).

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Look out, Ann Arbor. We’re coming for you.

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Indiana? Really?

Which means (aside from Buffalo – hi, Buffalo!) we’re officially the coldest, snowiest city in the United States.

So, yeah. The kids here haven’t had boatloads of snow days, and it didn’t take anyone seven hours to commute home. It hasn’t been below zero for two weeks straight, and our airport hasn’t run out of de-icing fluid.

But still? By definition, if we’re the coldest, snowiest city in America (aside from Buffalo – snowy there, eh?), we can say, without hesitation, that our winter has been the suckiest. IT HAS SUCKED THE MOST HERE.

I don’t know if that makes us the winners or the losers.

If we can just ditch this cold, I’ll be okay. Then, at least I can pack the snow into a snowball and throw it at the forecast. It was in the mid-twenties today – which made it feel like May – and the kids were outside at recess, doing exactly that. I don’t know how we’re all going to burn off the energy that’s been pent up these past couple of months, but when we do, we’re going to be able to power something enormous.

Like a jet to the Caribbean.

I’ll bring the de-icing fluid.