Thursday, January 29, 2015

Have a good stahm or Why New England is not for the weak - Weston, MA

My view out the patio door 7 am
This past Sunday I learned about Winter Storm Juno. As those who remember their mythology, Juno is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Hera. Hera was always my least favorite goddess--she's married to her brother Zeus (err, what?) and he is a pain in the butt always turning girlfriends into swans so she won't smite them because somehow she was always smiting the girl and not her trampy husband. Yes, trampy. Anyway, apparently Hera (Juno) eyeballed eastern Massachusetts and said "wench! you must die for looking at my husband-brother!!" 

Juno was the perfect storm. Please don't ask me to try to remember everything the weather dudes said but it was something about warm wet air coming from the south hitting Canadian winds (blame Canada when it doubt) and doing some kind of samba, or maybe it was cool air from New York (second choice on blame) hitting warm air from Canada--wait, what warm air from Canada? See how easy it is to blame Canada?  

Whatever. All the factors were together for a storm that would drop 24-37 inches on Boston and its metro west suburbs. Think about it, 37 inches!! That's the size of a four year old child...just swallowed up in the 20 hours of the storm. Fortunately my kids are around four feet tall so I could see them above the neck. Mostly screaming with laughter.

Anyway, check out this Weather Channel photo of the storm obliterating New England. Where is Boston? I dunno, but the satellite equivalent of a finger over the lens is up there too. What is that? The wing? Check out the link below the photo for cool other swirly stuff photos.

Photo credit:

Now, if you remember my last blog, I am all about embracing winter. So when BH left me to face Snowmaggedon or Snowcapalype by myself (he got out of town on Sunday night), I thought okay...let's do it! I had a snowplower guy named Joe, who was all set up to have a good "stahm" as all the plow guys  kept wishing each other in their Boston accents "have a good stahm, Georgie..." and I am all fit from my Kung Fu Fit and ready for battle. 

Having lived in Miami for six years, I am a pretty good pro on the getting ready for a weather emergency. Here, in no particular order, is how I went about it on Monday:

1. Firewood. BH brought a bunch in for me and a good thing too. All supermarkets were sold out on Monday. Fortunately I had had to cut down two ash trees in the fall (well, unfortunately for them, but they would have crashed my house during the winds). Of course my puppy ate about two of the largest logs while I was out shoveling on Tuesday, but I was still ready for power out as I now had chips to start the fire.

2. Emergency power. First I identified all neighbors with generators and brought them cookies. No, just kidding on the cookies--I can't bake. I do have three neighbors with generators and all are incredibly nice about saying "come on over" in case of lost power. We did not lose power for even a second, fortunately, in spite of some pretty nice wind gusts and snowy pine trees wanting to drop onto the power lines. Nice work, NStar. The only bad show on NStar is they are about to change their name to "Eversource." I am about to obliterate their marketing agency on my other website. Wait for it. What would you rather be? A star or a source? Weird. I digress.

3. Emergency light. Three flashlights, check! Went to REI to return a ski helmet and bought an emergency lantern that plugs into USB and also charges your electronics. And possibly bakes cookies. I never had to figure that part out. As an aside, the line at REI was HUGE--bigger than all supermarkets. Number one purchase of those in line: gloves. Number 2: snow shoes. Number 3: cool lighting like mine. I wanted the snow shoes but I'm waiting for post season and used ones. I am cheap.

4. Food. We have tons of food and none would go bad like in Miami. As in, oops, you lost your power, stick the milk in the snow drift. Of course, when the snow was coming down three inches an hour like at the height of the storm, you'd find the milk in maybe April. But in spite of tons of food, I could not resist the urge to go buy Campbell's chicken noodle soup (almost sold out) and beer. And shelf-stable milk. What can I say? I didnt' want to find the milk in April. I found the Lincoln supermarket to be pretty not lines.

5. Water. I found myself filling bathtubs with water like I did in Miami until one of my neighbors said to me "if you need to, just melt the snow." (I think she might have added "idiot-brain" but I chose not to hear it). We have a gas stovetop so power outage would not stop the cooking...also see fireplace (I have four of those) above. I drained the bathtubs again but left the five pitchers of water around. Old habits die hard.

6. Electronics. I charged everything. EVERYTHING. A DVD player we haven't used in 10 years so we could watch Toy Story or whatever. Ipads, Ipods, Imacs, Iphones, name it, it was plugged in. They're still plugged in. 

7. Fill'er up. Yes, I filled up both cars with gas. There is no chance I am taking out the hooptie (my 2003 train station car with 112K miles) in snow but like I said, I am trained from Miami days. I could always siphon off the gas for the generator I don't have which would run the oxygenator for the carp pond which I also don't have. Yes, that was my neighbors in Miami in 2005. I am clearly traumatized by a hurricane named Wilma (Flintstones vs. Greek mythology--which would you rather?) It was a scene at the gas stations--lines in both places, all polite, all filled with snowplow guys wishing each other "a good stahm".

And so the snow started at around 2 pm on Monday--the kids activities got canceled (not sure why, this was just flurries) and we bunkered in. Here is how things looked at 7 pm on Monday. Why yes, my bunker does have white wine and a Harry Potter book. Doesn't yours?

At 3 am, I woke up to the noise of the town snowplow. I looked outside and could not believe the huge blanket of snow already down. I checked the house and everything looked okay so I headed back to bed where the kids had somehow noted the empty warm spot and moved in. Sneaky suckers. 

At 7 am, I woke up to a patio backdoor that looked like the first photo. Yep, that looks scary. Very scary. Not all of that was snowfall--the winds tend to blow everything there but it is the door the dogs go out to do their stuff. Now what? I looked out the kitchen door--drifted up to 1 1/2 feet of snow. Garage doors: forget it. Office door: nope. Front door: aha! Only about eight inches near the door, none of it looking like it was going to fall in.

Once the kids woke up, we ate up, geared up and then Lalo and I hit the front walkway. Nico suited up but then turned back: Brazilian boy. We decided to shovel out to the street so my old labrador could get out to do her stuff. All around us was the sweet sound of snowblowers. I hate the sound of snowblowers but I do get their usage in this much snow--I am still sore today from all the snow shoveling. Joe the snowplow dude showed up with his massive Ford pickup truck with the yellow blinky siren on top and made a giant hill in about 10 minutes and then pulled up, rolled down the window and said "just doing a first run...back latah" (or however you do that Bahston accent).

Height of the storm: 8 am and Lalo is kicking it! 1/3 of way to curb...
An hour into the front walkway, Lalo gave up and started tunneling into the hills left by the plow. I suggested that the next plow to pass might bury him forever, so he went over to our own garage hill and tunneled there. Me, I shoveled. And shoveled and shoveled. I cleared the garage door, the path to the kitchen door and the front walkway every hour and a half. Three inches every hour, folks. I think it was a total of 24 inches in our area, which means I was out there about six times (the nighttime accumulation I did only once).

Garage snowplow hill in front of unused garage (thank God)
New England is not for the weak. Even snowblowing ain't easy, kids. Those machines are big. Fortunately I have great neighbors, one of whom came over around 11 am and said "let's sled!" and we all trooped up the dead-end street with the hill and sledded down the road. The middle of the road. And screamed with laughter as we bowled each other over. And jumped out of the way of snow plows. And dogs. Oh, the dogs. Later we let the dogs romp in the two feet of snow, and it is just like all the youtube videos show...bounding up and down with little hills of snow on their snouts. Really good fun.

Come here, Tennessee doggie! Let's romp!
After clearing up some more in the afternoon and watching too much TV and half-heartedly doing homework, we again headed over to the neighbor's for dinner. And wine. And story-telling. And sledding (for the kids). Then we walked home through the enormous mountains of snow and went to bed. 

So, Juno, you may be one pissed off lady but I'm no swan.
Still embracing it...though the arms are just a tiny bit sore...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Embracing winter - Carrabassett Valley, Maine

My two kids sandwiching one of their friends

So it's my first winter in New England in 24 years. That's insane. But true. We've enjoyed sledding and skating and making snow angels, right here in our own backyard. Then our friend-neighbors--can I go with "Friebors" or does that imply Star Wars characters? --invited us up to ski with them at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. We jumped on the chance, even though Sugarloaf lies roughly four hours north of us and there are plenty of other mountains closer. After all, we had a four-day weekend to play with--one day of Martin Luther King Jr holiday and one of teacher planning.  I also invited along a friend from Wellesley days who now lives in Freeport with her kids. I have a handy reference of the cast of characters at the bottom of this blog.

We had typically New England weather. When we went up on Friday afternoon, there were "snow squalls". As an aside, I just love New England weather euphemisms. What I know as "hail", they call "ice pellets." And you know how I feel about "nor-easters" as that was in a prior blog. At one point, on the worst day of skiing, I asked the guest services person what the conditions were like and she said they were "tricky to difficult." That is a euphemism for there are only 3 lifts open and 11 trails and they are all covered with sheer ice or slush or both. Or you could also call it "spring skiing." However, I digress.

Snow squalls are little whirling dervishes of snow gusts that attempt to blind the drivers so that they will visit snow banks which is part of the tourism feature of any winter highway. We had no issues, although we were warned twice by signs on the Maine Turnpike (after the sign, which I literally anticipate every single time I am in Maine--"Maine, the way life should be." That's just cute.) We heard from our friends and other skiers that the conditions on the mountain that day were roughly equivalent to a tornado-led whiteout. 

Sugarloaf Mountain. Awesome, but only about half open.

We were staying in a condo I found in I love these condo rentals in general--we've had nothing but good luck with them. Our 3-bedroom condo was not ski in-ski out but it was close to midlift so we walked five minutes in our ski boots, snapped on our skis, and descended another minute to the Snubber (possibly the ugliest-named ski lift I have ever met) to ride up to the base lodge area. Love it.

Now on the first day we had to rent equipment and get the kids all set up in ski school. First the kids. In a word, the ski school at Sugarloaf Mountain is fantastic. Truly. Okay, that was two words. Friendly, helpful, and they feed the kids some kind of mountain crack that cures a boy scared of skiing and chair lifts and makes him love every minute. Even when we had The Incident. But that's for later.  The classes went from 9:30 to 3 pm, and included lunch. The kids loved it. 

Then BH and I trompled up to rentals. After filling out monstrous amounts of paperwork about how we will not sue anyone or attempt to climb trees while wearing skis or whatever else I initialed, we had our equipment. And here is my plea to all you MITs out there. Please, please, please invent a better snow boot. That is one technology that has not changed in the 25 intervening years of my last real skiing. Dang, they're uncomfortable. And not pretty. There must be a better way. And yes, I know that they are how they are so I don't shatter my ankle in 15 places...still....

In another aside, I have to mention one big change from 20 years ago. Helmets: somewhere in the intervening 15 years since I have last really skied, everyone, or close to everyone wears helmets. There doesn't seem to be that whole Hell's Angels macho thing that you don't need to wear one, whatever. I think I only saw one person without a helmet during the whole four-day weekend. I credit the media on showing that crap happens like running into a tree--even to Michael Schumacher. So, good on us all. Plus they're warm. Love my helmet. It's purple.

And then we were out the door. Here is the truth of the truth and the snow of the snow (sorry ee cummings, I am butchering you), it is in fact just like riding a bicycle. Within five minutes, I had remembered everything including what happens when you cross your ski tips, or catch an edge. Within 20 minutes, I had crashed while trying to snow my friend's daughter (turns out that ice is not good for snowing). Within an hour I was loving it again. And a good thing too because Saturday was minus nine degrees. That's Fahrenheit. That's coooooooooooolllllldddddd.  And here I am getting to my point.

On our second lift ride up on the Whiffletree quad (I kept calling it Whifflepuff: I'm re-reading the Harry Potter books and it just sounds right), we sat next to a well-bundled up skier from Maine. And after hearing we had moved from Brazil, he said to us "The secret to surviving winter in New England is to embrace it."  When it's snowy and cold and horrible, snap on the skis and get out there. When the driveway freezes and your snowplower guy doesn't show up, skate on it. Embrace it. And that is what we are trying to do: embrace it. And wear face masks, two layers of long underwear, put those hot spot thingies in our boots and gloves and freeze. And embrace it. 

This blog would go on for pages and pages about how much we embraced it and had fun even after the superquad broke and we had a half-hour line at Whifflepuff on Sunday. And then it rained all night Sunday to Monday, killing off most of the snow and exposing the ice fields. At one point there were eight of us skiing together on an intermediate slope--even our experts skier was with us, and we had So. Much. Fun. 

Pretty much the weather we got (minus the 80 degrees) in four days. Oh plus minus-9.

The only not-fun is what I called The Incident. On the last day of skiing, which was Ice Monday, the kids were with us. The eight year old beginner skiers. And we decided to take them up a longer beginner run, which in retrospect was a major error on my part. Lalo was going to make it down no problem because he was skiing behind his hero (see cast of characters). Nico was going to look at the long downhill and freak out. And he did. He couldn't turn on the ice (in his defense, I could barely turn on the ice). We tried to make it down with him snow-plowing (apparently it is now called Pizza-ing) between my skis but the ice made us cross skis and crash. It took us nearly 40 minutes to get down a 7 minute slope. 

At the end, he was trying to make it down one bit by himself, and started going too fast, could not pizza, crossed his skis, fell and kept sliding fast towards the tree line. So I crushed him. Yep, it is an unknown ski move where the momma bear freaks out, skis over and tackles the child with her own body to stop the slide. I can only imagine what this looked like to the rest of the skiers out there. Nico then unsquished himself, shook himself off and said "mom, I think I'll walk from here." He walked down in his ski boots, then snapped his skis back on when he got to the bunny slopes and took off. No permanent damage. We skied for two more hours...but on the bunny slopes.

The weekend was filled with skiing, good food, fireplaces, kids and friends, laughter, the DeflateGate AFC championship game watched at our friend's condo, and a lot of freakin' cold weather. I embrace you, winter. What's next?

Cast of characters:

Me and the BH (Brazilian husband): intermediate and beginner skiers, respectively. Well, BH is higher than beginner--he can get down just about any hill but really only picked up skiing as an adult. I would not push him down a black diamond though unless I was pretty sure his life insurance is up to date.

The twins, age 8: skied once in Illinois (400 feet of vertical drop, I think it was officially measured).Did awesome.

The Freibors: Alyson is a Minnesota-Wyoming girl and a high intermediate or low expert. Her Slovak husband is craque. That is Brazilian for holy cow. He wore a bright red jumpsuit on the hill which looked orange to me with my red goggles. His wife called him Big Red, I called him traffic cone. Not to his face. He could push me down a black diamond too.

The Freibors kids: Luke, age 13, Lalo's hero. Pictured above. Lalo would follow him down a black diamond probably. Alex, age 10, the snowboarder. Sam, age 6, the card-carrying ski school bomber. He did at least 50 more miles than the rest of us by skiing down the lower slopes and being hauled up on the Moose Caboose snowmobile. And Ava, age 2, who was in child care and skiing. And will be better than me by next year.

The Wendys: my friend from Wellesley who is around the same level as I am (oh, all right, she's bettter) and who I love to ski with given our skiing together 27 years ago (!!!) at Wellesley and having numerous adventures, one of which was skidding out on the highway in her Chevy Sprint and winding up in a huge snowbank. No harm, no foul. And her kids who I am not sure I'm allowed to name so I won't, a 14-year old girl who is better than I, and an 11 year old boy who also fit in the intermediate level.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rain in winter - Weston, MA

So at this very minute, I am supposed to be in Chicago visiting my parents. I haven't seen them since August and I really miss them. But I had to cancel my flight due to weather. Not outside weather, but because it was raining in my garage.  A lot. 

Here's what you all know: I am from New England/New York. I grew up in suburban NY and CT and went to college in Massachusetts. Then I left. I lived in San Francisco, then Evanston IL as a student, then New Jersey in a rented condo. Then I left again to Brazil, Miami and Brazil again. After 15 years of no winter to speak of, I am back in the very heart of winter. And I thought I knew what I was doing.

Most of my hubris was based on a couple of facts: 1. The former owner of this house did a marvelous job of maintaining it, and left us instructions on many systems and contractors. And 2. I am an intelligent daughter of New England. So as winter approached, I did all the things I knew I had to do: chimney cleaning, winterizing the landscaping (I spent an hour protecting a tiny willow tree from deer by wrapping it in netting), piling lawn furniture in the space under the deck, calling a company to reverse the water in the irrigation system so pipes wouldn't burst AND I kept the heat up around 55-60 degrees for the three weeks we were in Brazil. I am soooooooooo good at this, right?

Wrong. This morning BH and I walked the kids and dogs to the bus stop and then we walked home so I could throw my bag in the car and take off for the airport. As I opened the garage door, I heard it. Niagara Falls. Inside my garage. 

Specifically, the Falls were in our third garage. We have only two cars that were parked in the first two garages--I call them the monster truck and the hooptie. Look it up if you don't know what I'm sayin'. Anyway, our third garage is used for one of my sons' art projects (large cardboard boxes, broken electronics, paint sets--all fodder for art) and the other son's athletic equipment (ski helmets, skates, 4000000000 soccer balls--all fodder for an athlete), and BH's work bench, currently itself a work in progress. 

And a waterfall. As I stood dumb in horror, the water cascaded out of the fluorescent lights, the electric wiring and the garage door central rail. Just as I was about to call BH, he came around the corner and said "there's a lot of water coming out…oh, I see." And we stared and then looked outside at the light rain and melting snow and said, no way is this an overflowing gutter issue. Houston, we have a problem.

It was at this exact moment that we simultaneously realized that we had no idea where to turn the central water supply off. We had no idea where the circuit breaker box was. We knew nothing. Fortunately, I also have no ego when it comes to home care stuff: I called my best buddy in the neighborhood and cried for help. She sent her husband, who works with home construction, and without whom we would have seemed very foolish indeed.

He came right over, located swiftly the main water turnoff and the circuit board and we powered down. In those moments, I realized I would not be able to get to Chicago so I went inside to cancel my flight. By the time I was back, a plumber had been located who would come early in the afternoon, and the two men had noted several clues. The ceiling had been patched before…highly suspicious. The hose was still in the outside faucet (okay, so I didn't know I had to do anything about that). And the leak was localized. But no one could locate the water valve for that area of the house, and we needed to open up the ceiling to figure out where exactly we had a pipe issue.

The short of all this is that we did find that the pipe had burst  in a place that it had burst sometime in the past. I called the former owner and she immediately told me where to find the addition's water valve--the rest of the water in the house could be switched on. The plumber pulled out a massive plasterboard cutter and carved a rectangular hole right where the leak was. Uncanny, really. 

An hour after he arrived, the plumber was gone. Dave was his name. Efficient and good-humored. He's on the rolodex now. The neighbor has come back with massive fans to dry out the garage before we shut up the plasterboard again (by the way, this is where an American house kicks Brazilian butt: our house in Brazil is cement block--to get to a leak, we have to get out the BIG tools. Jackhammers and pickaxes). 

And so I read with some chagrin my last post where I was making fun of the fire department's warnings for the freeziest day in four years last week. Here's the relevant part of the post that I blithely ignored:

--To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Allow a trickle of warm water to run from a faucet that is farthest from your water meter or one that has frozen in the past.  This will keep the water moving so that it cannot freeze.  Learn how to shut off your water if a pipe bursts.

Live and learn, baby, live and learn. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wicked Cold - Weston, MA

Large barbecue or panoramic shot of Ribeirão Preto? Neither, it's Guaecá and the world's biggest fish on the grill. Called "filhote" or puppy.

So it's Monday and we've been back from Brazil since Saturday morning. I admit that I complained more than a couple of times about the heat in Ribeirão Preto, a city often referred to as the inferno of Brazil. Whooops, wrong translation: I hear it is the California of Brazil. 

Only if it is the Central Valley of Cali...the place is hot. The day before we left it was 100 F/39 C. Strangely, people there do not believe much in air-conditioning so you sit around like fried frogs all day, jumping relentlessly into whatever cool body of water you can find.

I am not a fan of hot. I have always said that I prefer the deep cold to the deep hot. You can always add more clothes but it's hard to take away more from naked. Not that I run around Ribeirão Preto naked, not because it would be illegal (though possibly it is) but because there are lots of whitey places on my body that I would like to never burn. Okay, about 100% of my body fries in about 13 seconds there. 

I admit I take away a great deal of Brazilian glee (they just love to ask about the cold and how much I am suffering) when I say that I am happier in the cold (oh, right, I have central heating) than in the hot. I have not missed one day of walking in the conservation land because it has been "too cold" yet I've missed many a day of exercise in Brazil because it is "too hot."  This answer makes Brazilians literally shiver--most Brazilians hate the cold. And profess to love heat more than cold, even though they bitch and complain every time it gets over 30 celsius ("Nossa, que calor!!!")

Prepare for screaming on Thursday. Also try not to laugh where it says "milder" on Sunday...31 degrees is "milder"? Uh oh.

So, here it is. I am on the verge of my first test of "loving cold". This Thursday morning is supposed to dawn colder than any other in FOUR YEARS. Just for me. Just to test me. This is truly a test if I am a Yankee, a New Englander, a stoic soul who will just claim "it's wicked cold today." Oh, all right, only people from Maine say "wicked [anything]"  but just for a moment I can be one, no? I've got my Bean labrador slippers on so that counts.

Let's face it: the New England winter is a test of Hercules. If you can make it through four months of frozen tundra (just watching my senior labrador bite the dust this morning on the black ice made me cringe), two months of seemingly two hours of daylight (oh, all right 9 hours, but the gloaming is loooooong), and windchill that would knock the nose off of Pinocchio, well, you've done it. You are a New Englander and you have won the right to a year's supply of Dunkin Donuts coffee. 

On the bright side, today was a sunny breezy day. Very sunny. Very breezy. Very cold. I still went for a walk with the dog. Speaking of Coal, he has decided to accelerate his hibernation schedule in the last 24 hours by eating one steak off the barbecue and stealing a half of the cheese round we brought back all the way from Brazil. He is following Weston's Fire Department's list of preparedness. Yes, they emailed me today to make sure that I, the Brazilian expat, was okay with winter. Oh, all right, the whole town got the email...

--Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly or relatives and friends who may need additional assistance to ensure their safety.
--Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat ** (Editor: Coal's VERY hot)
--To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Allow a trickle of warm water to run from a faucet that is farthest from your water meter or one that has frozen in the past.  This will keep the water moving so that it cannot freeze.  Learn how to shut off your water if a pipe bursts.
--Make sure your car is properly winterized.  Keep the gas tank at least half-full.  Carry a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk including blankets, extra clothing, flashlight with spare batteries, a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for drinking water), non-perishable foods, windshields scraper, shovel, sand, towrope and jumper cables.

BH's favorite part of the list is the whole sand in the trunk thing. Brazilians use sand for other stuff. Mostly for lying around on. 

So, folks, as they say in the military (at least in the movies):  I'm going in. Cover for me. Wait, no, give me that cover. Preferably the down one.

See you on the other side.