Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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             The love/hate relationship that an upstate New Yorker has with weather is never more apparent than when it starts to snow. This gets so intense that the cities of Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester all compete in an annual Snow Derby and local news channels will often give away a snow blower to whoever guesses the total amount of snowfall for the season.  We have taken what can occasionally be a miserable, cold and inconvenient time of the year and turned it into a sport. How can you not love that kind of craziness?

           The snowbirds have long since flocked to Boca Raton for the winter, leaving behind only the hardiest of New Yorkers to fend off whatever the season throws at us. We may complain about it but we also revel in it. At the first sign of a snowflake, we even embrace the practicality of dressing as if mirrors were suddenly illegal. Fashion be damned, it’s cold out there, so bring it on, Mother Nature. I have a fur-lined earflap hat and I’m not afraid to use it.

            An hour or so before I went to bed the other night, it was twenty-nine degrees above zero, so naturally, I kept checking the thermometer every fifteen minutes to see if it was going to go any lower. I have one of those indoor weather stations with a transmitter outside that has a twirly wind gauge, which is a fair indicator of how seriously we take weather around here. I also looked out the window at the snowfall and did the flake math to see if I’d have to plow in the morning.

            Even though we missed the record low temperature by a mile, it still snowed some more, so I had to clear our driveway. We have four-wheel drive in both of our vehicles, but I keep the driveway clear anyway. It looks better and besides, it gives me a chance to fire up Big Orange and rip through the snow piles. Big Orange is what I call my snow blower. It replaced Little Orange last year as it became increasingly apparent to me that I needed wanted a much larger, heavier machine with hand warmers.

            Which brings me to my topic of the day.

            As anyone who has a driveway knows, the crunchy stuff near the road is the worst.  These are the spoils which have been left behind by the town plows, spoils that are usually filled with ice chunks, fenderbergs, mailbox posts, lumps of sod, recycling tubs, pieces of the concrete gutter, sleds and whatever else is scraped off of the road. Just last week, I saw an entire newspaper fly out the snow blower chute in a burst of confetti and I didn’t even blink an eye.

            Anyway, it was starting to get light out when I layered up and I went outside with the dog and fired up Big Orange. I won’t lie—this is my winter baby. It has an electric starter, a canopy and the aforementioned hand warmers because if one is going to live in a snow globe, one has to have the equipment to dig their way out of it and as long as we’re going to the power equipment toy store anyway, let’s get a big machine with hand warmers to do the job.

             As I was merrily chugging along, blowing snowy contrails off into the wild blue yonder, I saw the archenemy of driveway shovelers coming down the road— the town snowplow and its T-shirt clad driver. The heating system in these trucks must go from off directly to pottery kiln because I have never, in all my years, seen one of these guys wearing a long-sleeved shirt let alone a jacket. I think they would plow the roads in the nude if the unions allowed it.

            snow-plow1 We made brief eye contact as he drove down the opposite side of the street, filling the aprons of my neighbors’ driveways with three feet of nasty, crunchy snow. He showed no remorse at all because let’s face it—we all know he enjoyed it. There’s supposed to be road salt in the back of these trucks, but I have never seen it. I think it’s filled with bits of ancient glaciers and they let loose a load every so often right at the foot of selected driveways.

            By the time the driver went around the outside rim of the cul-de-sac, I was only halfway done and since we had made eye contact, he couldn’t fill in my driveway apron. Not while I was watching anyway, so he spent the next fifteen minutes driving around in pokey spirals, sculpting a small mountain in the center of the circle. By the time he was done, it resembled a massive gumdrop, and if it keeps snowing, it’ll be an ever-expanding sledding hill that will last most of the winter.

           I had finished up with my driveway and the areas around the fire hydrant and my mailbox when he noticed everything was clear. He made one more perfunctory pass around his snow hill project and then aimed the large truck towards my driveway. Then he waited for a second and blipped the gas pedal. This was it. I was sure he was looking for some more snow so that he could bury my handiwork, but as he slowly rolled up to my driveway, he raised the plow blade just enough to spare me the road sludge.

           As I turned Big Orange around and headed back towards the garage, he gave a little beep from his horn, and while laying a finger aside of his nose, he gave a small nod and up the street, he drove. Or something like that. Anyway, his act of kindness made me forget all about wanting to chase him down with a pointy snow stake, had this gone in another direction.

             So I want to give a public thank you to the snowplow driver for giving the neighborhood kids an excellent place to play and for not burying my driveway apron.

             Happy New Year, buddy.

             And for everybody who reads these little tales I tell, thank you. Here’s wishing you all the best for the New Year.

             See you in 2018. Maybe not as often, but when a tale needs to be told, I’ll be here.

 

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Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, Nollaig Shona Duit, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, Boldog Karácsonyt …

 

            In a few short days, it’ll be Christmas. That’s hard to believe since the decorations went up in the stores shortly after Labor Day so it feels as if it’s been Christmas for months. In truth, it only starts to feel like Christmas for me around the fifteenth of December, which also happens to be my birthday.

            When I grew up, I was always made aware that since Christmas was ten days away from my birthday, we’d simply make this a combo day. What this meant was that my birthday was a bit slighted, what with the impending Christmas bounty and revelry only a few days away. I may have resented this when I was little, back when the whole kid world revolved around birthdays, but I grew to like it. I still prcardboard fireplaceefer not to make a big deal out of my birthday, but it does explain why I use the fifteenth as my personal kick-off to Christmas. It’s ingrained in me to gear up right around then.

            Back then, the tree went up on the weekend nearest the fifteenth, the cardboard fireplace (with the orange seven watt light bulb that illuminated the realistic cardboard flames) went on the back wall and the garland was wrapped around the railing. The backside of the front door was already covered with Christmas cards, as they would arrive daily, seemingly by the dozen. Mom made cookies and of course, there was fudge. Fudge was as common as decorative ashtrays and galoshes back then, and if a house lacked a plate of fudge on the coffee table, it may as well have been without electricity or plumbing. By the sixteenth or so, we were in full-blown holiday mode, which lasted until New Year’s Day when it all came down. By then, the floor had more needles than the tree and it was best to get it outside before it shot up into flames. It should be noted that our Christmas tree stand did not hold water, so the poor dissected thing didn’t have a prayer of lasting longer than two weeks.

            For the past two years, we didn’t decorate at all around here. Not even a tree. Circumstances got in the way, as they sometimes do, but we went out with our daughter and her husband this year and we each cut down a nice tree. We set it up on the back porch, so this way, we could see it from the house and it would still look pretty, albeit outside. That lasted about ten minutes.

“Why don’t you bring it inside?” Mrs. G. asked. I hadn’t put a fresh cut on it, so it all had to come apart so it could come indoors. We stood it up in the same corner it always went, but after the lights went on, we decided to move it to the front of the house, next to the staircase. It fit perfectly, and the decorations were scaled way back and that was that. New traditions, new location. Simpler decorating. Next year, we’re going all in with an artificial tree. Funny how thing change.

            On Christmas morning, I’ll get up and look around and likely think about Christmases past when our daughter would bounce out of her bedroom and head straight to the tree to see what Santa had left for her. Those years slipped away quickly, and Christmas morning is a lot quieter these days. What’s happening now is, in some ways, nicer as the days forward and back of Christmas day are now filled with parties, get-togethers, and visits. My daughter has her own house now and has taken over the tradition of massive decorating and hosting. It’s been more fun for my wife and me to watch her grow into this than do it ourselves. I can’t describe the feeling, but it’s pretty great.

Oh, I almost forgot. We bought a full-sized leg lamp, same as the one in the movie A Christmas Story. It’s in our front window. I mean, how fantastic is that?

            So from our household to yours, Merry Christmas to all and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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MMXVII

 

 

           As 2017 winds to a close, it’s time to get a little retrospective. Let’s start with the important stuff. I’m typing this on my wife’s twelve-inch MacBook, and since I’m a two-finger typist, six of my fingers keep hitting the screen. My thumbs are still trying to figure out the touchpad. To avoid banging errant digits into the screen, I’ve affected a typing position that resembles British royalty at high tea, which makes me feel a bit dandy.

           This past year has had other changes besides my typing style, changes for both Mrs. G. and myself. Her dad passed away on January 7th, which gave both of us, but mostly her, a lot with which to deal. Here’s my advice for anyone over sixty with adult kids: Do your kids a favor. Throw out your crap now, and if you’re not sure if it’s crap, well, there’s a ninety-five percent chance most of it is.

           There was that, plus some windstorm damage and a shoulder replacement for me, but hey — we made it through another one, so with that said, here’s what else happened.

           I’ve kicked flossing to the curb and gotten a WaterPik. That’s big news. I’ve also discovered the joy of two-day shipping with Amazon Prime. I’ve found socks and shoes that fit my size fourteen feet and a telescoping snow broom that will allow me to clear snow off my truck without having to use the garage push broom and a ladder. It’s amazing. A friendly employee of the U.S. Postal Service delivered the snow broom, on a Sunday, less than thirty-six hours after I ordered it. Total cost: Nine bucks, which was well worth it to avoid driving down the road with my truck looking like a frosted cupcake.

           2017 has been a year where I can finally answer the question: Hey, what do you do with your retired self? Answer: Write a little and take a lot of pictures, both of which are hobbies I always loved but never had time to explore. It does take a little practice to settle into retirement, but the key here is not getting bored. If I want to take the afternoon and sit around and read, I can, or if I want to bundle up and go for a two-hour hike with a camera and a few snack bars, I can do that too. It’s fun. Not that work wasn’t, but it’s called work for a reason.

           So far, I’ve avoided the retirement pitfall of hanging around McDonald’s and nursing free coffee refills for three hours with other retirees, so that’s something in the plus column. When I run into my retired friends, we always ask the same thing of one another: So, do you miss work? Then we both fall on the floor in raucous laughter and stay there until someone pushes over a chair so we can get up off the floor. Then we start playing Go Fish, only with joint or organ replacements.

           Overall though, it’s usually wise to avoid talking with people about ongoing health ailments. A good friend will ask if everything is OK, and then the other good friend will lie and say yes, and then you talk about football or the weather as men have done for thousands of years and only talk about your ailments if they are funny.

           This is also the year we’ve had a covfefe and Twittery President, and the Internet has exploded with opinions. See the above philosophy on talking about health issues and apply those to politics. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a politician who drops by Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning and says to a table of disgruntled Americans, “You know, those are all good ideas. I’m going to take your thoughts to my friends in Congress and by week’s end, taxes will be lower, health insurance will be affordable and kale will be illegal.”

           Oh, and here’s something else I learned only yesterday. The same woman’s purse can be had in eleven colors and each of them is locked up, but a woman can’t see if the purse fits unless a salesclerk wearing yoga pants from Lululemon Kids and is deeply involved in a Snapchat conversation, unlocks all eleven purses and the woman tries them on while her husband wears out a fully charged phone battery searching for ways to fake a heart attack while trying to figure out why a purse needs be tried on at all, let alone in different colors. Not naming names here.

           Other big news of late, judging from morning TV, are commercials for law firms with phone numbers like 999-9999, telling us that we all need to sue somebody because nothing on Earth is our fault. These commercials tell people who are home in the morning that they could have Morgellons Disease or Alice in Wonderland syndrome or maybe even Le Pétomane syndrome and that they should sue somebody for millions of dollars, five times what the IN-surance companies said they should get. Then these same people go to Tim Hortons and complain about insurance rates with other people who watch morning TV.

           In the end, 2017 has been the usual combination of challenges and fun. Some years are weighted more one way than the other, but that’s life, right? We plug along, and once in awhile, we go shopping with our wives even if it’s not our most favorite thing to do because they do a thousand things for us for which we never thank them. We should be relieved they still want us around them at this point.

           Our 2018 is already filled with appointments, ideas, and plans. I even bought tickets to a concert that doesn’t happen until June. I haven’t been to a concert in … I don’t even know. I like music but I don’t like concerts, so it’s been awhile. When I told Mrs. G., she asked what time the concert was. I said 8:00. We both looked at each other, did the math, and figured we’d be out until at least midnight. The room got quiet for a second, since anything past 10:00 is a late night these days, but what the heck. These two crazy kids are going out.

 

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