January 24, 2011

Blizzard Stories 1996

So the temperature dropped to -14 degrees in my hometown last night so I thought I would get back to talking about something I really hate – the weather. Thus a blizzard story for your enjoyment and my consternation.

I have two stories about blizzards I have been a part of. One in 1996 in New England, the other, the famous 1969 blizzard in NYC. This post is about 1996.

In January 1996, our kids were 10 and 6 years old. We had purchased a snow blower so the daunting task of clearing a 100 foot driveway was not as much an issue. Little did we know what we had in store for us. The first blizzard began on Saturday January 6th 1996 and continued until Monday morning, almost 48 hours of storm We received about 27 inches of snow and spend a good part of Sunday afternoon and then again Monday morning snow blowing the driveway and clearing the steps to the house. The kids were excited and we spent time at the local hills sledding and enjoying the New England winter but then things took a turn for the worst.

Mrsfabp had offered to babysit for several of our friends children on the following Friday and a small storm was predicted. They brought PJ’s and sleeping bags and we figured we would hunker down for the day and evening. The storm however had a mind of its own and as the wind intensified; our TV stations warned that the storm was getting much stronger than anticipated.

Around 8 pm on Friday night, at the height of the storm, with intense winds, we saw flashes in the sky to out north and we lost power. Later we were to find out that the whole power grid for Massachusetts was down due to heavy snow, broken tree branches and severed wires from the storm. So let me sum this up – we are without power (no water, stove or heat either), trapped in a house with 6 kids. Needless to say we were stressed to the max.

We had a wood stove so we kept it fired up and used the top for some basic cooking – eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, cans of soup and plenty of coffee and hot cocoa. We melted snow to make the codffee and cocoa. No lights meant we all settled down to cold rooms by about 6 pm. No water meant no showers or baths, melting snow to flush toilets and wash and heat water for coffee or tea. We learned that day to fill our tub in blizzard warnings so as to have some conveniences. We also learned it took an hour to melt all the snow in a bucket to flush the toilets.

At one point in that first evening, one of the darling children knocked over a candle and it burned a hole in our couch. A nice house fire would have really added to the ambiance of the winter storm, don’t you think?

We were without power for a total of six days and knew several people who went longer. The kids stayed for a couple of days until the roads were more passable and I’m not sure who was happier when they got to go, them or us. We moved most of the food from the refrigerator to a cooler kept on the back porch, more worried things would freeze than melt.

And we survived, at least this time.

January 19, 2011

Snow Day!

There was a funny movie a few years back called “Snow Day” The basic plot was that a town experienced a snowstorm and the children were anticipating a day off from school while a demonic snow plow driver worked to get them to the school building on time.

Well last week, we experienced a snowstorm that put a halt to all state business and created what everyone loves to hear – a snow day! And now, in the past 10 days, we have had 2 of them, TWO!

What I like best is the anticipation. Several days before people begin to talk about it. “Did you hear about the big storm that is coming” is a common refrain. As it gets closer to snow time, the estimates swing wildly and the predictions go nuclear. We are getting 2 feet, no, only a dusting, it will be a real heavy snow, fill the bathtub, no, it will be light and fluffy, move it with a broom… The weather talking heads are worthless at this point, making small talk about global warning with the news bunnies. Even the professionals, the meteorologists, (is this an oxymoron? Shouldn’t they study meteors and comets??) are not very helpful, spouting out about computer models and low pressure systems and milliebars. However, they know we are in trouble when they send their experts into the field to report on what is happening. There is nothing as frightening as Jim Cantore standing in waist deep snow, with cars sliding behind him, talking about how the brunt of the storm has not hit yet.

(Plus as in 24 inches,, a bit more than CBS figured on!)

At this point the family here goes into action. Grocery store run, check – plenty of stuff for fresh baked cookies. Bathtub filled, yes. We learned that lesson 20 years ago (more about that in another post soon). Candles and flashlights check. Batteries, no so much. Wood for the stove – WHAT ARE WE, MACHINES! WE CAN’T DO ALL THIS, WE ARE IN A PANIC, CAN’T YOU SEE THIS! Well we can always burn the furniture, it’s not worth much and we are not taking it to New Mexico. Check!

Next up is watching for our governor to declare a state of emergency. Years ago (again that storm I will talk about soon) one of the state’s response to the mess was to set up a protocol for all state employees – ESSENTIAL and NON-ESSENTIAL. As a social worker I am NON-ESSENTIAL so state of emergency means state of staying home and chillin’. Last week, we got one. Yesterday we did not but I exercised my option under my personal time usage clause and call in a “can’t come to work today, you can’t make me” day. So we sat home, made cookies, stayed warm, eventually got plowed out and were none the worse for wear. We got 24 inches of powder, great for skiing, lousy for getting to work.

Yesterday was different. The storm was not as intense, only about 4-5 inches but it started as ice and finished as rain/sleet so it is heavy and slippery and unmanageable for me to walk on. Mrsfabp escorted me to the car to get me off to work and I worry about getting up the driveway when it is time to go home but we shall see.

(not our home but an incredible simulation of this morning. That is Mrsfabp shoveling snow, I am on the porch telling her I want to move to Las Cruces TODAY!)

As I drove into work, which took twice as long as usual this morning, only one thought crossed my mind – “could 100 degrees in NM be worse than this? We will have air conditioning, could that be a worse situation than this?

I think not…

January 10, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Let me begin by saying that I do not often read Young Adult (YA) books often, especially since my kids grew up. I really enjoyed reading and listening to Mrsfabp reading books like “Holes” and the Wayside School Series but had not read any of them more recently until MillieJupiter recommended “The Hunger Games.” It was last August and she was anxiously awaiting the third and final book in the series to be imported from Australia and she kept quietly insisting I give it a try. I was recently able to find an audio book copy of all three books and set about the task of listening to them.

It took about an hour of listening before I was hooked and this point out the first problem with the books. They are slow moving. Written for YA, they go into greater detail than other books might relate to the thought process behind what the heroine is thinking and feeling. This is not a bad thing; it just slows the books down a bit. A second, less problematic issue is that the heroine is played sort of as a “country bumpkin” and it always takes her a while to realize things or see things as they are. During these times, it is difficult not to yell at the book and ask her to open her eyes to things. Minor point but still there.

Now some positives. The overall story is a very good one, somewhat of a science fiction like classic – there is a war and the resulting government divides the country into districts that supply the ruling district with their resources. As a reminder of the uprising, each year “tributes” from each district, 2 from each for a total of 24, are “reaped” and sent into an arena to fight to the death. The victor gets all the spoils you might expect, money, food etc. but also gets the nightmares associated with having to kill fellow children to survive. All of this is televised for the entertainment of the rulers and dismay of the participants. Without giving too much away, there is a rebellion because of the cruelty and hardship.

A second positive is the depth of the characters. I will judge a book by how much I care for the people in it and many of the characters in this series are memorable as they deal with the games and their enemies and their friends and family and I found myself caring for the individuals in the books throughout. It was easy to form attachments and then very difficult to let go of people who died or changed or were not as good as presumed earlier.

At the end of the audio book there is a short piece done by the author where she talks about the mythic and ancient historical roots of this books themes. She mentions Spartacus and the Roman Empire and some other stories as being inspirational for the book. I also think that it is a metaphor for our society and what is happening to us now, the violence seen as a result of politics, the greater separation of the society classes like rich and poor, the haves and have nots and even a moral tale for absolute power corrupting absolutely, all on a level that a young person can understand. I would hope that teachers would utilize this series to get kids talking about these issues and their effect on all of us.

Overall, I give this book 4 Penguins

I did enjoy it and would not have trouble recommending it to others. The audio book version is read well by Carolyn McCormick and she does a good job in making the different characters sound different so as to make picturing them in your mind easier. Children should be encouraged to read it and talk about it and all can enjoy it!

January 9, 2011

The Blue Canary Cream Ale Report

As regular readers of this blog or frequent listeners to the Podcast of Record Countless Screaming Argonauts (available for free on iTunes or listen from the website http://csapodcast.blogspot.com/) know, CollegeBoy and I have been brewing our own beer on occasion. We had done two previous batches of a Cream Ale and gave it the moniker Blue Canary Cream Ale (BCCA) after the They Might Be Giants song, “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” Well, we completed brewing batch #3 a week before Christmas, bottled it on Christmas Day, waited 14 days for it to naturally carbonate and popped open our first bottle on Saturday at about 2 PM.

I am here to report that it was a complete success. It is a creamy, flavorful ale, double hopped (once during the boil and second, 10 minutes before yeast is added), with a golden color and fresh taste second to none. We will be celebrating with a steak dinner tonight with twice baked potatoes, broccoli with cheese and MillieJupiter's first homemade beer bread (no we did not use the BCCA, we save that for drinking).

CB and I have now generated a list of questions which we will endeavor to answer over the next few weeks including

1. Do we move up to brewing in a draft container so that we have a tap beer. Currently we brew in 5 gallon pails and then bottle from that but it takes almost 2 hours to clean, prep, fill and cap the batch. There is an inexpensive kit that allows for the beer to be brewed in 1.5 gallon batches and have a tap adaptor so that you can put it directly into the fridge – like a mini keg.

2. One issue with the homebrew is the fact that it is a bit cloudy. That doesn’t harm the flavor at all but esthetically it is not the best. I understand that there is a seaweed extract that is used to clear the beer. We have to research this.

3. We have now used a kit three times to make the same beer. We are feeling experienced enough to try another kit beer that gives a different taste. However we don’t want to make too many changes at once such that if there is a problem in a future brew we can pinpoint the issue.

We are heading to the Reddit homebrew sub topic to ask these questions as we plan our next move. Until then, we are happy to drink our homemade beer and enjoy the satisfaction of our accomplishment. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and enjoy a taste of a craft beer. But come quickly, we only have about 35 bottles left...

January 7, 2011

MASS Exodus: Update January 2011 – Undaunted, we move ahead…

At my last report, back in November, we had gone a few months without any more bad news and were dealing with a new timeline that looked to get us to Las Cruces in March of 2012 (nine months after putting house on market and sale projection.) But now this is being tweaked again, for the better.

Because of the well failure, we had to put various home projects on hold due to ALL our money (and then some) going to the well guy. We still owed over $3500 on this failure and were paying it off slowly. However, recently I have come into a bit of money and am currently paying off all we owe on the well and then will be contacting the 3 people most dear to our hearts – exterior painter, interior painter and our general repair man to begin again the process of prettying up our house – putting lipstick on the pig as some people say. If all goes according to our new timeline, we may be able to get the house on the market a month or two early – by mid February, moving the anticipated move date up to about a year from now or just after the new year, 2012. Twelve months and counting!

A second issue that we have been discussing (and by we I mean Mrsfab and I) has been the summers in Las Cruces. We only visited in the late winter which was perfect, but never experienced the summer there. We bemoaned the fact that we might move there without this experience and possible end up feeling it was too much for us. However, finances being what they were – I wanted a glass of water or to wash some clothes or take a shower now and again, it was difficult to see how this could be accomplished. However the money situation has changes and WE ARE GOING TO VISIT LAS CRUCES AGAIN THIS SUMMER!! Details are still being looked into but it looks like maybe two weeks in the beginning of July, after the holiday. We will get a chance to experience summer, visit with our friends and get a feel for housing situation again. To say we can’t wait may be the understatement of the year.

Concerning the housing situation; readers of this blog have seen the transition from new home to home to condo to our plans to rent an apartment. Getting to apartment rental is difficult for me but an idea I have come to terms with. This too may be changing again. We have several options of apartment complexes to choose from, all of which advertise availability. They include access to a pool, extra bedroom for our frequent visitors, a craft/computer space, first floor / disability access situation. Our financial change opens the door a crack for potential to buy again if we want to consider it. This will be a major time allocation for our visit to NM this summer – to look at apartment spaces and also talk to our realtor, Todd (who still sends us weekly Las Cruces updates) about potential pre qualifying for a mortgage loan. Then the debate begins anew – rent or own? More on that discussion in the future.

Don’t worry; we still plan to have lots of fun in Las Cruces on our visit this summer. We are so looking forward to seeing our friends Clair and Bill and Jean and Helen and Fred. I also know there is some real brick oven New Mexico pizza and green chile cheeseburgers out there with my name on them. A few craft beers too, thunderstorms and sunsets, museums and the farmers market. On the next update, I will let you all know how the repair plans are going and trip plans are coming along.