Oh, February!

Even though it's annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Even though it’s annoying, winter can be pretty in Toledo.

Again, the shortest month of the year feels like the longest. Oh, February, why? Why?

Cold, dreary, gray, snowy, windy.

It happens every year, but it didn’t used to be so awful. Of course, that was before moving to the Midwest and discovering what real winter feels like. I gotta say, I don’t much like it.

I know I have plenty of companions in my complaining about February. Some people get through it better than I do. A former coworker would look out my office window at the February bleakness, snow piling on the sidewalk, gray clouds overhead, barren trees bending in the icy and unrelenting breeze, and he would say, at least it’s February. Spring is almost here.

I try to keep that in mind as I’m winding my heavy scarf around my neck and chin, slipping on my gloves and mentally preparing to face February out of doors. I bite my lip, and I get through it. But I’ll tell you this, I won’t be sad when February is over.

A change in the weather

When we lived in San Francisco, we befriended several people from Wisconsin and Minnesota who had moved to the Bay Area. At one point or another, each of these friends would opine about missing the seasons, the snow, the fall, the spring.

Granted, California has seasons—it just depends where you are in the state to experience them. June in San Francisco is like winter in Seattle. October in Fog City is like late summer in the Midwest. And San Diego is just pure bliss, nearly every day of the year. A yearlong season of bliss.

After living in the Midwest for six years, I am beginning to understand why someone who grew up with seasons would miss them. The bursts of color in the fall and spring; the snow and crispness of winter that promises sledding and snowball fights. And then there are the long, hot, humid days of summer that seem unbearable but come mid-winter it’s the only thing I long for. It’s nice to have the change, though each season has become less predictable each year we’ve lived here.

Still, I am a Californian at heart and in my bones. Growing up in San Diego must have programmed my body chemistry to reject temperatures below 68 degrees and above 74 degrees. It’s a small window, and it gives me lots of grief. I am still apt to complain when the mercury rises or falls below my minimal comfort zone.

But I do surprise myself from time to time. It was 50 degrees out today and sunny. I wore only two layers instead of three or four, as I would have a few years ago. I even went sockless while running an errand. I might be getting tougher after all.

The Endless Winter

Just when I thought I was out….

Winter. I can admit that I didn’t know the extent of it until I moved to Iowa 3.5 years ago. This winter, however, is one for the record books.

So far, Iowa has received 57 inches of snow. This is the snowiest winter on record.

What this means in my world is that the ground has been covered with the frozen white stuff in either snow form or ice form since December. It’s February. I am tired of it. My house is tired of having 3-foot-long icicles hanging from its eaves. My snow shovel is tired of the daily plow. My car is tired of skidding around corners. My heater is tired of warming the house 60 degrees warmer than it is outdoors. And I am tired of being cold and stuck inside.

Some people revel in snow, as I have said before. But I don’t understand these people or where they come from. And I wonder if they experience the same winter I do.

All I know is that I wish Punxsutawney Phil had been a bit braver this year and stayed out of that hole! Or rather, I’d like to climb in with him and wait out the bad weather until spring.

Cold Weather Blows

Weather is a frequent topic nowadays. Actually, since we moved to the Midwest three and a half years ago, it has been the foremost topic of conversation. There’s just so much to talk about.

A passing motorist helps push a car out of a snow drift, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009, in Des Moines, Iowa. More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, where the National Weather Service warned of "extremely dangerous blizzard conditions" and near whiteout driving conditions. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph could build snow drifts between 8 and 15 feet tall. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

I have never lived in a place where weather dictated your life. Coming from San Diego and San Francisco and being used to a constant temperate climate that never kept me indoors for more than a day at a time, moving to a place where the summers are so hot it feels like a sauna during the day and the bugs eat you alive at dusk and where the winters are so cold it’s actually hazardous for your health to be outside was and continues to be a challenge.

I spent the month of December in a town outside Sacramento. When I came back to Iowa, there was about two feet of snow on the ground and the temperatures hovered around zero (without the windchill). It was a shock, to say the least. But the one question that continued to circle in my mind was: How can people still live here?

I’ve discussed in this blog before how some people I know love winter. They love the cold and could not imagine  living in a place that didn’t have a winter.  It is really, really cold here.

Now, if we were a species that hibernates it would be a different matter. I am all for hibernating. In fact, the first year we lived here I practically did—only left the house a few times in three months. Unfortunately, people have to work to earn money to pay their heating bills. This includes me.

Monday through Friday I trudge through the snow, three miles uphill, to work. I brave the ice, the sleet and the sub-zero temperatures. But I, in no way, enjoy it.

People tell me: “Oh, you should take up cross-country skiing,” thinking that would be a good activity to get me out of the house and out of the winter doldrums. My response is always: “But it’s too cold to be outside!”

And then they say: “Oh, you’ll get warm skiing.”

I say: “Yeah right, after my face succumbs to frostbite.”

Mostly, I’m in agreement that the hearty Norwegians and other northern Europeans who settled here are genetically coded to weather this weather. My Mediterranean blood thinks it’s a bunch of hogwash.

Fall

There’s one thing that is nice about living in the Midwest when it has to do with weather. The fall. The colors are vibrant, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and everything beckons a cup of hot apple cider. Currently we have one bright yellow tree and one flame red bush. The rest of our outside space is covered with leaves.

Covered with leaves.

Perfect for stomping.

June Gloom

It happened to be a glorious day in Iowa. Not just for me. I heard the word “glorious” spoken several times out of several mouths. It was a “glorious” day.june-gloom-explained

And a rare one. While some of my cohorts in San Francisco are suffering from June Gloom, I had a remarkably fanastic day in Iowa. I even went so far as to encourage fellow Californians (yes, I still consider myself a Californian) to move here to escape the destruction a certain political Hummer (read: Arnold) is having on the Golden State. Closing parks and beaches? What sort of message is that supposed to send? Aren’t we all doing our part.

Well, not me, obviously. I’m in Iowa. But isn’t it the political obstacle course set up in Sacramento’s gilded halls that has caused this meltdown? Read about proposed park and beach closings here.

It’s interesting to write about California’s problems from abroad. Having lived there all my life, save for the last three years, I feel somewhat distanced from the place. I feel I can view it a bit more objectively. But I want it to land on its feet. It has so much to offer. On the other hand, the fickle California voters have shot themselves in the foot. By voting in stodgy Arnold the Governator and then re-electing him, they did themselves in. I proudly say I did not vote for him–even fought against his election and re-election. But, California is a complicated place with complicated people and complicated problems. It’s not all Arnold’s fault. But at least he’s not planning on running for president.

So I am sorry for the gloomy June in California, not so much for the fog rolling in from the Pacific or the thick marine layer hovering over beach towns, but because the state has managed to dig itself into a canyon. And, any life lines that are extended end up frayed and broken.

Remember: in a democracy, your government is what you make it. There are lessons to be learned from our mistakes.

Climate Change

As it approaches the middle of May in Iowa, I find myself turning to the topic of weather. As a bit of background, I will reveal that it is not in my cellular makeup to tolerate extreme climates. That is, I only feel comfortable when it’s between 68 and 74 degrees outside, sunny and with a slight breeze blowing, though it doesn’t seem to matter from which direction the wind blows. It’s not that I’m high maintenance; I grew up in San Diego.

While my forefathers survived and even multiplied in harsh climes, such as the Arabian desert and the icy conditions of Eastern Europe and Russia, it seems as if their abilities to tolerate and thrive in adverse conditions was a recessive trait. I inherited a trait that adapted over the course of just one generation: the nice weather gene.

So, it came as quite a shock when, after being in Iowa for just a few days, the temperature climbed to the 80s in July with about 80 percent humidity. So the heat index—whatever that means—was way beyond my comfort zone. Add to that thunderstorms that bring the rain down so hard it sounds like hail and sends small rivers gushing down the sidewalks, and air so thick when the rain stops 10 minutes later that it actually feels like you could slice it with a machete.

I’ve got three years of extreme weather under my belt now. I’ve lived through sub-zero winters, where the wind whips literally right through you and threatens to burn your skin off (that’s ice burn). I’ve lived through sweltering summers where even at midnight the temeprature hovers at around 80 degrees. Yet, even with all of my  newfound climate experience, I can’t seem to get used to all the variation. The extremes. The horrible, miserable, intolerable Iowa weather.

I try. I do. It has been part of my Embrace Iowa campaign of the late 2000s. I enjoy the 12 perfect days a year to the fullest. The rest of the time I am shedding or adding layers of clothing or adjusting the thermostat and wondering why the he** anyone still lives here.

To answer that question I turn to my native Midwesterner friends. Sometimes their answers involve their desires to be close to friends and family (leaving weather completely out of the equation). Other times they reply that the Midwest feels like home. One friend told me she doesn’t like the people in warm weather states. It’s not the people to be concerned about it, I replied in my head, it’s the weather.

And so, when a friend from northern Minnesota recently accepted a job in northern Maine it really caused me to step back and ask: Would you miss the cold if you took a bold step and moved someplace warm?

After I posed this question to a dear friend living in Duluth (northern Minnesota), she confirmed my suspicions. She said people who live in cold weather feel as if something would be missing if they did not experience the bone-shivering winter frigidness each year. To me it seems like self-inflicted torture. Why not move to Siberia?

So I am now concluding that one’s weather tolerance resides in one’s genetic makeup. Genes mutate and adapt to whatever situation that makes your body thrive. It’s truly a Darwinian process, though I have no actual research to back this up. My genes tell me to live in Southern California. Yet I wonder if they are slowly adapting to the too hot and too cold weather here in my current climate zone. Perhaps. Or perhaps they are begining a sort of mutiny that will force me to relocate to warmer climes.

Until then, I will be content to think that living like this builds character. And I am in the midst of building a really interesting character.

Torrential Rain

It has been raining now for two days. The basement is undoubtedly beginning to flood, and it’s possible we will all float away in the coming days of more rain. It gets me thinking of two things that could or could not be interrelated depending upon your frame of mind:

1) Noah and the Ark

2) Global Warming/Climate Change (whatever you preferred nomenclature is these days)

We’ll start with the biblical story. I grew up listening to a Bill Cosby skit from the 1970s called “Noah and the Ark.”

Cosby, in all of his early wisdom, describes a modern-day Noah who is building an ark in his neighbor’s driveway. The story doesn’t go into the reasons behind the impending 40-day storm that inadvertently washes away the axis of evil that has crept into society and needs to be dealt with. It just makes Noah out to be a little dopish, and we are all left to wonder, what exactly is a cubit anyway?

This leads to idea no. 2: global warming. I have yet to incorporate climate change into my daily speak, though I realize it is not indeed the globe that is warming but the climate that is changing. That is neither here nor there. Back to business. I’m about to get really deep.

Here we have a modern-day society that is basically snuffing itself out in the name of industrial progress. Profit-centric and growth-minded tycoons have launched a campaign against the world they inhabit to produce a consumer-driven world that will in turn make them richer and more powerful. Governments are not complacent in this race to the helm for world domination. The United States, in fact, my grand country, is a key player in the destruction of our Earth. So, in getting back to the torrential rain that has been pounding on my roof, lawn and seeping into my basement for the last 30ish hours, are we starting to pay the price for squeezing our planet of its last drop of oil (or, insert preferred natural resources currently being depleted)? In biblical terms, is God’s wrath manifesting in a cleansing of the evil, destructive path humans have chosen? Of course, since I don’t believe in God as described by the Old Testament I grew up reading, I must conclude it is not indeed God who is sending out this warning to shape up or ship out, it is the Earth itself. Don’t mess with nature, she says. I made you and I can destroy you just as easily.

Though this death may be as slow and painful as Alzheimer’s, or, as my friend Kris says…a disease that never allows you to ever eat chocolate.

I celebrated Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22nd with my twin boys who are almost four years old. We spent the day–a glorious, perfect sunny day–outside. We rode our bikes. Planted wildflower seeds. Visited the local botannical garden. And, most important, stayed out of our miserable, hot and wretched car that helped to get us into this mess in the first place. It felt good to participate in a symbiotic day with the Earth. We were given this amazing day and we used it to enjoy life, each other, and foster new life (in the form of plants).

Now it is Sunday: the Lord’s Day. I am in Iowa: God’s country. I am hoping my house has ark-like qualities, and I can save my two-by-two twins from washing off the face of this Earth in part because of the choices made by people with whom they had no connection but predestined them to a scary, thunder-and-lightning world that is in danger of going extinct along with the polar bear (shhh, don’t tell Sarah Palin). We are not talking fire and brimstone. We are talking real water. In my basement. Water that hopefully will not rise high enough to set us off our foundation and floating away into the dark abyss.

Spring is sprung

It is April 18 in Iowa. Forcast brings rain. Three boys are sleeping upstairs. Phish is singing about being pulled down. I’m going to go running before the forcast becomes true.

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