SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

(Note: This was originally written on February 7th and then misplaced, which isn’t the first time. It was the beginning of what was overall a nice February—for Indiana. You all know how things changed in March.)

Ah, spring.

Or, possibly, &$@# spring!

That’s the way it is, with springtime in Indiana. It’s feast or famine, a saying that goes well for farmers wondering if they’ll be able to get into their fields early, or ever.

I was reminded of spring just a few days after that stupid groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter, a prediction that’s essentially meaningless in Indiana. There are always six more weeks of winter—we just don’t know when. It could start next week. It could start next month. (Note: It did.) If you’re having a mild winter, like we had this year, a backlash is almost guaranteed. I’m worried about whether spring is going to be full of terms like “polar vortex”, “late winter snowstorm”, and “Is that groundhog still alive? Get my gun”.

On this particular day my wife and I got out of the car while shopping and simultaneously cocked our heads, which come to think of it probably looked pretty funny.

“Is that a bird?” I asked.

“That is a bird.”

“But that’s not a bird we usually hear in February.”

“No, it’s a spring bird.”

It was indeed a spring bird, one that was soon to be very, very unpleasantly surprised. On that particular day, the outdoor temperature hit the mid-forties. Two nights before it dipped into the teens. Two days later it hit sixty and we had thunderstorms, followed a few days after that by snow.

A typical March in Indiana, the only strange thing being that we heard the bird in early February. As you read this is should now be March, which means (if you live in the Midwest) you’re dressing in layers to combat both frostbite and heat stroke, possibly on the same day. But for February, that weather was actually pretty good.

February is usually easy to forecast. You have two choices: It’s cold and it’s going to snow, or it’s not going to snow but even colder. (Note: I said usually.) But spring—spring is different. Here’s a typical Midwest meteorologist in, say, mid-March:

“Looks like a blizzard headed our way, folks—oh, wait. The radar just updated, and the blizzard has been sucked up by a tornado! I think we’re going to see some serious snow drifts.”

We have something called March Madness, which most people think is about basketball playoffs. But in Indiana, March Madness translates to ice season: that time of the year when sleet and freezing rain fall as often as snow.

“Aren’t those icicles on the electric lines pretty—oh, the power’s out again.”

Occasionally we’ll have a dry spring, and instead of frozen precipitation you can see columns of smoke in every direction, often accompanied by sirens. This is called grass fire season, and generally comes just after March Madness. People realize they can finally walk outside without fifty pounds of outer clothing, and their first thought turns to the mess their lawns have become over winter.

“What shall we do with all these branches, leaves, weeds, and trash? Oh, I know—we’ll burn them! The ground is still wet; what could possibly go wrong?”

Pro tip: All that dead plant life around your fire is plenty dry, fella. The ground being wet simply means fire trucks can’t go off road to extinguish that wildland fire you just started. And then firefighters end up out there, ironically, trying to beat the heat with their own fifty pounds of outer clothing.

But it’s spring, so who knows? I’ve helped fight a few grass fires that I had to walk around snow drifts to reach. I’ve gone out on tornado watches in March. (Terrible idea, by the way—the basement’s way calmer.) I’ve shoveled snow in May. And all the while those poor, confused birds are flying around up there, trying to figure out whether they should be heading north or south.

They’d better decide fast, because if they head west they’ll run into a blizzard, and if they fly for the East Coast they’ll run into an even bigger blizzard.

So yeah, I’m worried about that bird. What is he living on, anyway? If he pecks the frozen ground for worms he’ll break his beak. The first bugs don’t come out until … well, about now, if you include mosquitoes.

In fact, it’s not uncommon in Indiana for the big piles of plowed snow to still be melting off in July. Sometimes, on the first really warm days, you can see kids skiing down snow mountains at Wal-Mart, then surfing on across the parking lot.

It’s why I often call Indiana the greatest place in the world, except during winter. Luckily, surviving winter is like surviving pain: Once it’s over, you tend to forget how bad it is. By the end of May you can put your snow shovel away (you might want to keep the gloves and wool hat out, just in case), and enjoy the outdoors, until it gets hot.

Maybe the hot is why we’re not all living in Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

ozma914: (Storm Chaser)
( Mar. 15th, 2017 12:15 am)

Crazy mild February (at least, in Indiana). Trees start blooming weeks early, people can take walks without a clothing store worth of covering, we can see the light at the end of the frozen tunnel, then ...

 

BOOM!

 

Well played, winter. Well played.

Winter almost beat the Hunter family Christmas celebration. Almost. But in the end we celebrated, if only a month or so late.

First there was illness. Then work schedules. Then more illness. Then weather. Illness. A tonsillectomy. (I realize that fits under illness, but still.) Then work schedules again. Okay, a lot of illness: flu, bronchitis, tonsillitis, a stomach bug, friggin' scarlet fever. Seriously? I thought the last person who caught scarlet fever was Charles Darwin. Luckily he survived, what with him being the fittest and all.

Some of this was with my oldest daughter's family: Two eight-year-olds collect germs the way I collected publisher rejection slips. I think my youngest daughter only got sick once during that period; my wife and I collected five illnesses between the two of us, trading them back and forth like Pokemon cards.

But finally our schedule was cleared, our lungs cleared, and the roads cleared: We would meet at my oldest daughter's house to celebrate Christmas on Sunday, January 29th. Enough time had passed that one of my grandkids asked if we were celebrating last Christmas, or next Christmas. But at least the unusual warm weather made the trip seem like smooth sailing.

I walked out that day to load presents in the car, and discovered we'd been rewarded with a white Christmas.

Well, it didn't seem too bad, not really. I mean, not for northern Indiana in January. I even shot a fun video of it, then went inside to get another load. When I walked outside again, a blizzard had hit. I've taken to calling it the Blizzard of Ours, because it seemed to be times for right when we were about to drive twelve miles.

It was a snow squall, really--it didn't last long. After that it was just heavy snow, compared to zero visibility and seeing (or rather hearing) houses blow by. At least, I think it was a house. I haven't checked to see if the neighbor's garage is still there.

But you know what? We were having by-gosh Christmas, and no more delays! The happy ending is that we made the drive safely, successfully dodging the guy who did not successfully make his turn in front of us. We all emerged unscathed, and I got new fur-lined house slippers, which every successful and unsuccessful writer should own.

And the best part is, we also made it home safely, leaving my daughter and son-in-law to deal with the present we got the twins: a home kit to make your very own volcano.

Looks like they're in for rough weather.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
First appearing here:  http://www.4countymall.com/#!Winter-Driving/r48sv/56d8842c0cf20d226f1d75b7
 
There was a time when I was the same reckless driver I now complain about. My first two cars were fast, and I liked to believe I was the stuntman for “Starsky and Hutch”. (Look it up, kids.)
I actually jumped my first car. I mean, all four wheels off the ground. On purpose.
It was stupid. And that’s the difference between me and other people who drove like that: I’m not proud of it. I wasn’t skilled: I was lucky. (And stupid.) The only reason I never totaled my first car is because the engine blew first. The only reason I didn’t total my second car is because the officer who wrote the speeding ticket swore he only caught up with me because of the stop sign. That made me think.
I thought, “This is stupid”.
These days I’m that guy you’re tailgating, who drives like your grandma. “What’s the matter with that guy? He’s going the speed limit! What kind of idiot goes the speed limit?”
Me. It helps that I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies at accident scenes, which is really attention-grabbing.
Winter is the time when we tend to weed out the reckless, at least until they get their rides replaced. That white stuff on the road? It’s not sand from Jamaica, folks. Snow sent me into the ditch three times in my younger years, and what I learned is that the ditch is fine if you’re a drainage consultant or a ditch digger, but it’s not so good for travel.
(Granted, this past winter was fairly mild, but that's like saying you had a mild heart attack: it still counts.)
We’re nearing the end of the latest never-ending Indiana winter, so freezing precipitation is only possible for another few months or so. This late it tends to melt off within a day of the moment I finish shoveling. What have we learned from another season of slippery roads?
Well, the first thing we learn, every year, is that people don’t learn every year. The first snow “event” of the fall brings the same thing: People sliding off roads all over. In cars, I mean. Some are brand new drivers, or just unlucky, but a lot are idiots. Many of the unlucky are victims of the moronic.
“I’ve driven in Indiana for thirty years, and nobody ever told me snow could be slippery! I’ll sue! I should have sued when this happened last year!”
That just doesn’t sound like the voice of reason.
The problem with stressing snow is that some people assume when the snow is plowed, the danger is over. “You can’t say black ice! That’s racist!” Fine, call it Sudden Ice Syndrome, then. SIS kills.
Freezing rain? By definition, it’s freezing. Some people only seem to hear “wa-wa rain”.
On a related note, I wonder what would happen if the movie “Frozen” was real? Wouldn’t everyone who came close to Elsa end up with strains, sprains, and concussions? Hopefully Kristoff’s sled has four wheel drive.
Not that it would help, which brings us to one of the big dangers: people who put too much faith in all-wheel drive. “Yes, I know it’s snowing, but I have an SUV!” Does the first letter stand for Stupid? It does if you drive 70 in dry weather, and also 70 in wet weather.
Yeah, I see you driving behind me, and you know what? The closer you get to my taillights, the more I’m going to slow down. That’s why I’m going 53 now.
There’s no point in me being the 532nd person this month to point out that four wheel drive does absolutely no good on ice. The people who need to hear it aren’t listening. They’re listening to their car stereo, maybe, or more likely their cell phone. They’re also cussing a lot, because that’s me glued to their front bumper, and I’m now doing 49.
Not only do SUV drivers get up to speed in bad weather (when not behind me), they go out when they don’t have to. What’s the best rule of driving in ice or snow? Don’t. My wife can, and does, make fun of me for being a weather junkie, but I can tell her three days ahead if there might be bad weather. Maybe there won’t be, but if you’re almost out of bread anyway, why not stock up? And get some dog food too, so the mutt won’t be tempted to eat his owners in a worst case scenario. Then, if the bad forecast doesn’t pan out … so what?
But four wheel drivers think, “Let’s go out!” I suppose you people ski and ice fish too. Oh … you do? Never mind.
I’ve seen a lot of bad driving, and I’ve done some of it. In the end, I can only conclude that people who ignore bad weather should be lumped in with those who don’t use seat belts, or have no idea what a turn signal is for. There’s a special place in hell for them, right below women who don’t vote for Hillary. (Hey, I didn’t say it.)
But there is one good thing about dumb drivers. When the road conditions are good for maybe 45 mph, and you get passed by some moron who wants to go 60, there’s no better feeling in the world than going on another two miles … to find him spinning his wheels in a ditch.
 
No, I didn't get off the porch for this. You kiddin' me?
It’s almost March (yay!), but the February 4County Mall can still be found for free in newspaper stands around the area, including outside Albion Village Foods. (Sadly, I got my copy at the entrance to Parkview Noble Hospital.) In addition to this column, the fun page, and all the deals and coupons, you can read a piece about Valentine’s Day by Lydia Waring and fiction by Rita Robbins and Nick Hayden. On the website is also a new piece by Rief Gillg, Assistant Principal at East Noble High School. 
 
 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
We like our traditions here in northern Indiana: For instance, it’s traditional for us to get sick every fall and winter. All of us.
I’m as traditional as the next guy, assuming the next guy is a Hoosier, so a few years ago I decided to take it up a notch. No annual cold or flu for me, no sir! I tried strep throat but didn’t like it very much, because without a voice I couldn’t whine. So, I went for the sinus infection. Sure enough, it became as traditional as that bowl of can-shaped cranberries nobody eats at Thanksgiving.
Then I started getting three or four of them every winter—sinus infections, not cranberries. Turns out not all traditions are so great.
Now, I’m not going to go into detail about my sinus surgery, because the details are all disgusting. I once wrote a column about my prostate biopsy, and that set a high bar, but a sinusotomy has it beat. The recovery period was nothing but two weeks of “ow” and “ick”.
Still, when it was over I basked in the knowledge that my chronic illnesses would soon be a thing of the past.
Then I caught a cold.
That cold immediately settled into a sinus infection.
See, here’s the thing: It takes from twelve weeks to a year for sinuses to settle down and actually improve after sinus surgery. Until then, you’re just as prone to problems as you were before. Although by the end of a few weeks my breathing seemed better, that just made it easier for viruses to work their way up and have a party. And it was a wild party.
My wife looks after my health, by which I mean she keeps me warm, feeds me good food, and lectures me. “Drink lots of fluids. Are you taking extra vitamin C? Don’t forget the fluids. Here’s some hot tea with honey, and Echinacea. Are you drinking fluids?”
“I think I hear the dog calling your name.”
The dog wasn’t. In fact, the dog was laying at my feet, because he tends to stay close whenever he thinks I’m dying.
My doctor had a more aggressive treatment in mind. When he learned I had still another sinus infection, he gave instructions for the nurse to bring a certain type of antibiotic. The nurse replied, “Let me remove the breakables from the treatment room first, and bring in some restraints.”
Possibly I should have seen that as a warning.
My doctor is an old military man, and he explained his reasoning. “We need to keep at this until all the dogs are dead.”
“Wait, what? But I like my dog.”
“I don’t mean literally. I used to say we needed to keep at it until all the cats are dead, but people complained.”
Apparently dog owners are more laid back than cat owners. That makes sense, as dogs are more laid back than cats.
The nurse brought in two needles. “This is going to hurt.”
“No problem.” I pulled up my shirtsleeve.
“That’s not where we give it.”
I had to lay down on the treatment table—on my belly, which tells you where the shot goes. I couldn’t just bend over, because apparently this shot sometimes makes you faint. She put the first one in.
“Hey, that’s not so—aaaaauuuuggghhhhHHHH!!!!!!”
“Okay, now let’s do the other one.”
It took a day and a half for the pain to ease. I couldn’t crouch down. I couldn’t climb stairs. I couldn’t sit back against anything. Two days later I went back to the doc, who gave me a careful examination.
“Well, we’d better keep at this.”
He meant two more shots. I knew this because of the way the nurse winced when he said it. I have to admit, though, she’s got a really strong grip for patients who try to run away.
Meanwhile I still got the antibiotics by pill, which have their own issues, but at least they don’t cause people to reminisce about when they got stabbed in college. Eventually my own stabbing, the stabbing pain in my forehead, began to ease, and as I write this it’s down to a four out of ten, with watching a presidential debate being ten. The treatment was working, and metaphorical dogs and cats were dropping like flies.
Then my wife caught my cold.
I sat her down on the recliner and brought her a cup of hot tea and a box of Kleenex, while the dog laid at her feet in what I can only call a faithful deathwatch. Then I said lovingly:
“Drink lots of fluids. Are you taking extra vitamin C? Don’t forget the fluids. Here’s some hot tea with honey, and Echinacea. Are you drinking fluids?”
And that’s when she threw the Kleenex box at me. She’s a pretty good shot, too—hit me right on my sore hip.
Good thing she didn’t reach for the tea cup.
 

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift and you’re sick of chocolate or flowers, or chocolate flowers (like anyone could be sick of chocolate), the humor anthology My Funny Valentine is still available. I’m one of the contributors to the book, which seeks to tickle the rib of the one you love.

If your loved one has an e-reader, the Kindle version is just $2.99. If they don’t have one, don’t be cheap—buy them one. If they already have one, be cheap. Or, you could get the print version for $9.95 at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/My-Funny-Valentine-MyFunnyBooks-Writers-ebook/dp/B006JROL8K

I still have a few copies, so get in touch if you’d like one from me—I might even cut you a deal. After all, it might be devalued by the graffiti of my signature.

If you got that book for them last year, it’s treading thin ice to do it again—they’ll probably notice. But you could always pick up one of my romantic comedies for the loving one you love. It goes without saying that you can find all my books at www.markrhunter.com … but I said it anyway.

 

When I woke up, I could feel in my sinuses that the weather was changing—again. Not exactly a superpower. Then I went outside, skidded across the porch, pried open the car door, got the car started (barely), and chipped ice off the mirrors while it warmed up and charged the battery.

Ah, winter.

But what I hadn’t expected was the way I felt after being outside for half an hour. Although overall I haven’t started feeling better from the sinus surgery yet (12 weeks to a year), I have been able to breathe through my nose much better. I think that actually works against me in weather like this.

In short, I’m not going out again until time to head to work in the snow tonight. But feeling under the weather (heh) is something we all go through. It doesn’t keep me from today’s task, which is to go through our vast collection of photos to pick out pictures for the Indiana history humor book. It’s bicentennial year—time’s a-wasting.

 

 

Well, it seems we’re in for a return to normal weather here in Northern Indiana … can’t say I’m thrilled with the idea. As I write this there’s freezing rain coming in; by the time you read this, it will have arrived, or not. Then it’ll get cold, which again—not a fan.

 

Just the same, we seem to be one of the quiet spots around the country at the moment. There are blizzard, flood, winter storm, and ice storm warnings across the nation, winter storm and flash flood watches, more thunderstorm forecasts threatening tornadoes across the south, and even a few places that might be uncomfortably warm.

 

All of this gives us something to talk (and write) about, but that doesn’t make it fun. Be careful! Stay safe, dry, and prepared.

From Scher Maihem Studios … my voice before I had sinus surgery!

 

And probably still my voice after, too. But here’s my column about winterizing, which you may have read last month under “Winterizing’s Not for the Weak” – now on audio with some whimsical video to go along. Personally I’m not a fan of my own voice, although I sound just find singing, as long as it’s in the shower without witnesses.

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/147178362

 

Don’t forget, you can always see my Slightly Off the Mark column first in the Kendallville Mall!

 

Or:

 

From Scher Maihem Studios … my voice before I had sinus surgery!

 

And probably still my voice after, too. But here’s my column about winterizing, which you may have read last month under “Winterizing’s Not for the Weak” – now on audio with some whimsical video to go along. Personally I’m not a fan of my own voice, although I sound just find singing, as long as it’s in the shower without witnesses.

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/147178362

 

Or see below if my computer talents work ... but I doubt it. Don’t forget, you can always see my Slightly Off the Mark column first in the Kendallville Mall!

 

 

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/147178362" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href="https://vimeo.com/147178362">Winterizing-SOTM</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/schermaihem">Scher Maihem Studios</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Originally in print in the Kendallville Mall, where it’s also cold: 

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/winterizing

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

It can be nice to sit in my house and let the summer breeze blow past us. Or, to get even more breeze, we could open the windows.

My house leaks like a Washington bureaucrat. Over the years we’ve stuffed cracks and other openings with anything we could find: towels, sandbags, small cars, door to door salesmen, whatever. A nice breeze isn’t what you want come November.

We don’t know exactly how old the place is, but Fred Markey carved the date 1879 into a wall. Is that when he was born? When he built the house? Or when he got cabin fever and went crazy with a knife?

The walls once held blown in insulation, but over time it settled, or possibly got carried off by mice. Now we have the annual, depressing, tradition called “winterizing”.

I don’t like winterizing, because it reminds me that winter’s coming. Winter comes every year, usually in the fall. It’s like it’s seasonal, or something.

Hm … maybe that 1879 carving commemorated the winter they found Fred Markey frozen to the outhouse seat. It would be embarrassing to be frozen to indoor plumbing, so we winterize, starting with storm windows. Traditionally they’re installed just before an unusual warm front comes through, forcing you to decide whether to take them back down to let warm air in, or just curse the fates.

I also put plastic up on the inside of the windows. You put double sided tape around each window, then place the plastic on it, then curse and flounder as the tape falls off. Then you put the plastic on again and use a hair drier, which tightens it up so wrinkles don’t show. NOTE: This does not work on skin.

In the spring, this tape will be impossible to remove. In the fall, you’ve got an even chance it will fall off.

You can also use spray foam insulation and caulk, to seal cracks. The main purposes of these substances are to form permanent crusts on clothing. They’re also fairly effective at removing skin.

At some point, the furnace has to be started for the season. This is always a time of great interest in my house: I’m interested to know if it will start. I have hot water radiators, and the water is heated by a boiler. Anyone who knows me understands that me waving a match over a pilot light to start a boiler is akin to Wiley Coyote opening the latest package from Acme Co.

You know something is going to happen; you just don’t know if the result will be ashes and singed hair, or a flattened body against the wall.

But I’m seriously considering not doing any of that this year.

You see, earlier this fall I put on the air conditioner cover. Not on myself. This is a cover that goes over the air conditioner: See what they did, there? My window air conditioner was there when I bought the house, seriously and permanently caulked and set into the dining room window. That makes it at least twenty-five years old, which means whether it starts in the spring is always a mystery, but that’s a story for another season.

The polyvinyl cover has a couple of elastic strings attached to it. The instructions say to wrap the strings around the cover, hook them over the air conditioner, and voila—instant winterization.

Until the first time the wind blows.

What does work? Duct tape. Rolls and rolls of duct tape.

Under the forecast of a 20 degree temperature drop, I got the storm windows up. Then I put the cover over the air conditioner and waved for a truck to back in. I’d ordered a dump truck load of duct tape. They dumped it right into my driveway, and other than the dozen or so rolls that rolled down the hill out back (should have seen that coming), I was set.

I taped the cover to the conditioner. I taped the cover to the window. I taped the cover to the wall, the conditioner to the window, the wall to the conditioner, and I finished by taping the tape to the tape. There was now no sign of the green plastic cover. I might as well have skipped it and just made a duct-cover.

It made me oddly happy.

By then the sun had set on my duct tape paradise, so I did some winterizing inside, such as replacing the door-to-door salesmen in the cracks. The next morning we had some errands to run, so I pulled on my coat, walked out the door, and stepped on the air conditioner cover.

Some of the tape was still on the cover.

Some of the tape was still on the wall.

But they were no longer connected to each other.

I said something then that I rarely say in public, and would be best off not repeating here. Then I stumbled back inside and collapsed on the couch, where my wife took in my red face and the steam coming from my ears, and tried to decide whether to dial 911.

And that’s why I’m considering giving up on the whole winterizing thing. What, I can’t build a fire in the bathtub and just hover over it all winter? It probably worked for Fred Markey.

By the way, I’ve got some used duct tape for sale … cheap.

Maybe you’ve seen “Frozen”. Maybe you’ve been frozen. Either way, I think you can relate to how I changed the song’s words, to reflect my feelings about winter. If you’re not familiar with the song, just ask any kid. If they don’t have the soundtrack or a karaoke version, they can probably still hum the tune from memory.

 

"I Don’t Want To Build a Snowman"
 (sung to the tune of Do You Want to Build a Snowman)


I don’t wanna build a snowman. 
Come on, are you crazy?
I’m not going near that frozen door
Call me a bore
I’m not going to freeze today.           

I’m used to being warm
and when I’m not
I wish that I could die!

I don’t wanna get the frostbite.
I don’t want to see fingers white.

Go away, Winter.
Okay? Bye...


I don’t wanna build a snowman.
Or get hit with wet snowballs.
I think the outside may be for you,
I don’t like turning blue
and suffering from falls.

(Just hangin’ at home.)

I’ll stoke a fire or two
Staying in my room,
and at least then I won’t die.
(Brrrrrrr)

Please don’t make me go out there,
People are asking when it will end.
They say their skin has turned to ice,
Out there it’s not so nice:
Just go back in.

We’re not such a fan
Of this icy land,
But what are you gonna do?  

I don’t wanna build a snowman. [sniff]

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

 

I love January! Said no one, ever.

 

Okay, some people actually do love winter, which just goes to show you: Northern Indiana needs better mental health screening. I used to take part in winter activities, but I was young then, and young people just haven’t learned that being miserable isn’t an adventure.

 

When I was a kid, I loved sledding, snowball fights, and not having to pay the utility bills. Well, I liked them … I never did warm up all that much to winter. Then, one day when I was about fourteen, I came in from building a snow block fort to discover my hands and toes had themselves become snow blocks. My cheeks had taken on a white, Frosty-like sheen.

 

My face cheeks. Get your mind out of my insulated underwear.

 

Thawing out involved a process not unlike being stabbed with a thousand white-hot pins and needles, and from that time on I couldn’t stay in cold weather for long before the affected parts started to feel like they’d been shotgunned full of rock salt. It took all the fun out of it.

 

Today, my favorite wintertime activities involve a book and a cup of hot chocolate. So January does have an advantage: I can catch up on my reading. But that doesn’t really make up for the gas bill.

 

 

Last year, here in Indiana, we had a return to real Indiana winters. You know, the kind of stuff that leads on The Weather Channel. The kind of weather only snow plow drivers and ice fisherman like, and see above about mental health. For many previous years, our weather has largely just been miserable, instead of awful. But now we’ve returned to the kind of weather that led to the sale of T-shirts proclaiming “I survived the Blizzard of ‘78” … and if you had one of those shirts, you know “survived” wasn’t an exaggeration. )

I won't be blogging steadily before February, due to the upcoming deadline for Images of America: Albion and Noble County. Emily is still scanning photos, I'm working on captions and research, and we still have some people to contact about getting more old historical photos for the project.

I'm doing pretty good on Albion pictures at this point, and casting the net out for old photos from other communities, large and small, as well as special places, events, and such. My plan is to have the whole thing done by the end of January, a week ahead of deadline--in case I screw something up. So, busy busy ... but it's not like I have any desire to do outdoor stuff in January.

 

Check me out at the Kendallville Mall:

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/im-dreaming-of-an-evergreen-christmas-slightly-off-the-mark

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

When we put up the Christmas tree last year, our dog became very puzzled.

“Dude, there are all kinds of trees surrounding this house already. Seriously, just come outside with me next time. Mind the yellow snow.”

Amazingly, he said all that with a glance.

If you take an objective, dog-like look at America’s Christmas traditions, you quickly realize we’re a little crazy. We bring a tree inside; we haul electric lights outside. People who refuse to listen to music that’s not still in the top 40 happily sing carols that were written by people who thought the Earth was flat.

(It’s a sphere; just thought I’d throw that in.)

And we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, even though most experts agree Jesus was actually born in the spring. Why? Because it’s close to the shortest day of the year. What else are you going to do in late December? Go to the beach? Get that garden in? Take a road trip to Buffalo, New York?

I doubt very much if Jesus would care when we celebrate His birthday, especially since the truly important Christmas holiday is Easter. By then the days are much longer, so we don’t need the pick-me-up.

The Christmas tree is one of the most interesting and puzzling aspects of Christmas decorating. It’s also big business: Trees in all fifty states are grown for the express purpose of being chopped down in a celebration of life. I used to drive through an area of Michigan that had more trees than Indiana has deer on the roads.

The origins of that tradition make sense, though: In ancient times, anything that stayed green all through winter held special significance. Without evergreens, people in past winters would sometimes completely forget what color was. It was like being stuck in a 50’s TV show, without the laugh track.

Evergreen boughs, hung over doors and windows, were reminders that spring would return. They also helped keep away witches and evil spirits, and as a bonus could be garnished with garlic to fight off vampires. So far as I know, they did nothing against banshees or marauding politicians.

But it was the Germans who, with ruthless efficiency, decided to just bring the whole darned tree inside. Martin Luther added lighted candles to the tree, bringing us the Christmas tradition of homes burning down.

Christmas trees didn’t come to America until the 1830’s, when German settlers arrived with the tradition. Naturally, the neighbors were curious:

“So Hans, why did your house burn down?”

“Oh, I brought a tree inside and hung candles on it.”

“No, seriously.”

A lot of Americans were against anything like carols and trees anyway. People in New England got fined for hanging decorations, although it was legal to hang witches, as long as you didn’t decorate them.

Then, in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (of “in the can” fame) were seen standing around a Christmas tree. Suddenly it was all in fashion, even though hanging witches didn’t catch on at all. They were often decorated with popcorn, berries, and nuts, a great idea to guard against food shortages. (The trees, not the witches.) Rodents were a problem. (With the trees. Well, maybe both.)

Then, in 1850, Christmas trees went up for sale commercially in the United States. Next thing you know the early version of Wal-Mart, then known as “Mart”, got ahold of it, and the rest is history. They went up in Rockefeller Center, at the White House, and in Woodinville, Washington, where a 122 foot tall, 91 year old Douglas fir does not get cut down every year.

I like that idea, of leaving the Christmas trees alive. I don’t like the idea of going outside in December to look at them, so never mind. Besides, since 77 million Christmas trees are planted each year in an industry that employs a hundred thousand people, closing the business down would result in an unhappy holiday for many.

I used to love having a live tree. The wonderful scent, the look of it. Then I grew up, and after that I loved it for three days: From after it was up until it started dropping needles.

There’s a reason they’re called needles.

Now I have an artificial tree. I love my artificial tree. It looks exactly like a real tree if you squint a little, and I’ve never had to tweeze a single needle out of my foot. The dog, while still puzzled, doesn’t harass it. It has never burst into flames, not even for me, and I can break anything.

It doesn’t dry out, or spoil, and I don’t have to dispose of it every season. It’s durable and doesn’t wear out for years.

It’s a lot like fruitcake.

Ah, but that’s another puzzling tradition.

My wife and I sometimes confuse Christmas with Valentine's Day, but a tree's a tree.

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            “Tragedy in Churubusco when three residents went on a walk to show off their spring clothes during the warm up this morning, and were later found frozen to death. Their bodies were originally scheduled to be cremated, but couldn’t be thawed fast enough.”

            This is why writers should live in Indiana; that kind of stuff just writes itself.

            Oh, I know, I’ve talked a lot about the weather this year. It’s only April—whatever will my columns be about in July? Heat, I’m guessing. But we came close this spring to actually having that snow tornado I used to joke about, so if you’re interested in weather at all, it’s been an interesting year.

            “Mental health officials are seeing a sudden spike in emotional breakdowns after people went out last week to mow their lawns, only to find two inches of snow on the ground.”

            You don’t even have to make it up: That actually happened to me last week, except that I went to the door to bring the dog in. His frostbite/heat exhaustion is healing nicely, by the way.

            It’s one of the few times I actually dropped the F-bomb in public. I opened the door that morning and stood there for a moment, honestly puzzled about why everything outside had a strange white coloring to it. Then the dog came storming in as if a snow tornado was chasing him, and he was covered in white. He shook himself, and a winter storm developed in my kitchen.

            Then I looked outside and said, “What the fudge?!?!”

            Only, to quote writer Jean Shepherd, I didn’t say fudge.

            The neighbors have teenagers, but since it was early morning I’m hopeful they didn’t hear me. If they did, they probably thought something like, “Hey, they had that word when he was a kid!” Then I’d yell “Get off my lawn!” and it would be downhill from there.

            Anyway, this is Indiana. Worse, this is northern Indiana, within the range of lake effect snow while too far away to actually play in the waves, assuming the waves haven’t frozen themselves into some Salvador Dali shape.

            (Yes, I’m a small town Midwestern boy who actually knows who Salvador Dali is. Okay, I looked him up. What’s with the melting clocks? Is it August?)

            Sorry if this column seems a little disjointed: There have been so many barometric pressure changes this month that my sinuses exploded, and I’ve been off balance ever since. Which brings me back to my point: We’re used to big weather extremes, to such an extent that many people actually say “I wish it would just stay cold, instead of going up and down like this.” That’s a concept we pay for in January, when the missing Polar ice cap often lingers in the fields just outside of Huntertown.

            By the way, Huntertown wasn’t named after my family. It actually stems from the Indian world “Hunyukcoldon”, which means “The snow’s melting, grab your sandbags”.

            Anyway …

            What brought all this up was last week, when it hit the mid 70’s here in Albion. Then thunderstorms came through. Then the next day I walked out on the front porch and not only was everything covered in snow, but it felt and even smelled like winter. The next night we reached a record cold temperature. The day after that it hit 60.

            The day after that I boarded up all my doors and windows, and set fire to my boots.

            Is it any wonder everyone’s talking about the weather? I mean, except the Weather Channel. I had it on at work for eight hours the other night, and every time I glanced up I saw … no weather. Only a scroll across the bottom of the screen explaining that the weather for the next hour would be delayed by a very special episode of “Extreme Ice Road Air Rescue Fishing With The Stars”.

In their defense, thanks to The Weather Channel, I now know a great deal about tow truck drivers, steel construction workers, the Coast Guard, and Mars. Still, I can’t help thinking a name change is in order.

            But who can blame them? Reality programming gives them a chance to sit back, take a breath, and try to figure out what the fudge is going on in Indiana.

Really, none of us should be surprised to find snow on the ground right after days with temps in the 70's ... it's April in the Midwest, after all.
But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

Okay, okay, we get it: Mother Nature’s in charge.

Back in 1978 I wrote in my high school paper that I got cabin fever and opened a window, only to be buried in a collapsing drift. My attitude toward winter hasn’t changed. Winter itself did for a while, taking a temporary break … maybe vacationing in Siberia. Now it’s back, and as sometimes happens when people return from a break, it’s back with a vengeance.

(When I get back from vacation, I just want more vacation.)

We got within a smidgen (technical term, there) of hitting the all-time record amount of snow for winter in this area, at an estimated forty stories. The only thing standing in our way is one winter in the early 80’s, when we had so much snow the spring melt formed Lake Mississippi.

            We also broke five low temperature records this winter. At least one of the old records dates back to the winter after I was born; imagine a six month old in a house heated by one coal-burning furnace, with temperatures in the minus teens. That’s how I grew up to be me.      

            There have been many songs written about snow. My favorite title is by Frank Zappa: “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”. Very good advice, especially in a household like mine (with a dog).

            Speaking of dogs, the first time I let mine out after the last big snowstorm he took two steps into the back yard, sank up to his chest (he weighs almost 100 pounds) then turned around to stare at me. I know exactly what he was thinking: “You want me to go out in that?

            I shoveled him a pee place. Yes, I did, and maybe someday I’ll write a song about that.

            Some people feel differently about snow, although this year more of them seem to be coming over to my side. From a music standpoint, there’s actually a group called Snow Patrol. They had to change their phone number. People kept calling: “I got your snow right here! You don’t need to patrol for it!”

            There’s a character in a TV show called “The Year Without a Santa Claus” named Snow Miser. Gotta be the bad guy, right? Here are some lyrics from his song:

 

“I’m Mister White Christmas, I’m Mister Snow

I’m Mister Icicle, I’m Mister Ten Below.

Friends call me Snow Miser, whatever I touch

Turns to snow in my clutch. I’m too much!”

 

            Yes, you are. And what, you have friends?

            Several weeks ago I watched White Christmas. I thought it was a horror movie; turns out it’s a musical. Or maybe it is a horror flick, considering these lyrics from the song—yes—“Snow”:

 

“It won’t’ be long before we’ll all be there with snow.

Snow!

I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow.”

 

            Yeah, and I want to have you committed. I hope at least you’re not washing with the yellow snow.

 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers seemed to more or less like it in their song “Snow (Hey Oh)”, which I would have titled “Snow (Oh No)”. In fact, I would have changed these lyrics:

 

“Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder

Where it’s so white as snow.”

 

To:

 

“Buried in my covers I scream out my horrors

Of another &%#@! Foot of snow.”

 

Why, yes, I am searching for a job as a lyricist … say in Los Angeles, where it gets cold so seldom that an inch of snow can bring out the National Guard.

            Anyway, I didn’t take the time to write my own song about snow, because my fingers can only type for so long before I have to soak them in hot water. So instead, I took a famous “Christmas” song, “Let It Snow”—which has nothing to do with Christmas at all—and put in more realistic lyrics:

 

Well, the snow just keeps on flying,

Stupid groundhog wasn’t lying.

Into cabin fever hell we go;

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!

 

This cursed white fluff ain’t stopping.

We’ll soon starve without some shopping.

There’s no way to get out we know,

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!

 

Someday the days could turn nice,

I’d pay for that with my own blood.

But I know that we’d pay the price:

When the snow melts into a big flood.

 

I feel like my soul is dying

If my outlook changed I’d be lying.

I’m tired of this ice show:

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!

 

It ain’t Shakespeare. But it’s from the heart.

I’m not romantic, but …

 

http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-valentine-message-or-else.html

 

“I’m going to tell you a secret: A secret that will seem stunning, coming from a man who writes romance novels:”

Deconstructing the Sochi Olympics:

 

http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2014/02/deconstructing-sochi-olympics.html

 

“It seems the Russians putting on the 2014 Winter Olympics still adhere to the communist style of efficiency and quality.”
ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Winter hatred)
( Feb. 5th, 2014 08:01 am)
If you don't absolutely have to, don't go out. The roads are horrid -- again -- and snow plow crews aren't going to be able to keep up with the wind-blown drifts. I barely made it home; was almost hit head-on by one moron, and almost rear-ended by a tailgater, and had to shovel my way into my garage. If your job requires you to be at work like mine does, I can only say be very careful ... if you're an employer and you can do so, tell your workers to stay home.
.

Profile

ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)
ozma914

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags