Saturday, February 21, 2015

Things That Eat People

Believe it or not my Boston friends, there are places in the world that are not covered with 7+ feet of snow. And we are currently in such a place. 

Nana took the girls out to a warm and sunny driveway to play and draw with sidewalk chalk. They were drawing things that eat people. 

Bears eat people. 

Man-eating ghosts eat people. 

Sharks eat people. 

And according to MeToo, potholes eat people. 

She's right, you know. Boston potholes in the winter can be lethal. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Texas Wine Tasting

BestestHusband and I just returned from a wine tour, and the unimaginable has happened:  I think I drank too much wine. I actually ruined my appetite for wine. I never thought I'd say that...

We toured 3 wineries in one day and 1 the next morning. Yes, I was drinking wine before noon. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a chaser to an order of Eggs Benedict. Or a warmup for hiking Enchanted Rock. But whatever. 

We drank about 25 different wines. Some of them were frightful. Some of them were wonderful. But the whole experience was truly Texan. 

There are wineries in Texas? Oh yes, there are quite a few in the Hill Country. And a lot of vineyards in north and south Texas, as well. The soil and climate are very similar to wine producing areas of France, Italy, and Spain. In fact, some of the varietals native to those countries actually do better in Texas. (Well of course! Everything's bigger and better in Texas!) The wineries tend to cluster along Highway 290 and highways that branch off of it. You could drive down 290 and find a dozen tasting rooms within a 10 mile stretch. 

We chose to head off the beaten path for our tour. Armed with recommendations from my parents and BestestHusband's iPhone, we turned off the highway onto sometimes-paved roads. 

The experience was well worth the drive. We saw ranches. We saw signs that warned of loose livestock. And we saw some loose livestock. We rumbled over cattle guards. We saw cacti, mesquite, and live oak. We saw Rosemary hedges. We saw deer. We saw cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys. We saw llamas and emu. We saw rolling hills and lovely  vistas. We saw windmills and rusty tractors. We saw lovely stretches of open nothingness. 

And then we sat at wine bars, learned a lot about the growing local wine industry, and we drank a lot of wine. As we looked out over the rolling Hill Country, capped by a gorgeous blue sky. 

Forget Napa. Texas wine country is the place to be. I'd highly recommend visiting in April, when the windflowers are in bloom. I saw them seeding the grass along the highway. They should be spectacular. And tell the llamas I say hi. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Snow

Existence in Boston currently is being controlled by The Snow.

"Oh stop whining," some might say. "You live in the Northeast. Snow happens. Get over it."
Some might say that. I do live in the Northeast. Snow does happen. But it rarely happens quite like this. 

Here's what usually happens:
It snows. Sometimes a foot or two. The city shuts down for a day. School is out for a day, maybe two. People plow, shovel, and blow snow into big piles. Then it gets warmer in a day or two. Sometimes it even rains. The snow piles disappear, and the roads and sidewalks are clear of snow within a week, usually sooner. More snow might come, but it too will disappear quickly. Boston's snow removal process is predicated on the idea that the snow will disappear on its own within a few days. Because often it does. 

Here's what happened this time:
It snowed. We got two feet of it. The snow was plowed, shoveled, and blown into big piles. And it was cold. It stayed cold. The snow blew around a bit in the wind, but it did not go away. Then we got another foot. That snow was also plowed, shoveled, and blown on top of the big piles. The piles got bigger. And it stayed really cold. And then it snowed again. Two more feet. So now we're up to 5 feet of snow in just a few weeks. And the plows and snowblowers add that snow to the existing big piles. But shovelers just can't. You can't throw that much snow on top of piles that big for very long. And it likes to fall back down on you when you try. And the piles are everywhere. They're in yards. They're along sidewalks. They're along streets - the narrow one-way streets lines with cars on either side that Boston is famous for. They're at entrances to driveways, blocking the view of oncoming traffic - traffic driving on sometimes icy but always narrowed roads. 

Snow is fun, right? It's great for sledding, throwing as balls, and building into snowmen. We should all just be having fun! Right? 

Here's why we're not having fun.
6:30am:  BestestHusband goes out to shovel the newest addition to our snow accumulation. Because it's actually been continuing to snow small amounts between the big storms. The snow just keeps coming. But it needs to be cleared from our sloped driveway before we get iced in and the minivan slides backwards into the house any time we try to go somewhere. Like, oh, the grocery store. Or school. 
7:30am: BestestHusband leaves early for work. He's got meetings to make it to, and he's not really sure how long it will take him to get the few miles to work. Some mornings, it's been over 2 hours. The busses are delayed from the traffic of our snow-narrowed streets, and the trains are breaking down constantly from the snow. The roads are too dangerous to bike. So he leaves early and hopes he'll be there in time for a 10am meeting.
8:45am: I start warning the girls to get ready to leave the house for school. They start donning snow suits, hats, mittens, and boots. It's cold, in the teens. I start chasing the baby around the house to get her bundled. She's fast. And heavy. I'm exhausted before we even get to the car.
9:00am: I ease the minivan up the icy driveway and pray we get out. We shovel and salt it, but the sun does melt some of the snow during the day, just enough to trickle down the driveway and ice up overnight. At the end of the driveway, I peer in vain around the snow piles to see oncoming traffic. The piles are too high. I ease forward slowly and pray no one hits me. 
9:15am: I drop off the girls at school. They usually take the bus. But there's no where to park at the bus stop anymore. And it's consistently been 45-60 minutes late because of the traffic. The school parking lot is too small to allow us to park in it for pickup in the afternoon, but they'll let us do quick drop offs in the morning. I tell them they'll ride the bus home instead of having me pick them up. There's nowhere to park near the school for pickup. 
This morning at 9:30am: I drop HurricaneDebbie off at a home daycare in our neighborhood. The provider's husband had left for the day, so I could park briefly in their driveway to drop her off. The snow piles had narrowed the road so much that I have to do a 6 point turn to back out and head the other way down the road. I have to get out and move a trash can mid way. The trash collectors came already and it was empty, so I perched it on top of the snow bank. I had to reach up to do so. 
I drove slowly down a narrow hill towards home. There's nowhere to park at the gym. I didn't have work lined up today, but was thankful I wasn't driving to patients' homes. There's just nowhere to park. 

This was just the first few hours of our day. The Snow has changed our entire morning routine. 

3:30pm: I started prepping to leave for the bus stop. There's nowhere to park, so I have to walk. I also have to pick up HurricaneDebbie from daycare, so I grab the hiking backpack carrier. The sidewalks are impassible for a stroller or pull sled. I've learned this the hard way. 
3:45pm: I'm still climbing over snow piles and slipping on poorly-shoveled sidewalks. I stop at a few houses to ring doorbells and inquire as to whether the owners need me to hire someone to help them shovel. Only one person is home, a healthy-looking 20ish young man. I point to the mountain of snow on his property, and the barely-shoveled sidewalk. I explain that it's impassible for my children trying to get to and from school. I know some young men looking to make some money shoveling. I could call them if he needs help shoveling. Would he like me to do so? He apologizes and says that he's perfectly capable of doing it himself. Of course he is. But he hasn't done it.
4:00pm:  The bus stop is an 8 ft pile of snow on the corner. I have to stand along the edge of the street to watch for the bus. The girls arrive, and we start walking to get their sister. Walking in packed snow is like walking in sand. They get tired quickly and complain all the way to the daycare. At corners, we clamber over mountains of snow to be able to cross the street. Sometimes there's no passageway from the street to the sidewalk. Sometimes we're forced to walk in the narrow street. HeyMama starts to cry. She's tired, cold, and fighting a cold. And she hates The Snow. Me too. 
4:15pm: HurricaneDebbie is bundled and in the hiking backpack. We're slowly making our way down the snowy sidewalk towards home. We climb over more snow piles. I stop occasionally to use my phone and the city's app to report negligent shovelers. Some people shovel the entire width of their sidewalk. God bless them. Some people shovel a rabbit path, only one shovel-width wide. Lazy asses. Some people just don't bother. Those are the ones I report. I ring doorbells first. I don't want a little old lady to pay a ticket because she's too old to shovel. But that's not the case here. People can shovel a rabbit path to their car and get their car out. But then they neglect to shovel their sidewalk. These people make our walk home dangerous. We walk in the street a bit. We climb over piles. The girls look like little hamsters trudging along in the narrow snow passageways. Our world is a maze of paths with 5+ foot snow banks on either side. We can't get to the cross walk. So we cross our busy street illegally. And pray we don't get hit. 
4:30pm: We're finally home. It took nearly an hour to do a daily task that usually takes 15 minutes. We're all exhausted from the effort. There are tears. None from me today, but that's just today...

I didn't try to do much outside of the house today, other than a dog walk that was a major production. When the daily necessities become exhausting, why try to do anything extra? We're lucky. We don't struggle to dig our a car parked on a street. We have a driveway. We have a backyard to move the snow into. Our patio has a retaining wall that drops 12ish feet to the grass below. We've been shoveling the patio over the wall. The mountain of accumulated snow is almost to the top of the wall. 

We're supposed to get another foot of snow this weekend. People are canceling plans in anticipation of another blizzard. Birthday parties, family gatherings, church plans... they're all getting cancelled. No one wants to go out in another storm. There's always the fear of never making it there. And given the snow mountains we already have, that fear's not so crazy right now. The Snow is in control.