Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Wonderland? What's That??

Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois.  The Blizzard of January 30, 2011

Doug:  Karen and I were corresponding the other day about winters and Christmases.  I've always lived in the northern part of the United States -- almost all of my life in a town about 50 miles south of the heart of Chicago, and a brief three year stint in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when I was in elementary school.  So when you talk "Christmas" to me, there had better be snow.  Which is funny, because I learned just last week that my wife's family from Texas never sees Christmas marketing that involves snow.  Whereas everything peddled from beer to automobiles has a peaceful, snowy motif in the television ads viewed in Chicagoland, they said they see none of that.  And to show that we are indeed hearty individuals here in the Great White North (cue Geddy Lee...), the blurry cellphone photo below was taken on a cold windy night, with the breeze cutting in off Lake Michigan.  But it was a blast!

Last Christmas, Lincoln Park "Zoo Lights"
Doug:  So in the evolution of thought, I wondered -- wow, how many of our readers have never experienced a snow day from school or work? Those are treasured memories -- whether I was a child or even now as an adult.  There is simply nothing better than laying next to the radio at 5:45 am and hearing the name of my school on the "closed" list.  Yeeee-eeeesssss!  As a kid, those days would then be filled with building snowmen or snow forts, playing football in knee deep snow (talk about a work-out!) and of course sledding.  We have a river that runs through our town, and about the only hills around are the small bluffs that form the upper banks.  There have been some parks built near the water, as I'm sure is the case in many communities with such a resource.  Anyway, the best place in town for sledding is "Poop Hill", aptly named since the park is adjacent to the local water treatment facility.  Yep -- in the summers there is a distinctive odor in that neighborhood, if you know what I mean.  On a great winter day, after the snow had packed down a bit, one could pick up some tremendous speed on the run; I'd estimate from top to bottom the hill is close to 100 yards.  A wooden snow fence guarded the bottom of the hill, but I can recall many times when it would come apart and folks would end up in the river.  The best part of the hill was a spot over to the left where a large rock was partially exposed -- hitting that baby on a toboggan would get some big air, which was always a blast!

Christmas tree outside Karen's work in Phoenix
Karen: I told Doug when we were chatting about this that I was afraid my experiences would be somewhat lame in comparison. Having grown up in the central coast region of California, I never had a white Christmas -in fact, I didn't see snow until I was 15! At most, our Christmases might be rainy. But there were many a Christmas from my childhood that were dry and sunny, with temps around 65F! This meant that we frequently got "outside" toys for Christmas; bikes, footballs -I fondly recall getting a blue skateboard when I was 12! Luckily the weather was good and I was able to go outside and ride that thing up and down the street -and fall not a few times as I attempted some tricks.  One year my brother got a remote controlled car and we had a blast taking it out and crashing it -I mean, racing it. I sometimes wondered about snow -I mean, all the Christmas movies and TV specials had snow -but even without it, as long as there were Christmas lights and decorations, trees, and cookies, it felt like Christmas to me.  Here's a  tradition from the west coast that I bet my partner hasn't heard of: Christmas tamales. It just doesn't feel like the holidays if I can't get my hands on some tamales. Preferably home-made, but I'll take the store or restaurant variety too.

Doug:  Nope -- those would definitely clash with warm spiced apple cider or hot chocolate! 


Redartz said...

Most of my Christmas weather has been like yours, Doug- spending the better part of my life in Indiana. We frequently have "White Christmases", although probably not as white as those you get with the Lake Effect!

One of the nicest things about snow at Christmastime is the way the lights shine off it at night. There's that soft glow when your ground level lights are sheathed in several inches of powder. It makes the whole scene a fantasyland!

Karen, having lived a couple years in North Carolina I know about warm Christmases too. Our first year there seemed very odd, walking the neighborhood on Christmas day in shorts and a t-shirt. Of course Raleigh got some snow on one occasion, about a half inch. They closed the schools; we just smiled...

dbutler16 said...

Christmas tamales? I've never heard of such a thing, but I like it!

I grew up in upstate NY (and still live there), so I'm used to white Christmasas. However, it does seem like the real snow arrives later now than it used to. We used to always have a nice, white Christmas, but nowadays it seems like the real snow doesn't arrive until January.

I'm too lazy to hang Christmas lights myself, but I like to look at others' efforts. That is one of the holiday things for me, along with certain songs (I prefer the upbeat stuff such as "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree") as well as National Lampoon's Chrismas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and A Christmas Carol) make the holiday season complete for me.

Edo Bosnar said...

I grew up in Oregon's temperate Willamette Valley back in '70s and '80s, so it was kind of the worst of both worlds as far as Christmas went: hardly ever (pretty much never) a white Christmas, but not even close to warm enough for those (southern) California-style holidays by the pool in swim trunks. Mainly it was overcast, cold and rainy. I only remember a few pretty good snow days, mainly from just before I started going to school (when I got to play all day with my older sister and brother) and my first year or two of school. Later I just remember all of us kids would pray for enough snow for school to get cancelled, but it hardly ever happened (and there were a few times when we had to stay home due to freezing rain, but that just didn't have the same charm).
In this sense, some of my best Christmas memories involve comics and other reading material: since the weather was usually cold and rainy, I often spent the better part of my Christmas vacations snuggled up in bed reading, say, one of those Treasury Editions or reprint books like "Greatest Super-hero Battles" that I'd received as a present.

david_b said...

Ah, today is 'Tundra Talk'..., RIGHT up my alley, my children.

In the northern Chicago suburb of Milwaukee...(?), we enjoy the massive blankets of white. I recall Doug's mention of the HUGE snowfall a few yrs back. I'm one of those types that just shovels quick, zooms into work and from 0700hrs on, just sit at my terminal, next to my window looking at all the plows outside the hospital here, sippin hot coffee, just reading all the cancellations and who can't make it into work. Paradise.

As for temps, Doug you probably recall on or about January 4th, 1982, when Milwaukee dipped down to -65 degree windchill. I was on a greyhound bus riding back to college at UWM, virtually no one outside. It was pretty weird, but in a cool way.

My mrs is making plans to have us head down to Austin, TX for the month of January to vacation when we retire. I keep tellin' her 'nope, I love the tundra TOO much'.

And I don't even have a snowblower (only had one for a yr or so..), I'm still strutting out each morning with my trusty, rusty shovel (and headphones/ipod for Neil Young, 'Exile on Main Street', or 'White Album'..) to clear off the driveway (of course, my back reminds me of it the next day....). Great cardio and helping myself to a nice hot cup of java afterwards.

Nothing beats it.

Doug said...

David --

You're giving me too much credit if you think I can remember 1982 -- Karen and I regularly have those "Doh!" moments when we have a great idea for a post topic, only to realize that we'd run something very similar just months earlier. Ah, middle age.

That being said, in the past many years my school has cancelled due to dangerous wind chills. However, it seems as Al Gore's prophecies come true, those days are fewer and fewer.

And even as an adult, as I said in the post, I'm still just as giddy as any kid when there's a snow day.


William said...

The best way I can describe the holidays in Florida is with this poem I wrote a few years ago...

By Bill Sandefur

T’was the night before Christmas... and man it was HOT-- eighty-five plus, I’m kidding you not.
But the children were comfy, their dreams filled with glee, for the A/C kept it, at seventy-three.
I in my shorts, my wife in her gown, had crawled into bed and were settling down.
When out in the yard we heard a strange sound-- so, I reached for my pistol-- and jacked in a round.
I looked out the window, and what did I spy? A sleigh, some reindeer and this fat little guy.
He moved cross the lawn, never making a sound-- Through the front window he flew with a leap and a bound.
I released the safety on my pistol with care-- in case this intruder didn’t easily scare.
I’ll tell you right now, this guy he looked weird-- Green shorts, red tee-shirt, a snowy white beard.
His eyes were like coals, his cheeks rosy red-- so, I fired a warning shot over his head.
He paid it no mind, but went straight to his work, I thought to myself-- "Well I feel like a jerk."
For he filled all our stockings, never stopping to pause-- I new then this must be SANTA CLAUS.
I opened my mouth and these words I spoke. I asked St. Nicholas, “What is this a joke?”
“No, I’m the real thing,” he said with great cheer. “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”
I then said, “Hey Santa, aren't you dressed rather odd?”
“Aye, that I am,” he said with a nod.
“You see down this way it gets rather hot, sand you have, but snow you have not.
In fact the only white powder you have here in plenty, will get you a sentence of fifteen to twenty.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must run. For I have lots to do, and I’m racing the sun.”
So I said I was "sorry for firing a shot."
He said, “Not to worry... It happens a lot.”
Then all at once he was gone in a flash-- Out to his sleigh and away he did dash.
And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of reach... “On Dasher, on Dancer, let’s go hit the beach!”
And the last thing I heard, in shot of my ear... “Hey Comet, hey Cupid... someone pass me a beer!”
I went straight to bed, my heart filled with joy. For the first time in years, I felt like a boy.
I woke the next morning, and what did I see?

...A reindeer passed out, under my tree.

Anonymous said...

Christmas tamales? Seriously? What’s in them...mincemeat? figgy pudding ? Actually, most of that nosh that originates from Mexico and south of the border didn’t change much from the time of the Mayans, Aztecs, etc, so tamales probably pre-date the birth of Christ by thousands of years. So why not?

Back here in the old country, we do generally get snow or at least winter weather, though it rarely closes the schools, at least in London. In fact, I don’t remember any of our schools closing due to volume of snow, inaccessibility, travel etc. They just close them when it gets impossible to heat them to the min. legal temperature, so it’s pretty unusual.

I guess it’s a strange thing that so many cultures have Christmas traditions which originate from places with different weather. I love the fact that Aussies send each other Christmas cards where Santa, complete with fur-lined Santa snow suit, is surfing, sunbathing, eating BBQ etc. Having said that, it never gets below about 10 degrees in Jerusalem, so I reckon Karen and the Australians are probably nearer the mark than those of us enjoying a ‘traditional’ Christmas.

Ho ho ho.


Btw that your long-suffering wife we see there?

Doug said...

Richard --

That is indeed the Mrs., making her second appearance on the BAB if memory serves (see above comment to David in regard to that). She has put up with me for over 28 years, 24 legally bound. I'm sure there is treasure in Heaven stored for her.


Doug said...

Oh, and William --

Love it! Very creative!


Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, shoveling snow: one thing I rarely had to deal with growing up in Oregon, but now have to confront every winter here in Croatia. Our house is at the back edge of our property, and we have this roughly 30-yard front drive that needs clearing. So yeah, david_b, it's great cardio, but usually my back doesn't wait the next day to remind me about it...

david_b said...

On a quasi-side note, thanks to my tundra-enriched DNA, I always have a healthy fondness for Bronze Age sci-fi stories on 'artic planets', such as 'Empire Strikes Back', Space:1999's 'Death's Other Dominion' and Galactica's 'Gun on Ice Planet Zero'.

'Ice Station Zebra's a particularly favorite 'cold war' film as well (no pun intended..).

Just wanting to share.

david_b said...

At least when I was in Kuwait for those couple of deployments, it got down to a comfortable 40 degrees at night for a few weeks.

It's basically like winter around Karen's territory, just a lot shorter timespan. We broke 100 deg F around mid-November, and returned back up around end of February.

Karen said...

Christmas tamales are basically like regular tamales, but you just have to have some at Christmas, just like having turkey at Thanksgiving. I like them all -pork, chicken, even the sweet ones, except the raisin filled ones. Those I can live without.

Snow is still pretty alien to me. I've experienced it perhaps half a dozen times now. I spent a week in New Jersey in the winter many years ago for my work and was dismayed to see big piles of grey snow everywhere. Yuck!

Also got caught in a surprise snow storm on a road trip about 20 years ago while I was driving through Oregon (Hi Edo!) with a friend. It was March I think, and we weren't expecting snow, but a storm came in while we were driving through a pass one night, and we had to pull into a rest stop with a bunch of other folks and wait it out. We took some sleeping bags out and piled them over us and went to sleep. I woke up when a Highway patrolman banged on the window. He let us know a plow had come through and the pass was clear. That was good for us, as we didn't have any chains!

I'm just a southern California kid -I don't know how to deal with that stuff!

J.A. Morris said...

Here in Central Virginia, we've had the occasional December snowstorm, but I can only think of once when it snowed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (1985, we got a slight flurry for about 30 minutes on the 25th). But we go crazy with lights outside, we've got 1 regular sized tree plus 2 small trees on tables. In the last 10-15 years, I've built up a nice collection of Christmas action figures (Rudolph, Charlie Brown X-mas, Year Without A Santa Claus,etc), I put them out every December as decorations.

It's funny though, I was born in Connecticut, moved to Wyoming when I was 3. Snow at Christmas was a given back then. I don't think I ever heard the song or the term "White Christmas" until I was 8 when we moved to VA.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, I remember that (kind of ironically) southern Oregon, as well as that very far northern chunk of California, tended to get more snow than we way up in the northern part of the state. In fact, at least twice in the late '80s/very early '90s I recall getting similarly caught in some pretty heavy snow while driving up from California on I5 through that stretch in the Siskiyous.
As for the piles of gray, dirty snow, tell me about it: here in Zagreb, once the plows clean up all the city streets and roads, there's these huge piles of muddy snow/slush all over the place. Snow loses its initial charm really quick...
Also, mmmmmmmmm, tamales. Love tamales, haven't had one in ages.

Garett said...

I'm in Edmonton, Canada, so it's rare that we don't get a white Christmas. It happened once in the late '90s, then we had a blizzard on New Year's Eve to put things back in order.

I don't remember ever missing school due to snow, as I think we're more prepared for it. There's a kind of Canadian mentality that sets in, where on the way home in a snowstorm, you stop off at the corner store for a slurpee. : ) In the same way, it's a good time to stay inside and watch movies like David said, about icy planets, or The Thing with it's Antarctic station. I read through Tomb of Dracula in the winter, and enjoyed the snowy, dark scenes. There's a group mentality too, where people jump out of their cars to push someone's vehicle out of a snowbank, or offer jumper cables to start an engine.

I can relate to Doug's sledding story, as we used to go out to the hill all the time as a kid--still do, with my nieces and nephew! When we have our extended family Christmas party at a community hall each year, it starts in the afternoon with everyone skating on the rink, some playing hockey on the bigger rink. I guess I should say "outdoor rink" for those in hot climates. : )

It's hard to imagine winter without snow--making snowmen at school recess, snowball fights. I remember jumping off the roof of my friend's garage into the snow, great rush! Then climb up the fence, onto the roof to jump again. And sometimes there's a beautiful winter wonderland feeling when the snow's gently falling down. We definitely appreciate our summers here though--tons of festivals, to get outside as much as possible and celebrate!

My current favorite tune, Baby It's Cold Outside, Dean Martin and Martina McBride:

Anonymous said...

I'm in small-town Saskatchewan, so I can second everything Garrett said. I can't remember how many times I've been in a stuck car and had a bunch of people stop and push it out. Of course, you have to pay it forward if you ever come across someone else who needs a push :)

We're definitely prepared for it up here (I also didn't get many snow days off school as a kid); in fact I remember being stunned when I found out that most cars built/sold in the United States don't have block heaters...that's unthinkable up here!

That being said, forty years of Canadian winters have taken their toll...if anyone from a warmer climate wants to trade places, let me know :)

Mike W.

Dougie said...

Here in Moray- between Inverness and Aberdeen, the north-east of Scotland- we've had a very light fall of snow over the last two days. Black ice on the roads is the real problem.

When I first moved here two years ago, we had two snow days at school in November. Again, it was more about transport, given that there are rural villages in the area, served only by infrequent buses.

As an adult, I have experienced one White Christmas in Glasgow in the last decade and a half. More often than not, it just rains. January snowfalls were quite prevalent when I was a kid, 30 years ago.

Garett said...

I've started taking Vitamin D in the winter, the sunshine vitamin, for more health and energy. It works for me--anybody else do this?

Doug said...

I don't, Garett, but I'd consider it. In Chicagoland, it is eternally gray during late January and through February. It can get quite dismal.


PS: Did any of you ever take your action figures outside into the snow? GI Joes (the 12" ones) were fun, but then you had to dry them out and sometimes their clothes shrunk!

Comicsfan said...

Gosh, as a Florida boy, the only snow I've been near arrived in a truck with some Christmas trees. I'm so envious. Do I at least get points for being able to relate to hot chocolate? :9 :D

Tony said...

I live in Waterloo, Ontario which is about an hour west of Toronto. We seem to get hit pretty hard here when storms come from Western Canada or up from the US. And mostly, the storms die out somewhat as it move eastward towards Toronto. I often talk to my parents who live 2.5 hrs east of me, and they never have as much snow as I do. I would rather deal with -20 and colder weather, than having to shovel and drive in snow.

Anonymous said...

Well I've lived all my life in Trinidad, so snow is an alien term to me. Living in the tropics has its own challenges - some days it's so hot you have to seek the nearest shade, be it under a tree or a building. The heat can make you lethargic and makes you feel miserable as well. Believe me, sweating buckets is no fun.

On the flip side, there's no snow to shovel! I've often wondered how people who live in countries with extreme winters fare; it must be sheer hell knowing just stepping out of your front door without adequate clothing can kill you!

To illustrate how unaccustomed I am to cold weather here's a little story - I once went to Canada many years ago and as I stepped off the plane a cold breeze hit me. I said 'Good Lord, it's cold here!' Just as I said that, up comes a Canadian dude dressed like he's going to the beach! He wore a vest, shorts and flip flops and I thought 'Man, these Canadians are used to cold weather.' This was in the summertime, but the temperature was about 15 degrees Celsius. In Trinidad, the lowest temperatures usually hover in the high twenties!

The funniest thing is, Christmas songs like Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland are popular on the radio down here!

- Mike 'living on the equator' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Dougie said...

Non-Xmas-but-Bronze-Age observation:

About 30 years ago, I used to scoff at Claremont's accent for Raine Sinclair of the New Mutants. "Scots don't sound like that!" I thought, loftily.

Then I moved to Moray and found they do! Whereas a Glaswegian might say " Ah huvny seen yir Ruby Quartz visor", a Moravian would say " I've nae seen it. Fit's it luk like?"

I would also say the Second Doctor's companion Jamie McCrimmon did, in fact, sound initially like someone from the vicinity of Inverness!

Fred W. Hill said...

My earliest memories of winter & snow are from the years when my family lived in Japan, when I was between 4 and 7. After we returned to the U.S., within the next 5 years we went from a couple of verrrrry cold months in Massachusetts to northeast Texas to Long Beach, CA, then to Salt Lake City (plenty of snow there) and then back to California, first to San Francisco (which occasionally gets some frost) and then to Lemoore, south of Fresno (lots of fog in the winter but no snow). Both of my parents grew up in NE Texas btw, and it does (which does get some snow occasionally snow there - as with California, what's true for one part of the state as far as weather goes doesn't necessarily hold for another part, especially going from south to north. Oddly, in 1989, the year before I moved from San Jose, CA, to Jacksonville, FL, to visit my mom & stepdad on X-Mas, it snowed in NE Florida for the first time in about 90 years, so I unexpectedly had a white christmas. Yeah, it was only about an inch or so, enough to cause all sorts of traffic problems and force the closure of bridges in a region not used to any snow ever. Last time I experienced snow was when I visited a friend in Joliet, Illinois during the first week of December 2003. It didn't start to snow until about two hours after I started driving back. I lost control of the car on an iceslick and wound up stuck in frosty mud. Took about 7 hours before a tow truck was able to get around to pull me out.

Teresa said...

I have lived in the Portland, Oregon area all my life. In 2008 we had our first white Christmas in my lifetime. It was almost 2' of snow. It was a little scary and beautiful.
I've only seen that much snow here once before in 1980.
Usually it is a grey and wet Christmas.

Steve Does Comics said...

I can excitedly announce that, looking out the window, I can see snow right now. Admittedly, it's about ten miles away, on the hills outside town but I can see it and that's good enough for me.

david_b said...

Doug, funny you should mention action figures out in the snow. Just before I got married in '98, I was in the throes of collecting the vintage '60s/70s 12" Joes and all the cool vehicles I always wanted.

I still have about 2 dozen of both era's, with some Action Man/Joe vehicles, but I recall taking a few hours out and snapping pics of them posed with their vehicles on 'artic cliffs' around the woody areas of my neighborhood. My young nephew (about 14 at the time..) was only too estatic to ably assist. Shot some beautiful panoramic shots, will have to post 'em somewhere.

MMM's were also fun in the snow, since they didn't have cloth outfits to worry about.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just an update - Zagreb just had its first big snow of the year, and I mean big - about a foot to a foot and half since last night, and it's still falling. I know that doesn't sound like much, but the wind is blowing like mad, so there's lots of those hip-deep drifts. We're effectively snowed in. So the I find the title of this post ("Winter Wonderland? What's That??") quite apt, albeit for different reasons.
By the way Theresa, re: "a grey and wet Christmas" - yep, that's pretty much the way I remember Christmas in Oregon. In fact, I prefer grey and wet to white and buried.

Tony said...

Except for Garrett and Mike W--I'll trade anyone, anytime for Winters here. Bluntly, they suck. I challenge anyone here to come to Canada and experience real winter. We don't usually have snow days, unless it's something extreme. I remember a couple of years ago, I was driving my oldest home, and a 2.5 hr drive turned out to be over 6 hrs. The highway was absolutely deserted. At one point, the police pulled me over and told me to get off the highway. I said ok, exited, and then turned around and got back on. BTW, I don't see too big a lineup for anybody wanting to come here....:)

Tony said...

@Mike in Trinidad---awww!! You poor guy having to deal with the

Doug said...

Sometimes at this time of year, when it's starting to get cold, I look at that weather map of North America and think to myself, "Why the heck would anyone live in Canada?"

Who wants to be first?

Doug, with a wink and a smile.

PS: I've already told Karen I think that about her in the desert all summer long... That's what I like about the Midwest -- we get winter, summer, and everything in between. Shoot -- sometimes it happens all in one day!

Karen said...

When I lived in California, I sometimes felt like the change in seasons was so mild that you hardly noticed it. But at least in the winter,we'd get cloudy skies, cold weather, rain. Here in Phoenix, it's so darned sunny all the time there's just no feeling of change at all. The only way I know it's winter is that the sun is rising later and setting earlier, and I'm not roasting.

It kills me when I hear people say, "This weather we have now is why we live here." This is invariably uttered by a transplant from the midwest or northeast, who is just happy not to be shoveling snow any more. To me, a sunny winter is not a great pay off for four months of 100+ hellish weather. But then I come from California, where things were pretty much great all the time. ;)

Joseph said...

Growing up in Southern California, I don't ever remember even having rain on Christmas, much less snow. Christmas tamales are awesome, though. I look forward to them any year I go back.

Living in Portland, OR, now, that 2008 storm Teresa mentioned was a big deal locally that pretty much shut down the whole city. We were stuck mostly inside (with three extra visiting families) and had one of the funnest, most memorable holiday seasons ever.

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