2

No Points for Worrying

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ivan Pavlov performed his famous experiments on conditioned reflex. You may recall that when he fed dogs, he rang a bell at the same time. When the dogs saw the food, they began to salivate. Before long, Pavlov stopped bringing the food and only rang the bell. The dogs associated the bell with the food, and would salivate at the sound of the bell even if the food was not present. Pavlov repeated the experience with various visual and audio stimuli and obtained the same results. He also performed similar experiments on children successfully.

I have been thinking about Pavlov for the past few days. We were supposed to get another “major snowstorm” which would “dump 6-8 inches” overnight yesterday and create a “miserable morning commute.” It was also supposed to snow on Saturday, which it did. But it was a minor snow, so the weathercasters didn’t get very excited about it.

They were too busy with the “major snow system” developing in the west. You may recall that the part of Michigan where we live is not known for massive amounts of snow. So when we expect more than 3-4 inches, it’s a major event. As you may well imagine, this winter has been a meteorologist’s dream. More nights than not, the news leads with the weather. You’d never know we’ve been getting weather around these parts for as long as most people can remember.

So all weekend, the drumbeat has been going for our newest storm. They showed us all the pretty pictures on the weather maps with the light blues, the dark blues, and the lavenders. We saw pictures of massive storms in the eastern and western parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the viewing audience lives in New Jersey or Idaho, but I guess you can never be too careful.

Yesterday, the store was packed. It was like the week before Christmas. I guess that all the people who were left with only one loaf of bread and two bottles of wine after the one major storm we did get this year didn’t want to be caught short again. I definitely understand that people don’t like to drive in bad weather, but seriously. The same people who were saying we were going to get all the snow we also telling us it was going to be 38 degrees by the afternoon.

The break room buzzed with talk about the storm. Some people weren’t going to come in if it was too bad. There was general commiserating about how bad the roads would be. No mention of the number of people who were driving 4-wheel drive vehicles or lived within 5 miles of the store.

I bet you can guess what happened. Pavlov rang the bell, the people salivated, and the bowl was only partially full of kibble. It did start snowing yesterday afternoon. The little tiny flakes that seem to fall forever. But by the 10 o’clock news they were telling us that the majority of the storm was passed. There were two inches, tops, on our porch. This morning we woke up to a total of a scant three inches.

The road commission had apparently listened to the forecasts for the afternoon warm-up since they were pretty much AWOL on the drive in. So the morning commute was unpleasant. Then the sun came out. The roads cleared. The temperature was near 40 degrees. And no one starved, cut off from humanity.

So the weathercasters are relegated to telling us about the warm-up we will be seeing for a few days. But then we’re in for another “major cool-down”. It’s going back to the teens and twenties. Yep, we’re in for a continuation of winter, just like the groundhogs told us.

The title above is a quotation from Bob Mathias I thought was appropriate for this post. Mr. Mathias was a 17-year-old decathlete in the 1948 Olympics. While all of the other athletes were practicing up until the moment the competition started, he would be under a tree reading or napping. When someone asked him how he could be so relaxed, he told them that he didn’t get points for worrying. Mathias went on to win the decathlon by a wide margin.

Lest you think his winning was a fluke due to poor nutrition in Europe during the war, he also won in 1952. Afterward, he graduated from Stanford University and was commissioned into the U.S. Marines. He became a four-term U.S. representative from California.

Moral: If you’re a world-class athlete, don’t worry about the snow. Or something like that.

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2

My Kingdom for a Horse (or a Pair of Oxen)

You may have seen the car commercial where the man on an airplane clicks a remote at his car as the plane passes over the parking lot. You then see that the car is nice and warm as the family gets off the parking lot shuttle and settles into it. I’m not sure what airport they use for the commercial. Any time I have flown in the winter (or summer), the plane would still have to taxi, park and unload the passengers. The passengers would need to get their luggage (it is a family, not a day-tripper), wait for the shuttle, and actually get to the car.

I picture three more realistic scenarios. First, the heater runs from the battery and the battery is dead after being used for 90 minutes without starting the car. Second, the remote actually starts the car and uses up a quarter tank of gas waiting for the people. The father then says to the family that the next time they can freeze; he isn’t spending $25 because they can’t wait two minutes for the seat warmers to start working. Third, someone sees the car running, takes it, and is gone for an hour before the family even realizes it’s missing.

All of this is crossing my mind on the way to work this morning. Once I was actually on the road this morning. Like many of you, we were hit by the storm yesterday. My husband was proactive and tried to clear things as the day went by. Unfortunately, what he could not foresee was how windy it would be overnight. And the two- or three-foot drifts the wind would create.

I do not own a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The weather here really isn’t that bad. We are on the “good” side of Lake Huron. The moisture from Lake Michigan gets dumped over the west side of Michigan in storms, so the air is relatively dry by the time it gets here, so we get less wind and snow. We still complain.

After the storms leave here, they cross Lake Huron and get more moisture to dump on Ontario. By the time the storm reaches upstate New York, it has gone over the rest of the Great Lakes and they get the benefit of lots of moisture in the air. Which often means they get a lot of snow. If you watch pro football or hockey from Buffalo, you may have noticed the commentators seem to get a lot of pleasure telling us what bad weather they are surviving. In their heated broadcast booth.

We figured my biggest worry would be whether or not they cleared the road by the time I left at 4a. I got up and went out. The road didn’t look too bad (relatively speaking). I should have known there would be a problem when I went down our steps and sank into snow up to my thighs. I’m short, but not that short. I should have been able to walk through snow that had been shoveled shortly before we went to bed.

Ever the optimist, I went into the garage. Second bad sign: my car had been out for maybe two minutes yesterday while my husband got out the snowblower. I had to brush off the back and side windows. There was no indication whatsoever that it had been inside for more than 12 hours.

The engine turned over, and the heater whined (it really hates cold weather). I backed up to where the hood cleared the garage door. And got stuck. Started swearing. Looked for the shovel and couldn’t find it. Stomped upstairs and woke up my husband. Oh yeah – he keeps it on the inside porch so it will be convenient. Stomp back downstairs. Trip in the drift again.

Shovel out the wheels. Move a little. Shovel under the body. Don’t move. Shovel around the tires. Move a little. Shovel more. Create ice under the tires. Try to rock back and forth. Swear. Shovel. Move a little. I should probably mention that our house is set off the road a ways and the driveway is double width, so I’m not completely incompetent (yet).

Shovel. Can’t move. Straighten wheels. Move a little. See the light in the house. Husband is up for work. Stomp back in. Whine. He comes out (and trips in the drift). Five minutes later the car is on the road and ready to go. I apologize for being evil. He blames the snow. He’s good that way.

On the way, my brain keeps running “Jingle Bells”. ‘Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.’ Yeah. With a wind chill somewhere around zero (it’s gotten worse since). But a horse isn’t a bad idea. One of those big Budweiser horses. It could have pulled my car out of the snow in a couple of minutes.

If you have ever needed road-side assistance in a storm, you know you could starve to death before they get to you.This is not a function of their ineptitude but of demand greatly exceeding supply (finally – a use for my econ class). I bet my son could make money using the horse to help other people. Or he could entertain kids by taking them for rides. I bet parents would pay to get the kids out of the house for a bit on a snow-day. Or their spouses.

I wonder how much it would cost to keep a horse like that. They’re probably expensive. Maybe I’ll try to sell the idea to someone in Buffalo.

3

Just Askin’

As the snow piles up, the wind chill drops, and my brain slowly freezes:

Why do I have so much trouble rooting for a team when I don’t like the coach? Last night, I could not convince myself to root for Michigan State over Stanford although they are instate and part of the Big Ten. Mark Dantonio is just one of my least favorite coaches ever (yes, I know he is very successful). I have no trouble at all rooting for the basketball team under Tom Izzo, who I love. (Note to those who don’t know: I’m a Michigan alum.)

Why can’t they seem to clear the roads around here quickly enough to avoid ice on them two or three days later? It’s not like we’re in one of those places getting storm after storm.

Speaking of icy roads – why do people think that if they are behind a timid driver, they can intimidate them into going faster by riding on their bumper?

If the roads are too bad to go to work, why do people feel the need to go shopping?

Why are my feelings hurt by my new hedgehog taking time to socialize? He’s got quills, but I must appear huge to him and probably smell weird too.

Why do I keep asking for books as gifts when I know I don’t have time to read them? Am I the only one who feels guilty about having a pile lying around the house?

Am I the only one who has to ask herself  ‘is someone laying something  or is it lying on its own’ before they feel comfortable with a sentence like the last one?

Why does auto-correct insist it knows better then I do what I want to say? People who understand grammar usually know it’s an incorrect usage and no one else cares. (And it never fixes the lay/lie type issues I do have trouble with.)

Do people set themselves up for failure when they promise to go to the gym/start a new diet January 1? At least half of the country has rotten weather that time of year and it’s dark and/or gloomy the majority of the time. Who really thinks about wearing a bikini? (Men thinking about the SI models do not count.)

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the early Christians had decided to take over Midsummer rather than the Winter Solstice? Then we could just hibernate between December and March. Unless you actually like ice and snow. (Sorry Down Under – this is my fantasy. It probably wouldn’t work so well for you.)

Do I have the only cat who gets cold feet and wants to warm them on me? When we go to bed, she lies in my arms until she gets warm and then she lays on top of the comforter by my feet.

Do stores that run perpetual sales realize that eventually sales stop being an event and become business as usual (as well as a joke to most consumers)?

What’s the correct response when a customer asks whether a product is any good, and I don’t like it? “Yeech” just doesn’t seem appropriate. Maybe “Depends. How well do your tastebuds work?”

Do they really have to direct the smells from the bakery over to my department? Cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies baking always make me hungry.

Why is it the hungrier I get, the less I want to spend time cooking? Delayed gratification is definitely not a strong suit for me.

Finally – why did the (full-size) snow plow decide it would be a good idea to block the road just as I was getting to the intersection this morning? He wasn’t actually plowing, he seemed to be taking a break.

2

The Return of the Evil Tree Spirits

My love affair with the trees begins anew every spring. The buds arrive just in time to keep me from going crazy from the ice and snow (most years). All summer long, leaves sit on the ends of the tree branches, looking beautiful and giving shade. At the end of the summer, they are stunning in their different colors. Then the evil tree spirits arrive and turn them into nasty, spiteful dead leaves.

With some leaves, it starts while they are still on the trees. Those are the leaves that never turn a bright shade of yellow; they’re sickly yellow with brown spots. When the rain and high winds come, they attack the roads and cars. The roads get slippery. They hang onto the cars and need to be pulled off, one by one.

The others make it to the ground, still looking festive. If you rake them quickly, they even make attractive piles. They crunch under foot and remind us of cider and football. These leaves may be more evil than the others because they lull us into thinking that even on the ground, they are beautiful.

Then you try to rake them. You pull all of them into a pile, look around, and realize that you have missed a few. You rake those few and notice that another part of the lawn has leaves on it. You put those leaves out back for mulch or winter dens for the critters or whatever. You go in the house feeling satisfied at a job well done. Then look out the window and see more leaves. Some meticulous homeowners rake every day, generally during their first year of home ownership.

One year, you decide to wait until all the leaves are down before raking. This option does not work. They are never all down. Or by the time the rain takes down the last of them, you have lost all interest in going out into the cold to rake leaves. You are getting the snowblower ready. Besides, how much damage could they do if you leave them until spring? Hint: if you leave a lot of foliage on your grass over the winter, you may not need the mower in the spring. You may need sod.

We don’t have many neighbors here, but back when we lived in the city there was the problem of the mysterious appearance of leaves on the lawn after raking. A lot of leaves. More leaves than any of our trees could have possibly shed. We were left with unpleasant thoughts about our neighbors: they were dumping their leaves on us. In their defense, it was usually a case of raking on different days and the wind moving the leaves.

But I have heard stories of blower wars, with no one willing to actually rake up or mulch the leaves. More evil tree spirit mischief. I’m sure the spirits were laying the groundwork for the snow spirits that make snow appear on the walk after it has been shoveled.

The final indignity is the few leaves that remain on the tree, blowing in the wind all winter. They are reminders of the love affair gone sour. And I know they are laughing at me.