Weather Predictions From the Front Porch

Weather is a safe topic in social circles unless you are a meteorologist. The weather journalist has a no win gig. If he/she warns viewers of the upcoming tornado, hurricane, cyclone, blizzard,  we lament they are sensationalizing the news when the weather pattern changes direction/velocity/impact. Case in point Hurricane Irene. With an estimated 65 million people from the Carolinas to Cape Cod at risk of being in Irene’s projected path,  governments declared a state of emergency. Yet afterwards  journalists’ interviewed irate New Yorkers and tourists from abroad (all male) who cursed the evacuation warning and felt the stay indoors policy was over the top. I am sure the people in areas harder hit like North Carolina or Vermont were grateful for the warning.  If the meteorologist neglects to alert viewers to dangers lurking in the clouds, then he/she is at bigger fault.  Case in point, Hurricane Katrina.

I  know only one weatherman who is right all the time. My dad. He inherited the weather forecasting gene from my grandpa. As soon as inclement weather is forecast anywhere within a 500 mile vicinity, he turns on his storm buster box, a static sounding, battery-run weather radio. Then just like his dad used to do,  he’ll stand on the porch admiring the clouds and yelling at family, « Take cover. Now !»  This may be a guy thing.  One brother-in-law chases  tornadoes on bike in Minneapolis. The other one, who farms in Illinois, can read the clouds like the back of his hand.

Unless you grew up in the Midwest though, you can’t fathom how fast storms can roll across the plains. This summer my folks were at a picnic at the other side of the lake, when a guy there saw storm warning on his Blackberry. My parents hopped in the car and drove a  mile back to our cabin on the other side of the lake.

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

«Bat down the hatches !» my dad hollered from the driveway just as my French husband was heading out to sea on his toy boat, a catamaran.

The Frenchman had no sooner lowered the sails, when the winds hit. My son saw  the tarp over the motorboat go air born, raced down to the waterfront to fix it and came back up the hill yelling, « the sailboat is gone. »

Oops, there goes the brains of the family – the doc, the professor, the business exec –  out into the torrential rain on a rescue mission to catch the runaway sailboat. While they dashed into the churning black water in 60mph winds, I paced in front of the picture window thinking OMG,  « My family is going down! »

The storm lasted less than 10 minutes, yet wiped out a wide swath of forest 20 yards from us.  The sun came out as if nothing had happened, but the straight line wind peeled bark from elms, uprooted cedars on the shoreline and toppled thousand year old trees onto rooftops. Nearby areas looked like a bombed out war zone.

uprooted trees

uprooted trees

If a strong wind can wreak that much devastation in an isolated forest, imagine the fall out from a hurricane hitting the the urbanized, densely populated east coast. My thoughts and prayers go out to people caught in Hurricane Irene’s path.

We are so quick to blame the meteorologists for misreading storms and creating false alarms, yet with global warming,  the weather has gone crazy.  The adage- better safe than sorry – applies especially in storm season. If you question your local meteorologist’s predication, take my advice.  Have the man of the house to stand on the porch  and give you a play by play of the cloud action.

Sisters Only A Heartbeat Apart

“What’s wrong? I whispered as my middle sister coaxed my little sister out from under the bed.“Grandpa yelled at her cause she didn’t finish her milk at dinner,” Sue, explained.

“Oh, Kar, he yelled at me too,” I said as I stuck my head under the bed. “C’mon, I got a great idea. We’ll dance in the living room.”

Together in our matching pink nighties we pranced in front the our reflection in the picture window to the beat of the Pink Panther until Karen’s tears turned to giggles.

From the time we were little children, our heartiest laughs and greatest tears were shared as sisters; three girls just four years apart.

I, being eldest set the example.  I taught them how to slide veggies off the dinner plate and onto the floor for the family dog and to sneak out of at bed night to watch The Honeymooners from behind the divider in the dining room.  I kept them in line by pretending to hit their face, then socking their stomach.

3 sisters

3 sisters

We shared childhood memories of vacations when we sat facing backwards in our nine seater wagon and smoked candy cigarettes, waved at truck drivers from behind plastic sun glasses and pretended to be ladies. When we tired of comic books and games, we argued, until Dad threatened.  “Quit squabbling or I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!”

In instant solidarity against the enemy, the almighty grown up, we held hands in silence for the remainder of the ride.

Together we survived the early adolescence “uglies”.  Our finest feature striking blue eyes, hidden behind thick brown cat eye framed glasses.  Sue developed too much up front, I, too little, and Karen, The Babe, Miss-Perfect-In-Between was just right. Our personalities were as different as our body types.  I, an aggressive brunette tomboy, thought kitchen was a four-letter word. Sue, an easy-going blonde homebody loved to bake and clean. Karen, a chestnut haired social butterfly, enjoyed the outdoors and domestics.

“Get off the phone blabber mouth,” I yelled at Karen.  “It’s my turn to have the car,” Sue yelled at me.  In high school we were selfish about the use of the phone and car, but generous with our clothes and friends.

We went to the same college, Illinois State, and majored in helping professions.  One summer, we even fought for the same beau.  Sue caught in the middle, shouted, “Never thought I’d see the day a guy tore you apart!”  When he dropped me for my baby sister, I thought the hurt would never heal.  Later when he tired of her, I helped her put back the pieces.  Now, we laugh about the jerk, who tried to come between us.

In high school and college, Karen and I played on the same basketball team.  Sue never missed a game.  When a car accident ended my career in France, the sound of their voices over the phone helped me heal faster than the ministrations of a hospital full of foreign doctors.

We were always together for the important moments.  When I got married in Normandy, Karen flew over and Sue helped pay for her ticket. When Kar married a year later, Sue was her maid of honor.  When Sue wed, I was the best gal.

Now every summer, we set aside a week to return to our family cabin in Wisconsin where we roast hot dogs over a crackling fire, float on inner tubes on a silver-blue lake, and take long walks in the woods. We still dance in the living room, now we call it aerobics.

For in between times, we write long letters and make short calls, “ I can’t afford this, but I wanted to hear your voice.”

We developed a sixth sense sisters’ share.  After my miscarriages, my sisters mourned, too.  The night my daughter was born in Paris, Sue dreamed,” it’s a girl!” in Chicago.

As children we shared a room, held hands before falling asleep and vowed we’d live in a triplex, so we could always be together.  As adults, we ended up living thousands of miles apart in different states and countries.  Yet, as sisters, we remain only a heartbeat away.

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Twelve Tips for Air Travel in the 21st Century

Sometimes, when when there are no glitches, Air Travel rocks. But most of the time, it has become a nightmare. Make the best out of it with a few tips:

1. Never trust what the airline say.

2. When airline staff  say« No problem » it really means « Don’t KNOW the problem. »

3. Fly at times when no one else wants to, for example Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, Easter Sunday.

4. Carry aboard prescription medicines for the duration of the trip vacation and a written explanation of one’s medical condition.

5. Pack snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, and cereal bars. Airlines may charge $3  for a small package of M & Ms or chips.

6. A small empty water bottle passes through security controls and can be refilled as needed.

7. Nowhere is Murphy’s Law (Sod’s Law in the UK) more prevalent than in air travel « accept that what can go wrong, will go worse than you would dream ».

8. Limit carry on baggage as courtesy to fellow passengers, so they won’t have to stow their luggage ten rows away from their assignments seats.

9. An electronic seat assignment does not guarantee a boarding pass, and a frequent flyer membership these days is nothing more than another plastic card in your pocket.

10. Wear comfortable, layered clothes, which make it easy to disrobe at security and to accommodate fluctuating temperature in the aircraft.

11. Forget cost cutting, book the direct flight whenever possible. In the end, it costs less than additional taxi fares, meals and hotel rooms when you miss your connecting flight.

12. Acknowledge that the skies are no longer friendly. Airline companies, even code sharing partners, are at war and passengers are in the line of fire. Accept what you are : at the best a user and very rarely a customer.

Eventually, get rich and fly First, it might do the trick…May be.

Help! I am becoming a social media junky

Okay, what started it all was this crazy desire to be a writer.  But nobody sits downs and writes anymore. They socialize, they connect, they advertise, they promote, they sell.  They pound the pavement on line to build a platform. Reminds me of selling potato chips door to door to raise money to attend Y Camp as a kid.

I naively signed up for blogging 101 and build your author platform with Dan Blank, our social media guru. http://wegrowmedia.com/ Before I knew it I was hooked.

First he encouraged us to blog.  Got that down.  Next step -Twitter.  Twitter scared me. I feared the CTA (Cyberspace Transit Authorities) would catch me smuggling words across borders.  Twitter feels like passing notes in class to strangers.  Twitter is like it sounds –  a bunch of magpies sitting on a telephone line gossiping.

Next Dan insisted,  «join Facebook. » What a tool. Daunting. The concept scared me.  I  avoid  mirrors. I don’t particularly enjoy looking at my face these days, so why  would anyone else ? Yet now, as if displaying the bulletin board of my childhood, my mug shot flashes on the « wall » of the world.

All these people are coming out of the woodwork.  It’s awesome reconnecting with my high school and college alumni, but also unsettling. I can’t get my head around it.  It’s like looking into a trick mirror – we look grey and paunchy. Yet I’m still sweet sixteen in my mind, a skinny thing in pig tails and skinned knees.

The worst part of my new social media gig, is that I no longer want to go to my real job interacting with real students and real colleagues.  It is more rewarding to catch up with former students and friends on line. They are so much smarter than me. English teachers are obsolete. Seriously, no one writes complete sentences anymore.  Even Shakespeare  looks like this – R & J in love 4ever. The downside of social media is that it makes me feel old, dumb, and ugly.

Yet for somebody living abroad, it is a way to link in with old classmates; to keep up with the youth,; to meet new people in a  writers group that shines from sea to shining sea.  Rebecca in San Fran and Barb in LA, Viki in Chicago (http://www.friendgrief.blogspot.com/), Porter in Atlanta (http://www.porterandersonmedia.com/), Kathy (http://krpooler.com/) and Jen in Virginia (http://jenhenderson.com/wordpress/ ) Judith in Italy (http://aromacucina.com/) and Dan in NYC.

To attract more followers, Dan says we need to host events, plan give aways, and create gimmicks.  It makes me feel more like the on-line Avon Lady than Virginia Woolf.  One thing I know for sure working with teens, social media is the future. Tomorrow we “boogie, “on their terms; my generation is on the way out! So suck it up, Pat, and get it on with it.  Tweet. Tweet.

Seven Spring Cleaning Tips from Small Countries

Switzerland could win awards as the tidiest nation on earth.  As a compact country, the Swiss are born with an extra chromosome, a clean gene, to help conserve space. The streets are so sanitary, you could  eat off the sidewalks. I have never been a neat freak, but I have adopted a few helpful spring cleaning tips from our European neighbors.

  1. No shoes in the house. Ever. The Swiss are trained at an early age to automatically remove footwear at the door.
  2. Commune rule. Divide heavy tasks with household members on a rotational basis.   When I lived in an apartment complex in Germany, the residents on each floor took turns mopping the stairwell.  Same rules should apply in a family.
  3. Cut down laundry. Throw bedding out the window for a weekly breather.  Europeans, great believers in the curative properties of fresh air,  hang duvets over wrought iron balconies and wooden framed window ledges.
  4. Recycle bread crumbs (another French custom) Shake table cloths out the window.  First make sure pigeons, not people, inhabit the balcony below.
  5. Eliminate dust. Triple stack books on the shelves, that way there is no shelf left to collect grime.
  6. Clean sweep.  Push-everything-under-the bed-trick.  It’s a great storage area for books, essays, newspapers, laptops, and used Kleenex. Technique also works well in the living room using space between the couch and floor as magic drawer. (another personal invention)
  7. If all else fails, follow my Norwegian mom’s wise advice – hide the incriminating evidence, (including children):
    • Move the messy kid to the basement
    • Close the door
    • Condemn the area as a natural disaster

That is how my parents and I co existed during my adolescence. Consequently, I grew up serenely in comfortable chaos as a cellar dweller and only had to clean my room semi annually when the basement flooded.