Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hallucinating Signs of Spring

It's spring here! I am seeing signs of it everywhere!

The temperature is getting warmer, so the kids are able to wear their spring clothes. Just look at the photo below! Stella may be wearing a hat, a coat, mittens, snow pants, and boots, but underneath all that, she has on a short sleeve shirt! (Under a hoodie.) Oh, and wool socks. She is also wearing wool socks.

The daffodils are starting to come up! See them in our yard, pictured below? Well, okay, you can't actually SEE the daffodils, because they are buried underneath a foot of snow, but my guess is that the daffodils are very likely starting to come up. We'll be able to confirm that once the snow pack melts down to a more reasonable level, which should happen in April or May.

And the robins are back, which of course is a true sign of spring! See the robin in the picture below? If you squint? If you squint and use your imagination? What about if you squint, use your imagination, and really, really want spring to come? That's how I managed to see a robin in that picture.

And now: off to shovel.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tools of the Trade

This time of year, I wonder why people live in Wisconsin at all. Why is it humans choose to live in a place where the air is so cold it can kill you? Think of all the things in the world that can kill you -- guns, knives, poison -- and then add AIR to that list if you live in Wisconsin.

I'm trying to picture how the upper Midwest came to be populated at all. I can picture the Native Americans arriving many years ago, taking a look at the plentiful prairies, the vast herds of buffalo, the lakes teeming with fish -- and then thinking to themselves, "Wow, this place must be MISERABLE come February," and then they kept on migrating to someplace with air that doesn't kill people dead. Like maybe South Carolina.

My point is that in Wisconsin, we know cold. We know snow. And we know the thing where it rains, and then it freezes, and then it snows, and then it rains again, creating a substance that in Wisconsin we like to call "a fucking mess."

Because of all this snow, we have some specialized snow removal tools. Just like a great artist has many different brushes to apply paint on a canvas, we have any different shovels. I thought I'd introduce you to some of them in case you live in one of those places that the Indians should have kept right on migrating to.

Your father had one of these.
This is the classic snow shovel. It's the way people shoveled snow in the 1950s, which by golly is good enough for me. Sure, it's not the most ergonomically designed tool, but it gets the job done. You can never have too many of this type of snow shovel. We have may six or seven of them.

Yes, I have a license for this.
This is the classic snow shovel, but on performance-enhancing drugs. First of all, the turbo shovel is quite a bit wider, which can help you shovel faster. Second, it's made of plastic rather than metal so it's lighter. The metal strip on the edge helps you scrape ice of the sidewalk. This is my go-to shovel -- my main squeeze, as it were.

Helpful in case I ever need to power a steam locomotive.
 This big daddy snow shovel is good for one thing: shoveling out the end of the driveway after the snow plow has left a three-foot wall of snow and ice chunks at the end of your driveway, which by the way is by far the most annoying part of any shoveling job.

Ice, I will chop you!
You can shovel as much as you want, and you're still going to wind up with a thick layer of ice on your sidewalk sometimes. That's where the ice chopper comes in. Unfortunately ice chopping only really works when it is warm enough that the ice has melted at least a little bit, loosening its grip on the pavement. And if it's warm enough for the ice to start melting, then that means all the snow will be melting too, and then meltwater will run down onto your sidewalk and then freeze overnight, covering your sidewalk with a thick layer of ice again. Try not to think about that.

There you have it: your essential snow removal tools for a Wisconsin winter. Or you could just show some common sense and move to South Carolina.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Back in the Frozen Tundra

I survived the long trip back to the U.S. from New Zealand. People always ask me how long the trip is, and I have a problem figuring out the total number of hours because the trip is spread out across several different buses and planes, but it's a long trip:
  • 3 hours bus trip from my father's house to the Auckland airport, through some really awesome scenery.
  • 2 hours waiting in Auckland airport, which to be honest is surprisingly rinky-dink. It's got, like, 12 gates, and three of those gates have flights leaving for Tonga.
  • 12 hours flight from Auckland to Los Angeles, which seems even longer because of course somebody's baby is crying. Whose baby is that? Whose baby is crying, dammit? Oh wait, that's MY baby.
  • 2 hour customs/layover in Los Angeles. Customs takes a long time because people travelling from hobbit-infested countries are subject to extra scrutiny.
  • 4 hour flight to Chicago. We flew this leg on Virgin America, which I've never been on before. Virgin America is a "hip" airline. I could tell this because the lights in the cabin were purple. 
  • 1 hour wait in Chicago, during which the kids figured out that at this point I am willing to let whoever screamed the loudest have the iPad.
  • and finally, a 3 hour bus ride to Madison. Thankfully it was dark at that point, so I could not see the miles and miles of dirty gray snow and brown fields that make up the entire distance from Chicago to Madison. That's always hard to take after spending time in the greenery of New Zealand.
Total: 1 billion hours, or about as long as it takes Stella to get dressed in the morning.

It's true that I feel like I'm taking a lot upon myself by travelling to New Zealand with two children. But on the plane from Auckland to Los Angeles, I saw a mother travelling with her FIVE children. Normally my response to that sight would be to exclaim "Sweet Jesus," except I think the woman was Muslim, so in her honor I will say "Sweet Allah" instead.

New Zealand, not Wisconsin

Also not Wisconsin

As hard as it is to believe, this is also not Wisconsin

Saturday, February 9, 2013

36 Hours in Paradise Remaining

With our return to Madison drawing near, the differences between Wisconsin and New Zealand seem bigger than ever. Here's a quick look at the differences between the two places:

Wisconsin: Go outside and you may die. It's that simple.
New Zealand: So beautiful that it is a continual struggle not for me to strip off every article of clothing and run around naked so as to expose the maximum amount of skin possible to the air.

Wisconsin: 40 minutes of getting wool socks, snow pants, boots, hats, mittens and coats on children.
New Zealand: You just...walk outside. Weird.

Wisconsin: About what you would picture given the fact that it gets dark at 2:30 in the afternoon and how poorly the Packers performed in the playoffs.
New Zealand: Also about what you would expect, given I have nothing I need to accomplish and can sit around throwing water balloons with the kids all day. And also it's 80 degrees.

Wisconsin: Yes, plenty.
New Zealand: Every goddamn thing in this country is bursting with life. Didn't you see Lord of the Rings? There was no dead grass in those movies, were there?

I know winter can be beautiful I'm it's own right, but I would prefer to admire it from a distance. A whole hemisphere of distance, if possible.

Here are two photos: See if you can guess which one is Wisconsin and which one is New Zealand. Blogger is being cranky and won't let me shrink the photos, so there's another big advantage to New Zealand: it's wider.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Aloha from New Zealand

Hi. I'm in New Zealand for two weeks with my kids, visiting my father who lives here. He is not originally from New Zealand, but married a New Zealand woman and they had the good sense to move down here. She died but he stuck around. The other thing you should know about my father is that he has early-onset Parkinson's Disease -- you know, the same thing that Michael J. Fox has, although unlike MJF, my father did not play an adorable young curmudgeon in a 1980s sitcom.

Can we all agree that Michael J. Fox is important enough that we can refer to him by his three-letter initials, like FDR and JFK?

I think a lot of Americans think of New Zealand as the land from The Lord of the Rings. And New Zealand has helped that association along with a big ad campaign encouraging people to "visit middle  earth," a campaign I find a bit ridiculous. The Tolkien-themed archway you have to walk through as you get off the plane in Auckland is just plain silly. And let's be honest, none of those nerdy elven-forged swords would make it through customs anyway.

So now that I've made my opinions totally clear, I want to show you the halfway clever safety video for Air New Zealand, which yes, okay, involves hobbits:

One of the great things about this video is that if you scroll down in the comments left on the YouTube page, you can see that one of the commenters complains (at length!) that Air New Zealand will not let men flying solo sit next to unaccompanied minors. I'm going to have to give that remark the gold medal of weird Internet comments. That is quite an accomplishment given the steep competition for that award.

Here's a photo of Stella in a New Zealand tree, practically indistinguishable from Galadriel, although my guess is that Galadriel doesn't roll her eyes when her mother yells at her for biting her little brother.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Grand Reopening

I am tentatively reopening Midwest Potato.

I shut down the blog a few months ago because David and I had a big fight. David thought I was being a jerk to him, both in real life and on line. I guess he didn't care for being likened to a sea slug, although in my defense I did call him a SEXY sea slug.

Since then, we have come to an agreement. As a compromise, he will not ever read Midwest Potato. and for my part, I will take care to liken him to more attractive invertebrates, like maybe nudibranches. Those are pretty, right?

Also I defriended David on Facebook. No doubt he is mourning seeing my pithy and insightful status updates, unless he hasn't even figured out we're not Facebook friends anymore. I'd put my money on the latter.

And big news: I'M IN NEW ZEALAND. See proof below. More on that soon.