Round 2: Winter Wins

Okay, round 2 of snow in one week is unusual for Kansas City, especially in the amount of snowfall we have seen. Never again will I say out loud “I think we are done with snow for the year.” Because after the simple phrase was uttered from my mouth, nearly 2 feet fell, multiplying snowfall totals for Kansas City’s winter.

Monday night we were buzzed about when the storm should come and how much more could it really snow after last week. When I went to sleep there was only a few flurries and when I woke up it was white out conditions and another 10 inches of accumulation. The street in front and on the side of the house only had a few tire tracks, signaling most of the city rightfully opted to stay in for the day.

05In our backyard a tree branch had fallen square on my daughter’s play house/slide and tore down phone lines with it. I feared they were power lines and quickly text my neighbor where the lines connected to ensure she had power. She told me her land-line phone was not working and her cable was cutting in and out. We made mention of the downed lines to the online city reports, though it’s unlikely we will see anyone out to fix it soon as there are still so many more people without power in the city.

This round of snow was heavier and more hazardous than last week’s due to the weight and wetness. It clung to the trees, sagged branches to the ground and snapped limbs over cars, houses and power lines. Roofs even collapsed from the volume of snow it was unable to withstand. This snow would have been much better for snowball, snowmen and forts too except I couldn’t convince anyone to come out and play with me.

I spent about four hours off and on throughout the morning shoveling my driveway, my deck and my neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk – it’s only fair since it was our tree to knock out her cable and phone, right? In breaks I would go into the house and plead with my two-year old to put on some snow pants and come play. She adamantly said no and I would go back outside again, hoping she would change her mind and want to come along. One time I even tried to force her into her winter attire which only caused a two-year-old fit and mommy failure.

My husband, also home for snow day, stationed our toddler at an open window in the living room. She stood on a chair supervising my shoveling job and jabbered to me loud enough for our whole block to hear. She had enormous burst of laughter when my snow balls hit the screen for her entertainment. And she called “where’s Harper?” to alert me when my only snow pal pup ventured too far from the yard so together we whistled for him to come back.

03By the afternoon my body was exhausted and I couldn’t wait to nap along with my toddler. While she got a solid two and half hour nap I laid in bed where I could view the intersection outside my window. After only moments of relaxation I watched a car attempt to turn the corner and quickly halted in the deep ridges where only trucks and SUV’s had been able to pass before. Two passengers got out of the car laughing at their situation and tried to push forward and back, it was quite obvious with the spinning wheels and ammeter effort, neither the driver or passengers had been through conditions like this before. I went outside and offered my shovel then went to get my coat and helped push the vehicle on wards.

Further interrupting my nap, not long after, I noticed yet another car begin to drive down the same way as the other car and then reverse back to the intersection to get stuck. For a brief moment I wondered if maybe I should just shut my blinds and get some rest, until I noticed this was an older gentleman with no passengers so I went to get my coat. By the time I reached him an unmarked white truck with a plow on the front happened to arrive also except in his efforts to shovel a path for the man’s car he also got stuck. I provided the man with the truck with my shovel and while he freed his truck he explained he was only in the neighborhood to get to his son, I assumed maybe he plowed parking lots or private drives and did not work for the city. The older man explained he usually didn’t come down these roads and his usual street was blocked by a downed tree. He had to reverse back through the tracks to the intersection because another car was stuck and blocking his path further down the street. 04

Quickly everyone was back to moving and getting to where they needed to go, except the white truck with the plow I kept seeing after this. This generous individual might have made his way to see his son, then continued to drive through the neighborhood with his plow down to clear safe paths and intersections. I felt like cheering, hugging and telling everyone in the neighborhood what this kind stranger had done for us. After living in this home for four years I understand our neighborhood streets don’t see city plows for days after a storm, so this random act of kindness meant a lot to me and made an immeasurable positive impact on my neighborhood’s ability to commute safely.

With the streets cleared and the city resuming to normal, there is still some anticipation of conditions being treacherous as the snow melts and refreezes. And until my yard is a muddy mess of melted precipitation, I will enjoy the beauty of the snow-covered trees.

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When It Rains – It Floods

The following is an account of an event from exactly five years ago today during my journey to India.  Since the anniversary of the start of the trip I have been posting stories from this adventure, this is the sixth.  I understood Kolkata would be unique from anything I had ever experienced, different language, culture, traditions, food, clothing etc.  There were also other surprises I never anticipated and Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 presented one of those shocks.

I awoke to heavy rain and crashing thunder that morning, it was close to monsoon season although we thought we would be returning home before it started.  My usual routine would be to head down to breakfast with which ever travel buddies happened to be hungry and was startled to peer over the balcony.  What was, the day prior, our floral sanctuary of a courtyard was now a swamp of dark dirty water.  Going down the stairs to the ground level I wondered if my eggs and warm cereal were even worth the effort on this day.  I waded through shin deep water to step up to the cafeteria area and reach my friends.

 

As an assignment for the program I was reading May You Be The Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elisabeth Bumiller.  In it she describes the flooding on the streets during the monsoons.  Naively I assumed since the book was published in 1991, drainage systems would have corrected the problem.  Wow, was I wrong.

Days before this Jesi, Natalie and I set appointments for the morning to get massages as it was a day off of classes, and we were encouraged by our instructor to try out the Indian style of massage.  We wondered whether everything would be closed down anyway.  We were assured cabs continue to run and businesses stay open today.  Following breakfast we began the trek out to the main street, the usually noisy and bustling traffic had slowed to only the larger vehicles to manage the dingy water.  Shortly after leaving the gates of the Ramakrishna Mission I chickened out.  Considering how dark the water was and knowing the condition of the sidewalk to not being able to watch my step I knew I would be clumsy.  Further, having observed for weeks trash, human and animal waste all over the streets of Kolkata and then feeling things brush up against my legs in the water I couldn’t see…  the princess in me had to run back up to my room and immediately shower.  

By the evening the flooding had resided and while the streets were wet, water was not standing everywhere.  At yoga some of the local women informed us the flooding is normal.  They stated later in the monsoon season it will sometimes rain like it had that morning and continue for three days.  When it peaks all traffic stops and including trains and planes.

It was shocking to witness a whole city underwater and to think at a fairly regular rate in the summer time the whole population grinds to a stop to wait for the water to reside.  Maybe it’s the equivalent to when Kansas City has a blizzard or an ice storm and waits for the plows to clear or precipitation to melt.  The difference between Kolkata and Kansas City when it comes to natures interference is the number of individuals without appropriate shelter.  

I was privileged on June 13, 2007 to escape the waters to an air-conditioned third story room.  I wondered where everyone else went though?  Where do the families who live on the streets go when it floods?  What does the already impoverished conditions of the slums look like with tainted liquid?  How many people have to sit and wait it out with their feet soaked in the standing water I was scared of being in?

While I can’t repair the drainage for the Kolkata, at least I can be more patient when nature interferes with my plans at home.  Remembering most importantly: I am safe and it will pass.

On a somewhat humorous note, Natalie and Jesi did brave the conditions to attend their massage appointment the morning of the flooding.  Two days afterwards both girls had rashes covering their bodies, mostly their legs.  Natalie and Jesi continually checked  their skin for improvements and frequently found it to be spreading more.  They resorted to calling it their scabies and were thankful when it eventually went away later in the week.  Exactly what it was or what caused the rash is unknown.  We assumed it was probably a reaction to the tables or oil at the massage place.  Whatever it was, I was happy I chose not to go.

 

India – Maintaining Sanity

This is the third post regarding my travels to West Bengal five years ago.  I am pleased to be submerging myself in photographs, writings and videos I captured while I was there as well as revisiting and viewing new literature, movies and other media related to India.  Ultimately, the country is so big, the regions vary greatly and the population is huge… my perception cannot be taken for truth.  However, I do feel an obligation to share my experience as India has influenced my life so greatly.

My last posting about India related to the traffic and while I did my best to paint the picture of chaos it is something you cannot imagine until you are in the middle of it.  Beyond the traffic there is the confusion of poverty and wealth, beauty and disgust, enlightening ideas and pure nonsense everywhere I turned, then heat – heat – heat over it all.  I was over stimulated with new sights, sounds and smells, and disturbed by contrasting values and foreign systems.

My sanity – besides having seven new friends who related to my dismay – lay in the accommodations we stayed in throughout our trip.  The Ramakrishna Mission near Gol Park was my oasis.  It was my safety and quiet from the perplexity which existed outside those walls.  The entrance on a side street took you into a courtyard where the walls became a barrier to the honking craziness.  The energy of anxiety melted into a calm entering through the gate.  The courtyard was filled with flowers and the occasional kitten with her momma.  The evening chants and bells were a peaceful reminder to slow down and take the whole experience in.  The pots planted on our first day contained sunflowers, the Kansas state flower, feeling like an welcoming home.

Our rooms were modest, two roommates sharing twin beds.  Our bathrooms had real toilets and while our showers didn’t get hot water, wouldn’t have wanted a hot shower in the heat anyways.  There were days I showered 3 times do to perspiration.  Making friends with some Australian girls we learned not all of the rooms at the RKM had air-conditioning, I was beyond thankful we did.

We ate most of our meals in the dining room at the RKM, it was all traditional Indian food with some options at every meal.  For breakfast, as one of my travel mates recently reminded me, we ate cereal flakes with warm milk and eggs cooked to order.  Our stomachs quickly grew sick of the foreign meals so we attempted to consume as much yogurt as possible to try to calm this.  The yogurt was served plain with the clear liquid, most of us added four and five spoonfuls of sugar in to make it edible to our pallets.  At dinner our plates would arrive with three or four separate piles of food items with rice and naan on the side.   The entire month I had no idea what I was consuming other than knowing it was the vegan option.  Vegetables never looked familiar and even when my instructor put names to what I was eating, I never seemed to retain the words.

The very best food from the RKM kitchen was when they offered mangoes.  The mangoes were the freshest, sweetest and most juicy mangoes I had ever tasted, even to this day.  Now I am not sure if they were that good because they are the best mangoes in the world, or if it was simply because I was so in desperate need of something sweet, slightly familiar and not tainted with Indian spices.

At risk of being called a sheltered Midwestern/American girl… I needed quiet, inviting flowers and air-conditioned evenings with occasional mango slices in my yogurt to maintain my sanity during my month in India and the Ramakrishna Mission was just that kind of place.

 

A not so great reminder of why living in the mid-west is GREAT.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the “silver lining” when the clouds continually present themselves.  I decided to create my own meaning for a few could-have-been-disasterous events which have happened recently.  And I relate this meaning to reminding myself why I love living in the mid-west.

Earlier this month my family and I were riding back to Kansas City through the scenic Flint Hills.  We decided to get an early start on the travel home so that we would have some relaxation time when we got there, turns out we needed that relaxation time for a major hiccup in our plans.  Less than thirty minutes into our journey my husband had to pull to the side of the road as the driver’s side front tire deflated.

Together we maneuvered our 2 dogs, yes our whole family was in the vehicle, from the back to the front in order to get to the spare.  Unfortunately, we lacked the key needed to remove the flat tire from the car.  Standing dumbfounded on the side of the interstate with the Acura manual open, a truck pulled up behind us.  A gentleman from a small town, also headed east for a meeting the next day, offered to help us.  He was off duty and employed by the department of transportation.  After figuring out there was nothing we could do to change to the spare without the key the gentleman took my husband into the nearest town to find a way to rectify our situation.

My toddler loved the opportunity to play around in the front seat as we waited for their return.  She bounced around smiling, turning the stereo up and down dancing, and pretending to steer the wheel.  Luckily the weather was perfect to have the windows down and feel a cool breeze.  I made a conscious effort not to look at the time, as I knew it would make the minutes cooped up in the car on the interstate progress in slow motion.

Her entertainment distracted me from two other vehicles who separately pulled up behind us to check on our wellness.  I was surprised each time to see a friendly smile appear at the window asking if we were okay.  Living in the mid-west where it is not out of the ordinary for people to go out of their way to help each other, it still seemed extraordinary that we would have so many generous offers for help.  I believe the larger of my protective guard dogs sensed the sincerity in their offers since he did not bark at the strangers.  In fact, the only noise he made was growling at the curious herd of cows coming to the fence to inspect our situation.

During the time my husband was away, a third car pulled up making that four individuals stopping all together.  This time it was a highway patrol officer and after hearing our situation put his lights on behind us and stayed until their return.  The officer eventually assisted us in calling a tow-truck as we discovered there was no way to unlock the tire and put on the spare.  Despite being irritated from our derailed trip home, my husband and I enjoyed the conversations with the tow-truck driver and highway patrol man as they brought us into town.  The Manhattan Wreckers driver and I discussed my afternoon on the highway and the unexpected offers of help I received.  He recalled his experience with the tornado that came through town three years ago and how members of the community chipped in to ensure everyone was taken care of.  

My poor dogs were stressed enough from the days events and finally we were at the brink of getting new tires and ready to head home.  Another saving grace to the day happened to be friends in town who picked up our pets to give them a break from being in the car and some time to play in a backyard.  We are forever, and repeatedly indebted to the Schottlers, for everything they do for us!

Eventually we made it home tired and safe, adding about 7 hours to what we anticipated it would take for our ride home.  The car had a full set of new tires and drove smooth again.

Exactly nine days later, in our other vehicle, I was again on I-70 when I felt the same feeling of the tire deflating.  “CRAP – How could this happen again?” I thought as I pulled to the side of the interstate.  Determined to be an independent woman and put the spare on all by lonesome, my aspirations were squashed when I couldn’t event figure out how to get the jack to loosen from the side compartment in the trunk.  

Midwest generosity to the rescue again…  A friendly stranger happened to stop behind me to check his own equipment at first and when he realized I was in need of help set aside his own priorities to make sure I was taken care of.  While initially I asked for help loosening the jack, he insisted on completing the whole job.  While he cranked the car up he told me about the grinder he had just purchased and the inventions he had made and sold.  I got a lesson in recycling carpet for plastics and oil, more importantly I received a lesson in going out of my way for others in need.

While I may not be of much assistance pulling over to help someone with a flat tire, there has to be more ways I can pay it forward in order to repay the individuals who have helped me.  These two incidences of flat tires in such a short period of time initially had me irritated and wondering why I had such negative karma being delivered to me.  After the bitterness settled, these situations reinforced my faith in the people living in the community around me.  It is nice to know I’m not all alone when I need help.  Despite the craziness of the world there are good people who do good things with no expectations of a return on their investment.