Winter 2015 The NNY Life

Take a deep breath, it’s just  another north country winter

By Katie Stokes

Columnist, Katie Stokes

Columnist, Katie Stokes

A few weeks ago when the 2015 “Snowmageddon” was barreling toward New York City, I had to do a double take when I saw people were fleeing their burroughs because it was predicted that the city could get up to two feet of snow.

OK, I thought. Do not do this. Do not get all judgmental about the snow. I have managed to avoid smarminess about other regions’ ideas of “cold” and “snowy” for years. I’ve experienced the misery of two weeks without power because of a scrim of ice accumulation in rural Oklahoma. I know we Northern New Yorkers live on a whole different level of winter emergency preparedness, because we have to.

I thought of my young cousin, who lives in Brooklyn, and I thought of the fact that she does not have a garage-warmed vehicle to drive to work, and that she must walk or take public transportation everywhere.

I thought of the homeless population that would be crowding into shelters, of the stories we’d hear on the news — a person who was caught, somehow, in a strange place, like an ATM vestibule, when the power went out, and how that person was stranded for, I don’t know, minutes before someone helped them.

It didn’t work. I was judging and judging and judging.

Winters in the north country don’t just suck sometimes. We actually batten down the hatches because snowstorms on the scale of blizzards hit us. Winters here stink on a whole different kind of scale where the standard definition of blizzard doesn’t even apply. I mean, if we used the term blizzard for every heavy snowfall or sustained wind that carried lake-effect snow, the word just wouldn’t have any meaning anymore.

We could probably get away with coming up with new words to describe our lake-effect blizzards. Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, why can’t we invent some new ways to express the humdrum horror of living with the results of weather patterns in the Bermuda Triangle of winter?

I guess the reason the “blizzard” hype annoyed me so much this time around is because, with our second humdinger of a winter in two years only half over, I’ve noticed the once-positively woolen fabric of my patience with the lack of family opportunities in this community getting incredibly threadbare. I’ve made so much of my own sunshine that I’ve whittled myself down to a white dwarf.

The way I see it, Northern New York culture is built around its truly inspiring summers, and our capacity to endure some of the worst winters in the world so we can get to enjoy some of the best summers in the world.

But did you ever wonder if those June-through-October months feel like such a euphoric rush only because our way of enduring winter is just too stoic? Winters here are the WORST. This is not hyperbole. WE LAUGH AT PEOPLE WHO ARE AFRAID OF BLIZZARDS.

The toughness we cultivate by living in such a bleak environment is valuable, certainly. That “can-do” attitude is something that will take each of us quite far in pretty much any aspect of life. In fact, resilience, a parenting buzzword for 2015, by the way, is something everyone in my generation could use more of.

My question is when does “put our heads down and deal” stop being resilience, and start being denial?

There’s nothing we can do about the weather, but there is something we can do about the way we live through it. Consider how blissful life could be if we found a way to make January through May a little less bleak.

There are more restaurants and bars per capita here than in most cities this size, but for the size of our local population, there are far too few places for a family of four to recreate indoors on a frigid or rainy day. I don’t want anymore LOOK HOW AMAZING AND TOUGH WE ARE. I want something to do with my young children when it’s 20 degrees below zero and we literally cannot go outdoors for more than a few minutes. No, really, we’ve tried. Let’s just say I have a superb understanding of what frostbite actually looks like and how difficult it really is to get when you’re paying attention.

I’ve been sometimes patiently waiting for the communities in this region to do something about this for nearly 15 years. But after this second batch of weekly “blizzards,” it’s become more than a little irritating that not only are we stuck inside — we’re stuck inside our house.

If you, like some local leaders I’ve spoken with about this, think there is not a market for a new, clean, well-run indoor recreation business like a trampoline park, a small indoor water park, or a recreational rock-climbing facility, I would like to invite you to go to your local McDonald’s PlayPlace on a cold or rainy day and try to find a spot to eat your McNuggets.

Indoor recreation is a need that is not being seriously addressed. Aside from updating the City of Watertown’s ice arena — bravo Watertown, it’s certainly time —there have been no significant investments in a place for kids and families to MOVE in the winter.

We’ve figured out how to get to work in winter. It’s time to figure out how to get happy in winter.

Katie Stokes is an Oklahoma native who has called Northern New York home for more than a decade. She is a freelance writer and blogger and the mother of two children, Diva and Hunk. She and her husband are raising their children in Hounsfield. Visit her blog at www.NNYLife.com. Her column appears in every issue of NNY Living.

Break the silence: Seek out options to treat depression

Katie Stokes

Katie Stokes

I’ve suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder every winter since I moved to Northern New York. Because I figured out pretty quickly that I can’t just hibernate and cry all winter, I actively seek out methods to curb my depression well before it gets to the point of crisis. [Read more...]

Long car rides with kids require creative strategies

Katie Stokes

Katie Stokes

Last year, my family and I met up with my sister and her family in Indianapolis, a midway point between Northern New York and Oklahoma. We rented a house and cooked our own turkey dinner with groceries we brought from our own homes.

But to get there, we had to first endure a 14-hour cross-country road trip. My kids were three and six, and inexperienced at sitting for long intervals in a car. We’ve flown many, many times, but the thought of having them strapped in for longer than the hour ride to Syracuse, or even the nearly three-hour trip to Rochester, was intimidating.

As is my way, I fretted and planned for several weeks before the road trip. I read articles and blogs for tips, downloaded books and games on our Kindle, rented DVDs and audiobook CDs from the library, created an entire Pinterest board of ideas on how to keep young kids occupied during the 14-hour trip and assembled personalized binders for the kids with age-appropriate printable games, coloring sheets and puzzles. [Read more...]

For most Okies, tornadoes are just part of being home

Katie Stokes

My daughter and I were visiting my family in Oklahoma in May when those tornadoes went through the state.

Were we hurt? Not a bit. Were we scared? Uh, you know the expletive I want to write here. Diva and I — along with my Oklahoma family — had a close shave with a storm that could have produced a tornado basically within spitting distance of my parents’ house at the same time the city of Moore was getting clobbered just north of us.

When I told folks here in Watertown that I was visiting my home state during one of the most violent tornado outbreaks in history, I was shocked by how many times I heard: “Who would live there?”

Let me try to answer that, starting with this tidbit: what happened in May was completely unprecedented. The scale of those storms was unprecedented. The fact that there were three deadly category EF3 to category EF5 tornadoes within the same month was unprecedented. These storms were not only measured by how fast the wind was churning, but also their miles-long width. The storm that killed the National Geographic storm chasers may have been two miles wide. That just isn’t something that has happened very often. Or ever. Unless that’s what killed the dinosaurs. [Read more...]

Yes, Diva, they do have birthday cards in heaven

Katie Stokes

This spring we suffered a Stokes family first: a death in the family. We had to euthanize our beloved 11-year-old standard poodle, Sophie, just a week before what would have been her 12th Easter.

I found Sophie listed as “Free Standard Poodle Puppy” in a March 2002 Watertown Daily Times classified ad. I didn’t just rescue Sophie from a flea-infested house in Theresa, I adopted her in every sense of the word. Our Christmas cards bore her picture. She shared our bed. She had her own couch. For all intents and purposes, Sophie was my first child. [Read more...]

If you build it, would they really come to use it?

Katie Stokes

Recently, I posed this question to NNY Life Facebook page fans: “In a perfect world, where we all had unlimited financial resources, what would you build to improve the Watertown area and why?”

That simple question drew nearly 1,000 views and more than 40 responses within three hours during the middle of the day in the last half of a work week. In short, people are interested in the topic. [Read more...]

Peeling back the curtain takes a very gentle hand

Katie Stokes

My daughter and I went with friends recently to see a “Disney on Ice” performance in Syracuse. It was wonderful, as you can expect from pretty much anything Disney. But, as with many things these days that have to do with delighting my children, being surrounded by happy kids made me inexplicably sad, too. [Read more...]

While bittersweet, moms grow up with kids, too

Katie Stokes

It’s such a cliché, but where has the time gone? My babies are no longer really babies and, because we’re planning on sticking with the “two-kid plan,” I find that we are aging out of things that were once daily, integral parts of our lives.

[Read more...]

Create your own north country family traditions

It was somewhere between jotting “tablecloth” and “koozies” on this year’s Old Forge Enchanted Forest trip packing list that I knew we had perfected that particular annual family outing.

Each year since we started taking the kids on an annual trip to Enchanted Forest, I’ve culled new tidbits from other water park-goers that I shaped into this year’s ultimate — or over the top, depending on whether you ask my husband or me — Enchanted Forest packing list. After three years and three attempts, I got it right: we got there early on a Friday morning and had our pick of my pre-screened shaded spots. We ate a picnic lunch under shade trees on a blue-and-white cotton table cloth. I remembered the right number of plates, napkins and utensils. I even packed a couple of ice-cold beers for mommy and daddy to enjoy right before leaving the park for the day to head over to our hotel across the street. Perfect day. All around.

[Read more...]

Like high-plains weather, parenting delivers surprises

Having grown up in Oklahoma, I’ve been through my fair share of nature-related close calls: thunder loud enough to make my ears pop; lightning bright enough to make me believe the world was being sucked up into heaven; hail that left pock-marks deep enough to stop a billiard ball from rolling down the hood of my car. I even saw a tornado up close once. The panic it induced was so wretched and thick, I glanced at the dancing tendril only long enough to get the impression that it was really, truly there before I peeled off in the other direction in my hail-ruined Toyota. Never could I have guessed that a life spent with the imminent threat of tornadoes would prepare me in any way for parenting. But, in certain situations, parenting and life in “Tornado Alley” have at least two things in common: terror and luck.

[Read more...]