Winter Doldrums

This is not a complaint, but with the brief exception of 5 minutes on Sunday we have not seen the sun in more than two weeks.  Those brief rips in the clouds at least were somewhat reassuring: the blue sky is still up there!

During January, we’ve had just about every lousy weather event possible: a 10-day temperature inversion that gave us polluted smog for the entire stretch of days (Utah holds the record for the worst air in the nation!  Lovely.); several snow storms of 5-8 inches; a miserable freezing rain storm that left 1/4″ of icy glaze everywhere; and don’t forget the two days of heavy pea-soup fog on top of the freezing rain.

We’ve been pretty much house-bound and Samson and Charlie are stricken with cabin fever as much as we are.  Samson, the cat, lies in wait for the dog and attacks him on purpose so Charlie will chase him down the hall and under a bed.  Or Samson will crouch on top of a table and fling himself on Charlie’s back.  I think it’s a game to see how long he can “ride” the dog!  As for Charlie, he thinks he wants to go out, but when the door is opened, he just looks in disgust at the snow-filled backyard (also his bathroom facilities).  When he does break down and head out into the drifts, it’s really pathetic.  He does enjoy playing in the snow, but one of us has to go out with him to throw the tennis balls, and none of us wants to don snow boots and winter gear to throw balls in 15″ of snow.  Obviously, the animals are bored.

In fact, it’s still flurrying now and is supposed to continue until this afternoon.  Lara has been shoveling the driveway and sidewalks daily.  Icicle removal is also necessary from the eaves over the front door, lest one come down and hit one of us in the head.  They’re huge, and have grown to mammoth lengths of 3′ or more.  Some icicles on buildings and porches have formed to the ground!

The Thursday ice storm was brutal as it’s dangerous, especially in a place where folks are used to fluffy, dry powder ski snow (Utah: Best snow on earth!).  They say it was a once in 25 years event and people just did not know how to handle it.  Schools were finally closed at the last minute (the storm had been forecast for several days), but kids were already getting ready for school.  In Salt Lake County, actually Salt Lake City, there were 240+ accidents alone.  I don’t know what the figure was for our county, but it was high everywhere.

It was still over-cast on Saturday, but we had a bit of a warm-up and the ice had melted, so Lara and I took a road trip to downtown Salt Lake City and the brand new Trader Joe’s store.  I guess everyone else had the same idea as the store was mobbed; a testament to either extreme boredom or its popularity, or both!  We spent over an hour there, drooling over products long dreamed about, but up to now, unavailable.  We stocked up on meal favorites and $180.00 later we drove the 40 minutes home with satisfied smiles on our faces.

Tried to get into February unscathed and in one piece, but yesterday I got a phone call that my artist friend from church, who had been dealing with the ravages of cancer–Pat put up a dignified, joyous-to-the-end fight!–had put down her burden and peacefully passed away.  And so, with the world wrapped in a blanket of snow I say my good-byes to her and to January, which will soon come to an end as well.

February, with its promise of hearts and love, has to be better….

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Published in: on January 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Help! My Oxen Are Stuck in Deep Snow!

It’s about 6:30 AM and I just woke with a start: Yikes!  I totally blew past my usual Tuesday/Wednesday blog posting deadline.  Talk about a brain freeze!  Thank heavens I have a posting ready to go.  It’s the piece I wrote for this week’s Islander on snow management before huge snowplows and bags of snow melt.  Actually, it’s not as dry as you might think!

Help!  My Oxen Are Stuck in Deep Snow!

We just have to look out our windows to see the snow currently piled up and covering everything.  Town ordinances expect homeowners to clear sidewalks within 24 hours or they risk a fine.  Ditto for leaving a car on the street to impede a snowplow.  Ever since cars became common over a century ago, their rubber tires required a different solution to snow management and removal on streets.  Snowplows were a must to clear streets to reduce accidents and so cars could move again.  It was all about getting back to daily life and business as quickly as possible.  Safety concerns appeared with growing populations who needed access to navigable sidewalks; people were quick to threaten a lawsuit if they slipped on an icy or unshoveled walkway. We complain about the poorly plowed roads and icy steps and sidewalks, but imagine how much more challenging it must have been for the early settlers after a heavy snowfall or blizzard.

Did you ever wonder how the locals handled major snowstorms in the “good old days”?  Surely Syracuse, Clearfield, Layton, and the other nearby communities got hit with deep snow.  How did the locals get around if they had to?  With no mechanized snowplows, whatever did they do?

Well, in the early days of pioneer life in the valley, probably not much beyond what a stable mucking shovel could accomplish.  If you had to go out–say to the barn–you struggled through the deep snow. If you owned farm animals and protected them in the barn during bad weather, they still had to be fed and cared for. Getting to the barn could be a challenge, so often a farmer would string a rope from the barn to his house so he could find his way out and back through the deep snow. You might also rely on your horses or oxen to trample paths in the snow.  You probably hoped for an early spring, even though the ground would then turn to mud.

In winter, if you had to get anywhere that was at a distance, instead of your wagon, as thin wagon wheels would prove useless navigating a snow bank, if you were lucky enough to own one, you turned to a sleigh with metal runners.  Now, you could hitch your horse or horses up to the sleigh and take a short-cut across fields; you weren’t obligated to stick to the roads.

By the early 1800s, snowy regions on the east coast, like New England, had developed large machines to assist with snow management, so techniques were known to the pioneers who came west.  In Maine, snow rollers were built and could operate with as few as two horses or up to a team of eight.  Depending on the style, the driver would sit on a bench either behind or in front of the huge wooden slat roller.  Instead of removing the snow, it was packed down with each successive snowfall, maintaining as smooth a thoroughfare as possible for wagons and sleighs, as well as pedestrians.  The only problem with this technique is that the snow and ice would be so firmly packed that come spring, dynamite would often have to be used to break up several feet of solid ice on the road.

Snow roller in action.

Snow roller in action.

The next generation of snow management machines were coal-powered steam snowplows.  Blacksmith shops were kept busy forging the wheels, rods, and oversized plow blades that were attached to the front end.  This method partially solved the problem of thick ice build-up on the streets.

Of course, in rural Utah, it is doubtful that these “modern,” expensive machines were available to our forebears.  Sometimes, snow fences would be erected to help keep blowing and drifting field snow from building up on the main road.  In some parts of the west, snow fences are still employed, so they remain useful.

We really have nothing to complain about!  Our parking lot is plowed and we’d love to see visitors, so “wade” through the snow and come in to the cozy and warm Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center on one of these cold winter days.

Published in: on January 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm  Comments (2)  

Final Thoughts on 2012 and Ruminations on Volunteering

Late last year I typed up 2 newsworthy events from the church I attend out here in Utah to share at some point.  Then the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut happened and I simply posted a picture of a weeping angel with a short caption.  Then along came Christmas and New Year’s and I never found the right time to share the rapidly aging news with my few readers.  As do many of my posts, this appeared pretty much as you see it as an article in the Islander, as they were kind enough to print it.  It now serves as an introduction to Lincoln Elementary School, where I am one of the reading tutors mentioned in the article.  And actually, fallout from the Newton shooting and what I have observed as a reading tutor dovetails.

I work with a particular 1st grade class each Thursday morning for an hour.  I am one of many who give of their time each day in quite a few of the classes there.  And Lincoln Elementary is not unique in this regard.  Lincoln, however, is classified as a Title I school, meaning it serves lower socio-economic families and is part of the free federal school breakfast and lunch program for the students who qualify.  After the school shooting, I looked around and realized that most schools are vulnerable.  The classroom where I tutor is one of 3 at the end of a hall and are near a secluded exit door that (even though I’m sure it’s locked), could easily be breached from the 0utside with little effort, and we are 3 long hallway turns from the main office.  After the shooting, I recall seeing a news clip about a Utah company (and I’m sure there are others) who makes bullet-proof material for lining vests for police officers, etc.  They were demonstrating how protective their product would be if kids’ backpacks were lined with the material.  All well and good, but as I sat at the tutors’ table just outside the classroom door, what did I see but all the kids’ backpacks stored for the school day in bins or hanging on hooks with their coats.  That idea has flaws unless the kids wear the backpacks the entire day, just in case.  And wouldn’t they need one for the front, too?  This is what one (at least I do) ponders volunteering in an elementary school….

Anyway, here’s the article.

Clearfield Church Involved in Local and Global Ministries

You don’t have to be a big church with hundreds of members to make a difference.  Following its “Spirit Inspired Service” calling, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 1579 South State St., Clearfield has recently spearheaded major contributions to a local school and a global outreach ministry, the Wine to Water Project, which provides clean drinking water in third world countries.

St. Peter’s has been partnering with Lincoln Elementary School, Layton, for about five years to help support education and related needs.  This outreach ministry is all due to one of our members who works there as a reading tutor, Shirley Williams.  Some of our members are now volunteer reading tutors; we also provide school supplies, backpacks, library books, clothing, shoes, and food items each school year.  This past summer, our Priest-in-charge, Rev. Claudia Seiter, and her husband, David, were attending a family wedding in Ohio.  While chatting with family members, David mentioned our outreach ministry at Lincoln Elementary.  Recently, and quite unexpectedly, his brother, Mark Seiter and sister-in-law, who reside in Cincinnati, Ohio, sent a surprise donation check for Lincoln Elementary in the amount of $2000, to be used for the children.  Sometimes when you cast ideas out, they do return ten-fold!  The check was officially presented to a delighted Lincoln Elementary School Principal Chris Whitaker on November 12, 2012.

Shirley Williams (right) presents the Seiter’s check to Lincoln Principal, Chris Whitaker.

In fact, the outreach ministry with Lincoln Elementary was shared in a the mid-summer issue of Trinity Church News, a national publication based in New York City.  In an article highlighting direct connections between parishes and community schools in the US, the work of St. Peter’s was recognized in the state of Utah.

St. Peter’s also welcomed Diocesan Bishop The Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi on his annual parish visit on Nov. 11. 2012 and to mark the occasion raised $1100 to contribute in his name to the Wine to Water Project. This project, supported by the National Episcopal Church helps provide clean drinking water to villages, schools and clinics in the form of drilling wells and supplying filtration units for countries with compromised water systems. Since each well costs $500, our parish will be able to provide 2 wells for villages in Cambodia and several filtration units for clinics and schools in Haiti and Uganda.

We may be a smaller church, but we have a big heart.

I then included our location, contact information and service times.  There are still good people in this world.

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Getting Back to the Routine

The new year, 2013, has begun and it sure feels good to sweep out the old and set the course for the next 12 months.  The Christmas decorations are down and away and snow covers the ground from the top of the Wasatch Front Mountains to the shores of the Great Salt Lake; Antelope Island is completely swathed in white, like a giant ghostly galleon floating on the lake.  It’s been really cold, and since the storm that brought us the blanket, we’ve been struggling with a temperature inversion which keeps the smog and air pollutants (from car exhaust and wood fires to heat homes) at ground level.  Sometimes we can’t see the mountains!  It will take another storm to scrub the atmosphere, break it up, and send it elsewhere.  They’re predicting a good snowfall for Thursday–we’ll see….

The family is back to their karate lessons and a belt test is coming up in early February, so there’s lots of activity to get ready for that.  If Ethan passes, he’ll move into the adult classes and get his solid yellow belt.  His parents should move up one rank and get their blue and purple belts.

The cat and dog are establishing a truce and Charlie only chases Samson now and then, and only after Samson ambushes the dog.

Today, after a 2-month hiatus, the Syracuse Museum held its first board meeting of the new year.  Remember that blog posting on the wrecked tractor last fall?  What a blessing in disguise!!!  We received a hefty insurance check to cover the loss, and we also were given a replacement tractor by a generous donor.  So, we voted to purchase a covered pioneer wagon to also display outside.  We have to ship it in from South Dakota.  We also qualify for a grant for landscaping near the new wagon, so we may come out ahead!!!  Funny how things work.

As part of getting back to the routine, a history article deadline was on January 3rd, for this week’s issue.  I had planned ahead and taken a photo of something in the museum to write about that would tie into the month, and so the following essay was created on the museum’s rather seductive red sequin evening gown on display (You know, something to wear for New Year’s Eve, circa 1953.)  Enjoy learning about sequins.

Ringing in the New Year, Stylishly

So, what were you wearing on New Year’s Eve as you partied or celebrated?  I’ll bet few of you men donned a tux and the same for ladies; how many glammed up in an evening gown?

The good old formal days of ushering out the old and ringing in the new–where Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians Orchestra played cherished dance band tunes at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel Ballroom in New York City for a roomful of staid guests dressed to the nines–are long gone  (For those who remember, Lombardo’s last appearance with the orchestra was when 1976 turned to 1977.)  Celebrations have converted to casual parties or outdoor events, replete with fireworks and masses of shivering, bundled-up throngs.

But in the glamor days, formal attire was de rigueur and if you were headed out for the night, especially on New Year’s Eve, evening gowns and tuxedos were what you wore.  And in the 1950s and 1960s when the style of Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, and Ava Gabor was influencing fashion, a sequined gown–and strapless if you dared–was the fashion item to own and flaunt.

A red sequined gown was particularly ravishing and would certainly make a statement when you entered the room, especially on the arm of a handsome escort in a black tux.

Red sequined gown a la Hollywood, 1950s.

Red sequined gown a la Hollywood, 1950s.

All this causes me to wonder where sequins got their start, as they certainly have endured as embellishments of choice over the decades.  Apparently, mostly for royalty, thin sheets of gold were hammered out and discs were cut and sewed onto apparel, to supply that regal glint, especially in bright sunlight.  Common folk soon copied the style with what they could repurpose: gold coins.  This had a dual attraction: accessorization and showing off a family’s wealth.  Think bride’s necklaces, earrings, and belts in some traditional cultures.

So gold, and perhaps silver and copper, were the colors available for sequins.  That is, until plastic came along and, voila!, one could now find sequins in every color under the sun.  Fashion designers celebrated and starlets everywhere rejoiced.  Simple round shapes, what we generally think of when sequins are discussed, expanded to include ovals, shell shapes, and other geometric forms.  Now, everyone could indulge in the luxe look of Hollywood glamor.  The decades of the mid-20th century are a-glitter with vintage gowns and sweaters decorated with hand-sewn on sequins.  And now it seems these baubles are making a comeback, so keep your eye out on Golden Globe and Oscar nights to see who is wearing a sequin-decorated designer gown.

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center owns one of these beauties and it’s on display.  Start 2013 in style and stop by to see our red sequined gown and other vintage gems in our costume collection.  We even have a bureau full of hats to try on.  What a fun thing for a mother and daughter to do!

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on January 8, 2013 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment