Brain freeze

Most people are familiar with “brain freeze“, that incredibly painful headache which occurs after ingesting ice cream or some other very cold foodstuff or beverage. The frequent and sharp cold snaps in this area are causing brain freeze of a different kind. People get headaches when they see the upcoming weather forecasts, or hear the incessant grumbling about the cold, and then their brains “freeze” or go numb to better cope. Cabin fever is nearly at pandemic levels. Some of the luckier souls booked flights to warmer areas. Those left to brave the arctic blasts piled on extra clothes and extra portions at meal time.

It gets cold in the upper Midwest during winter. Minnesota does not have a monopoly on mind-boggling and face-numbing wind chills, but for the past week, most of the coldest air keeps finding its way here. The East Coast is getting the brunt of the snow, but we’re taking on the cold. For example, Lucy’s hometown of Embarrass registered -41°F yesterday morning. About an hour later, Cotton reported -42°F. Those readings were air temperature, not wind chill. When it gets that cold, a barely perceptible breeze creates about ten extra degrees of wind chill cooling.

Some species, most famously bears, hibernate when it gets cold, but not all creatures have that luxury. Even though it was -12°F yesterday morning, a fox and a rabbit playing out the ancient saga of hunter and hunted created a ruckus audible inside the house. After a few seconds of zig zagging though the backyard and kicking up snow plumes, both parties exited the property by slipping through the three-inch gap between the gate and the gate post at full speed, though it appeared the rabbit did have a fraction of a second advantage. That meant the fox probably did not get dinner and a fur stole for its efforts. By noon the temperature rose above zero and a few squirrels ventured out looking to add to their larders. Chickadees and cardinals flitted about looking for a meal and a mate. Apparently, hunger and hormones clear brain freeze quickly.

For humans, not so much: I wish I had a nickel for every time I saw someone dressed in a parka, shorts and sandals yesterday afternoon. Most of the sightings were near the University of Minnesota campus, which is probably not the best advertising for its undergraduate and graduate education programs. Acts of defiance are effective only with proper forethought and belief conviction. Risking frostbite while auditioning for the Darwin Awards while hoping it goes viral on the social medium du jour merely proves cognitive dissonance.

If the number of vehicles dropping through the ice on lakes statewide is any indication, spring is on its way. The days are getting longer, the intense cold snaps are not lasting as long, and baseball spring training games start in under two weeks. Hope springs eternal, if you will pardon my pun. My management training included hearing the truism “hope is not a strategy” ad nauseam, but hope provides the starting point for a strategy. Hope is the engine that inspires a person to set a goal and devise a plan to achieve that goal. If one’s hopes pin on winning the lottery, one must first buy a ticket. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and the result will always be somewhere in between.

Stay warm if your area is in the deep freeze. Good luck and be careful while clearing snow if your area is getting buried. No matter where you are, give your special someone an extra-long hug and enjoy the warmth. It helps thaw brain freeze faster than wearing a parka and shorts.

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Si vis ver, para hiems

A Roman writer named Vegetius wrote a book called “The Epitome of Military Science” about 1,600 years ago. One line in the book became quoted widely, although it eventually shortened to “Si vis pacum, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war). The Twin Cities metro area is preparing for spring (si vis ver), but is also preparing for winter (para hiems). January was delightfully warmer than normal with a few bitterly cold days, but February to date is chiller than average. Tanker trucks are slowly driving though the neighborhoods spraying a brine solution containing salt (sodium chloride) and calcium chloride on the mostly bare streets. Winter is half over according to the calendar, but the potential for freezing drizzle and 2″ – 4″ of snowfall has the various departments of transportation taking precautions. A sign that spring is getting closer is that baseball’s spring training season begins later this month. Pitchers and catchers report later this week. We hope for a quick end to winter. Another sign of impending spring is the over/under for vehicles falling though the ice on metro area lakes in a week is now three. Thankfully, there were no deaths or injuries reported from these incidents. Las Vegas betting establishments may have an updated betting book next week. I have a feeling the number will be at least one.

Perhaps a better adage is “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. Many rodents stash food just in case the winter is particularly harsh. Birds seek out high fat and oil content foods starting when the days shorten. Humans in Minnesota prepare by hauling the six different weight jackets and four different styles of boots out of storage thereby replacing the shorts, sunblock and sandals that got used on the four decent summer days we see in an average year. Jumper cables, a snow shovel and a snow scraper with brush took the place of beach towels and coolers in a vehicle trunk. Grocery stores heavily advertised ice cream treats at discounted prices while increasing prices for hot beverages and soups. Airline tickets to warmer destinations climbed higher.

Thus far, the seasonal snowfall is about 40% below the 30-year average to date. After an extremely wet June which quickly took the area from moderate drought to flooding, the lack of snowfall is prompting concerns of mild drought when spring finally arrives. At this point, it does not appears the area is stocking up on sand bags to stave off potential flooding. A potential salt shortage caused by last year’s crushing snowfalls has been a non-issue this year…so far. Constructions have benefited from the lack of snow and an average number of bitterly cold days, but have also endured occasional delays to unusually strong wind.

Uncertainty in weather forecasts causes preparedness problems. Road salt costs money, requires storage space, and is effective in a narrow band of temperatures. Calcium chloride is more expensive, requires storage space, but is more effective in a wider range of temperatures. Sand and gravel require storage space, work in most temperature ranges strictly for traction, but cause in increase of windshield damage claims. Given a limited budget and limited storage space, find the most optimal balance of removal methods based on information that is wrong seemingly 60% of the time. Or better yet, find a balance that can change according to conditions and get a properly working supply chain in place. Farmers plant crops, many of which are sensitive to drought, hail, too much rain or not enough sunlight. If a long-range forecast indicates a drier than average growing season for which the crops are planned and planted accordingly, but the year is wetter than expected, the farmer receives diminished yields or total crop failure impacting an entire year’s operating revenue.

Creatures face a similar dilemma, albeit without a well-coiffed highly paid talking head showing “wowie” eye candy computer graphics and pointing to a chroma key screen for about three minutes. Gathering food is energy intensive and increases the risk of ending up as a food source for another creature. Too much food can rot, draw scavengers and cause bacterial and mold infestations leading to disease. Too little food means the creature risks starving or freezing to death. They do not have the luxury of easily gathering more or less food, and they definitely do not have the advantage of cooperation and a supply chain.We try to prepare as best we can, hoping for warmth and sunshine while preparing for blizzards and deadly cold.

Once we lose hope, no amount of preparation will help. In addition to helping our loved ones out with provisions, we also help them with our love and support. There are always unexpected and traumatic events which arise which render plans useless: health issues, unexpected unemployment, relationship problems, loss of a loved one. It is then that one finds out how supportive family is and who are the true friends. Drawing on their love and encouragement rekindles hope, and hope creates the strength to keep moving forward.

If you are fortunate enough to have a special someone in your life, take the time to give that person an extra-long hug today. There is always room in the heart for one of those, they don’t expire or decay, and they provide  immeasurable strength. For those of us who do not, please try to make someone’s day brighter. Your kindness may provide the hope the recipient thought was lost.

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Happy birthday, Lucy 2015

Today was Lucy’s birthday, the third that has occurred since her passing. Please take a moment to remember her and the joy she brought to our lives. She would be in the living room now trying to see where the Great Horned Owl is that is making its presence known. He Who Yells At Owls is probably sufficiently inebriated to not be screaming profanities.

The weather today was typical for this time of the year, cold and blustery. This year, the sun was out and I did not have to wade through 18″ of snow to visit her grave. Cardinals and chickadees advertised their availability through song. Winter so far has been far better behaved than last year’s debacle.

Three days ago was the midpoint of winter which some places in the United States mark with a quaint rite of determining if a hoary marmot caught a glimpse of its shadow. One groundhog provided a possible etymology for the phrase “chewing his/her ear off“. People do silly things for amusement when cooped up for six weeks and some rodents take umbrage when someone reaches in and interrupts badly needed but totally wasted beauty sleep.

Yesterday was World Cancer Day. Nearly all of us have known someone who is either a cancer warrior or whose cancer battle ended. We have lost too many loved ones to this horrible disease. Lucy will always be part of me, but I have to rely on memory for the warmth of her hugs and the sound of her voice. It’s not the same as having her here. Take a moment to remember those who fought and are no longer with us, and please support those who are still in the fight.

Lucy's birthday 2015

Lucy’s birthday 2015

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To shave, or not to shave

Most women I have known have asked me at one point why men only need about ten minutes in the bathroom to get ready for a social function, but women need several times longer. It is true that most guys don’t worry about false eyelashes, or mascara, or moisturizer, or deciding the necessary color foundation for the anticipated lighting, or lip gloss, or other beauty enhancers. That is not to mean that most guys are the loutish oafs portrayed on television or in romantic comedies: slovenly gaseous fools with mismatched socks and garish attire. I do admit Lucy helped me quite a bit with my sartorial choices, especially since adult Garanimals do not exist (but should). But rest assured, most guys do put a lot of thought into their choices, even the seemingly simple ones. For example, deciding whether to shave or not to shave is complex and filled with deep thoughts and conflicting emotions:

To shave, or not to shave: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler for the skin to suffer
The stings and prickles of wind blown sleet,
Or to lay foam against a sea of stubble,
And then slicing it down? To nick: to bleed;
No more; and use styptic to staunch the flow.
The stinging and the crimson collar dots
Another shirt and necktie are spoiled
Destined to be cleaned. To shave, to nick;
To nick: perchance to bleed, ay, there’s the thought;
For in that time of choice what dreams may come
Where I will shuffle off to ponder more,
Must give me pause: there’s something better,
A cordless three head electric razor,
For which the nicks are replaced with razor burn,
No blood but an unsightly irritated rash,
The pangs of stinging fire from after shave,
Or go forth with stubble and risk scorn,
When his true love’s cheek gets some whisker burn,
When he himself might his flirting make.
And now to choose? A smooth bare face,
To grunt and sweat under glaring lights,
But that the dread of something afterwards,
The undiscover’d pimple from which a nick,
Brings instant pain and wince, and tries the will,
And makes us cuss so softly as we finish,
Rather than bellow all the swear words we know,
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
But keeps the domestic tranquility,
As the sink is rinsed and the towel is hung,
And enterprises of mild pain and stinging,
With this action the light are turned off,
And lose the roughness of stubble. Soft you now!
Your fair lady is pleased by your task,
And it is well worth it!

Perhaps it is not as eloquent as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, but you get the general idea. As part of full disclosure, until a couple of years ago, I had some form of facial hair for almost 35 years. My full beard gradually gave way to a van dyke when the dark brown became salt-and-pepper. The van dyke went away when I was given a senior citizen’s discount reserved for ages 65+ on my 55th birthday. The first three weeks of shaving were difficult and even now, I avoid daily depilation whenever possible. It adds less than five minutes to my morning routine, so my choice is not for the sake of expediency, but rather for comfort.

Oh, and ladies, you don’t want to know what runs through a man’s head when it is time to part with a favored ratty T-shirt.

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In with the new

January is half over as of this writing. The new calendar year debuted with stunning fireworks displays and occasional object drops ranging from a ball covered in Waterford crystal  to some truly bizarre items. It is also a time for new laws and taxes going into effect and for some old laws getting “sunsetted” or repealed. Of course, we know that for every law repealed, there are four new ones to take its place. Car makers showed prototypes of their 2017 model line before the opened champagne from the 2015 New Year’s celebrations went flat. Companies are hiring, merging, acquiring and divesting with “new money” for the new year.

New diets and exercise routines are common New Year’s resolutions. By this time of the year, most resolutions have already failed. Changing behavior is not easy, especially if trying to achieve an unrealistic goal. No matter how hard I work out, I definitely will never be the same weight I was in high school, because I am about four inches taller. No matter how much I write, I will probably never write a best seller because there are millions of authors striving for that goal. Nevertheless, I can set goals to eat healthier, to exercise more, and not obsess over metrics, especially misleading ones like Body Mass Index. I can keep writing for enjoyment and improve my writing style and audience reach. Dropping a couple of inches in the waist or seeing an increase in readership are two realistic goals. For me, dropping 60 pounds or setting a goal of 1,000 new readers this year is unrealistic (I don’t consider Facebook “Likes” a meaningful metric because of click farms). Gradual small changes are more effective for changing behavior than sudden major changes. New Year’s resolutions are an anachronism unless the goal has several achievable milestones. The old saying “Life is a journey” applies as does “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Becoming a better person does not occur overnight. It takes time, it takes support from loved ones and friends, and it takes determination. I set a goal of becoming a better person, and for 28 years, I had Lucy help me do so. The last (almost) three years have been a challenge without her guiding me, but I have had some wonderful friends step up and keep me mostly on track. In return, I strive to be a better friend to them.

Mutually beneficial goals are better than personally beneficial goals. It is a way to change the world one little bit at a time. Stick to your resolutions, but don’t be afraid to reassess the goal and objectively review progress. A stretch goal is only useful if one is not drawn and quartered while achieving it. Try being a supportive friend or loved one to someone trying to achieve a goal. Your boost can make all the difference.

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Out with the old

Replacing the calendar on the wall used to be one way to symbolized the start of a new year. Now nearly every electronic gadget can display the time and date with several button presses and a few profane utterances. Since my birth year stars with a 1 rather than a 2, I will hang a new calendar in the kitchen and break out a new Dilbert Day-to-Day calendar for the office desk. Regardless of the tracking method, 2014 becomes 2015 in less than six hours in this time zone. It has been very windy all day, as if to sweep the current year’s detritus into Iowa and other points south. Every new year should begin with hope and a clean start.

Have a safe New Year’s Eve!

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Into the wild gray yonder

The holiday travel season is in full swing even with the light rain and heavy overcast here in the Twin Cities on the winter solstice. Terminal 1 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport seemed to do brisk business today, and I am sure Terminal 2 was also busy. I dropped off a friend at the airport this evening for a flight into the wild gray yonder to visit family and friends.

Holiday travel has occasionally been fraught with peril. All the airline consolidations and the constantly changing TSA regulations create many opportunities for screw ups. Overbooking and bumping complaints are quite common. For example, my consulting collaborator had the booking airline change the flight time AND date a mere few days after purchasing the ticket in late October. The date change went unnoticed until Friday night because of a heavy work schedule. Fortunately, it was a “no harm, no foul” change, but it was still somewhat unnerving. It also stole one day away the family visit. Weather surprises cause delays and cancellations, but this seemed to be a case of overbooking a flight, and then bumping the passenger before check in to avoid offering Denied Boarding Compensation.

One of my favorite movies during this time of the year is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. I spent over fifteen years traveling extensively on business and occasionally fell victim to the foibles of missing a connection, getting bumped, or once (and only once) having my employer change my return ticket to ship me to another customer site rather than back home. I’m quite proud of the fact I have not been on a flight since April 2000, and I am in no hurry to end my streak. Another thing I am proud of is I never had a business trip spoil holiday plans. I would have endured a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” trip to be home for the holidays, and came close to doing so a couple of times. Since most of my traveling was in the days before smartphones and when travel sites on the Internet were in a nascent state, I could not easily change my plans at the airport or car rental agency. It occasionally necessitated renting a car and driving an hour or two to a different airport in order to get a flight that got me home eight hours sooner.

Christmas is Thursday and many companies close early on Christmas Eve. Unsettled weather is here until Wednesday. Our current rain event might change over to snow now that all the snow has melted again. By Wednesday morning, the Twin Cities could have between 1″ – 4″ of new snow. Holiday traffic is usually slow and go, and the snow could snarl it badly. Other areas of the United States are forecasting heavy rain or heavy snow. Our forecast is a minor annoyance in comparison. Cancelled flights mean people will try booking travel on buses or renting cars to finish their trips. In some cases, the trip means spending the night in an airport terminal.

For those of you traveling into the wild gray yonder, I hope you safely arrive at your destination without any extra adventures or weather delays. Time with family and loved ones is precious, so take time to enjoy that gift. Be generous with the hugs and smiles. If you are flying, try being nice to the shower curtain ring salesman, because even well-meaning dolts need compassion, too. Just don’t let him handle your credit card.

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