Monday, February 24, 2014

Around the World in Ice: A Day of Fun with My Son

Those of you who know me, know that I am somewhat fanatical when it comes to anything that has an international bend or theme.  You also know that I have become somewhat obsessed with ice in last several weeks.  So when my son’s grandmother suggested that we drive up to Lakeville, Pennsylvania for a trip to Cabin Fever at Ice Works I was more than just a little excited.  Around the world in ice – what a spectacular idea!  I was more than just a little excited, maybe even more excited than my son.

I had no idea ice could be sculpted so brilliantly.  When we walked into the large barn that housed the exhibit my son and I could not contain ourselves while waiting on line for tickets.  First we walked over to the Egyptian corner where a small ice pyramid stood next to an ice sphinx, about the size of a small pony.  My son, like all the other little kids, could not wait to sit on it.  Built beside Egypt was France with a towering ice Eiffel Tower.  Sure it was short compared to the real one, but pretty impressive considering it was made out of ice.  The Statue of Liberty was small, but my son recognized her right away and ran up to her to get a closer look.  Looking over her right shoulder you could see the sky line of New York and to her left Mount Rushmore.  The Roman Coliseum housed the wine bar, and next to the food and hot chocolate stand stood Big Ben. Finally, tucked away in the back corner with his arms spread out was Jesus, an ice rendering of Corcovado, the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro.   

In the midst of the international landmarks were two slides made out of ice – one fifty feet, one slightly smaller. I’m not sure who enjoyed the slide more – me or my son.  First he went down the smaller one by himself but then he wanted to go down the bigger slide with me.  With him on my lap, we flew down the slippery cold surface at such a rapid pace that we hit the bottom so fast and hard I bounced once on the matt then slid another several feet on the muddy ground.

Leaving the barn, we stepped outside and into the back where two men were battling out their skills as ice sculptors.  We had seen ice sculpting before but my son was younger and it was colder so his interest level was low.  Therefore, I was extremely surprised when he stood watching, his eyes focused on the saw and chisel, as the men expertly coaxed live shapes from a 300 pound block of ice.  As the saw sliced through the blocks of ice, streams of icy dust, like snow, settled on the crowd.  My son blinked against the cold as is sprayed his face, but still he was not tempted to move.  He was more impressed by the fish than the skeleton racer in the first sculpting competition he watched, and in the second, he found the dragon far cooler than the Indian.

Around the side of the barn was a tiny petting zoo with rabbits, sheep, a goat, a donkey and a cow.  My son loves animals so smiling his cute little smile he walked up to the animals and very enthusiastically petted them.  He also enjoyed a short pony ride, sitting astride the pony like a seasoned rider and waving to his family. When it was time to go, my son didn’t want to leave, a sure sign that he had a wonderful time and that the day was a success.

When I got home, as usual, I couldn’t wait to upload my photos and start playing around with them.  I thought it might be fun to set the real landmark beside the one sculpted in ice.  My indoor pictures have never come out as well as my outdoor pictures, and while the pictures themselves weren’t spectacular, I did have fun superimposing older photos onto the ones I took yesterday.  Sadly, most of my old photo albums containing pictures I took around the world are still sitting in my childhood closet at my parents’ house which means I was limited in the pictures I could work with, but I was still able to manipulate three of them – Big Ben, Corcovado and the Statue of Liberty.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Frozen: A Lesson Learned From All The Ice and Snow

I have heard it repeated numerous times – this winter has been absolutely horrible.  It has been extremely cold, the snow just won’t stop falling and the ice just clings to everything making the roads everywhere hazardous.  Schools have used up their allotted snow days and teachers and students are looking at either no spring break or an extended school year.  Joints have been taxed and muscles pulled from an endless amount of shoveling.  Black, ugly and unappealing snow lines streets and playgrounds where plows have pushed it, trying repeatedly to make room for more. Businesses are losing money from a combination of staying closed on the snowiest of days and because patrons rather stay warm and dry in their homes.  Venturing out for a slice of pizza or to buy a new outfit seems overly adventurous and daring when compared to a relaxing afternoon by the fire curled up with a good book.  Heating costs are up which means less disposable income.  In short, this winter has been extremely miserable for so many people that spring simply cannot arrive fast enough.  But just because the greater landscape looks cold and dreary doesn’t mean we aren’t surrounded by beauty.  Sure, we have to look for, which might mean crawling around in the snow or squinting against the sun, but it is there if only we take a moment to look beyond the bleakness, the dirt splattered snow and icy streets we keep slipping on. 

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the little things either had I not on a whim one day picked up my camera and started taking pictures again – pictures of something other than my son.  But with camera in hand, I was focused only on finding something worthy of shooting, and suddenly the world around me was transformed.  I noticed tiny icicles buried in bushes that I had blindly walked passed numerous times before.  I observed tiny droplets of water, melting ice, on plants.  I was drawn to small pine cones surrounded by frozen pine needles. And I listened as the ice around me melted, dripped and refroze.  When the snow came again, I went for a walk and enjoyed watching the way the landscape redesigned itself.  Broken fences suddenly looked picturesque.  The brown snow temporarily disappeared beneath a fresh clean blanket.  And man-made objects such as mailboxes, signs and even parked cars were momentarily reclaimed by nature as she spared nothing in her quest to quiet the earth.

Perhaps, for me, there is a lesson in all this ice and snow.  The year has not been a good one and when I look at the big picture, the general landscape of life, I see lots of darkness, dreary roads and disappointments.  Sure friends have been telling me to look at the happy moments, the good things but when you are bogged down by all the things that aren’t going well, it is hard to see, recognize and appreciate the small things that are going well.  And now, scrolling through my ice and snow shots, I realize that this is what I must do in life.  I need not focus on the fact that sidewalks are an ice trap, the fact that my son’s school year might be extended or the fact that I have to dig out my car again.  I need to look for and appreciate the icicles hidden from view, the green that survives despite the frost and I have to enjoy the first moments of each new snowfall before the community conspires to “clean it up”.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Sled

It is said that when a family first acquires an object it is nothing more than an assembly of raw materials – in my case wood, metal and rope.  If it loved enough to be passed onto a second generation it begins to develop a personality.  If it survives and is cherished for a third generation it begins to acquire a spirit, comprised of special moments and memories.  Looking at me you probably don’t see much, just an old beat up sled with a back that no longer sits straight and runners that have begun to rust.  But step a little closer, put your hand on my side, hold my rope in your hand and I will tell you a simple story.

My life began in the 1940s, but sadly, I don’t remember much about Gary Sr. when he was a young boy.  At the time, I was just a simple sled.  I hadn’t been around long enough to know that individual moments can be priceless.  I was just a toy fashioned to pull kids in the snow.  I didn’t yet know that all children are different and that their interactions with me, the snow and the world were unique.  If only I had known some sixty plus years ago that anyone would care about my memories, I would have made a greater effort to record and remember the little details, the rides, the games and the adventures.  But Gary Sr. was just a boy like any boy and I never dreamed that one day I’d be carrying his grandson the same way I carried him and that a legacy of sorts would be born on my back.

In the 1970s, I belonged to Gary Sr.’s children – first Elizabeth and then Gary Jr.  The tiny boy who once went for rides on me had grown up and become the man holding my rope, pulling his own children through the snowy streets.  Elizabeth loved me best.  Always eager to be outside, on snow days she couldn’t wait to get her snow clothes on so she could go out in the snow and have fun.  Gary Sr. worked during the week, so when snow kept him home it was a special treat.  After shoveling, he would take me out and sit little Elizabeth on my back.  Together we would ride through the city streets.  Streets that were usually busy were practically silent as the snow kept most people inside.  Eventually, we would end up at Forest Park where Elizabeth would run around in the snow and have fun until her cheeks were red and her fingers nearly frozen.

In 2010, Elizabeth had a son and the following year my spirit was born when Gary III took his first ride.  With the birth of my spirit came a sharper memory.  Gary was apprehensive at first, not liking the cold wet snow that fell on his face.  But during every snowstorm Elizabeth took him out loving the snow as much as a mother as she had loved it as a child.  The really special moment came the day Elizabeth and Gary III went to visit Gary Sr.  While the third generation sat contentedly in the sled – no snow was falling to freeze his little face – the first generation pulled him, giving him a tour of Juniper Valley Park.

Today, the snow seemed to fall forever, thick and wet it coated the streets.  Gary III – now almost too big to fit on my small frame – took me out of the garage and asked his mother to take him for a ride.  She - always happy to go for a walk and to spend time with her son - eagerly obliged.  Gary III still doesn’t care for the wet snow upon his face, but he has learned how to turn his head away from the wind so that the snow bites less bitterly.  Elizabeth pulled him to the playground where the snow reached the bottom of the swings and Gary III practically had to swim through the snow to get to the swings.  Despite the depth of the snow, he wanted to be pushed on a swing, so his mother pushed him, the two of them laughing while his feet, dragging in the snow, continuously slowed his momentum.  From the street, I watched the two of them play, their love and laughter warming my spirit. 

Yes, you may look at me and think I am only a sled, but with the love I have experienced, I am so much more.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Frozen: My Ice Obsession

Am I obsessing a little over the ice that currently clings to the earth?  Perhaps I am, but the beauty of the ice is absolutely astonishing.  Trees are frozen, branches and boughs hugged by thick layers of ice and when the sun strikes, suddenly the trees are afire, glowing as sun glints off the ice.  Yesterday, after dropping my son off at school I could not resist the urge to grab my camera and take a walk.  The trees, embedded with thousands of tiny lights beckoned me, and though I knew I could never do their magnificence justice with my camera, I had to try.  Icicles hung everywhere transforming ordinary mundane bushes into an optical delight.  With camera in hand, indulging in the frozen water, the world stood still and momentarily all my cares and concerns were forgotten, lost amongst the splendor of my surroundings.  And the small things, the tiny pine needles and the berries hanging from bushes that I often miss, things I’m sometimes too busy to see were briefly all that mattered.  Drinking in the intricacy of nature, the simplicity of the ice there was nothing I missed, nothing too insignificant to notice.  I focused my camera and hoped that a handful of images would at least resemble the brilliance that drew me to them in the first place.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Frozen: Nature and Ice

Frozen -  the world before me encased in ice, beautiful as only nature can be.  Ice encrusted trees, stiff in the air, a symbol of God’s grace. The sun, glinting off the frozen water, is a reminder to love and enjoy the simple things.  Wind whispering through the trees, ice cracking a musical note. Ice, hazardous on the roads but magnificent in the trees, is calling me closer to get a better look.  Frozen, momentarily until the weather warms up, the world is blessed.  Taking a deep breath and smiling to myself I examine the icicles for tomorrow they may melt.