Thoughts From Under a Glacier

Alright, so “under a glacier” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I live just outside of Buffalo, NY. And by just outside, I mean in the area that you’ve seen on the news over the past few days. I’ve lived here my whole life, and this was a granddaddy of storms. In the whole of my 50 years, I’ve only seen a few like it. The storm set up because Lake Erie was a lot warmer, 24 degrees warmer at the storm’s start, than the air rolling over the top of it. That causes some weather magic that results in a year’s worth of snow in 4 days. Abracadabra, just like that.

A view up the driveway at the cars.

A view up the driveway at the cars.

It’s been a hard 5 days. Over the duration of the storm we got 84″ of snow and four days off of work. Well, if you consider shoveling for 5-8 hours a day “days off of work”. As usual, when one of these big weather events happen, we got some sore muscles, some good stories, and some great bonding time. All of that is kind of priceless, if you ask me.

Some of the shoveling time we spent together, and other times we worked in shifts. One of the things I like about these storms is that, at times, there is a certain amount of solitude. And, for me, that leaves me alone with my thoughts…..and that’s dangerous for everyone involved. I came up with 3-5 new business ideas (my wife is thrilled) and I got to think about the different things I know or I learn in these situations. Here’s 10 things I learned or was reminded of over the last few days. You know how I love 10 Things.

1. Things don’t always go as planned – I was not even believing we would have a snow day when the whole thing started. It’s Buffalo. It’s before Thanksgiving. No way. I didn’t take much home. I grabbed one small project to work on, but wasn’t believing it would happen. Every day as I moved more and more snow, it seemed like it would never end. Also, that small project I brought home? Hahahahaha. Yeah, right. I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled and then I sat still, very, very still to avoid pain, sharing pictures of Mother Nature’s handy work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

2. Panic, as a rule, is a bad way to manage situations – The snow started on Monday night. I actually went out and shoveled the 6 or so inches before I went to bed. Tuesday was a different story. I woke to a robo call from work saying that we were closed, so I rolled back over until it got light out. When I opened my eyes there was snow up over the bottom of the bedroom window. Throughout the day, snow built up around the bottom of all the windows. A huge drift started to hang off the front of the house and over the front door, as the non-stop snow continued to fall. As the day wore on, it got darker and darker in the house, and I felt myself getting panicky. I don’t panic about these things, but I felt my heart racing and my breathing getting shorter and my thoughts becoming disjointed. “What if the drift falls and traps us in here?” and “What if the power goes out?” and more. All of this was fed by the continued forecasts that called for three solid days of snow. I ended up recognizing what was happening and took time to reconnect with the present moment through some techniques I learned from Dr. Frank Wood and his “Thriving With Stressprogram, and Kate Sciandra over at The Healing Presence . Once I was able to stem the panicky feelings, I was able to formulate and work a plan.

Digging out the furnace vents.

Digging out the furnace vents.

3. Know Things – I am a learner of stuff. Doesn’t even have to be important stuff, but sometimes it is. In this case it was very important. Coming in from shoveling, I smelled gas. I figured Linda had started the stove and cooked something. Didn’t think about it again. Later Linda came in from shoveling and smelled it too. Light bulb went off. A couple of years ago we had a high efficiency furnace installed. It vents through the wall of the house, not through the chimney. The snow was so high it covered the vents. The exhaust was blowing back into the house. That could have been tragic. I’d have been really mad if we died. Take a few minutes to learn how your critical systems work at home, and at work. Furnaces, shut off valves, hot water heaters, main circuit breakers are all pretty easy and a little knowledge can be a life saver.

4. Sometimes you have to take little bites – The ground was warm when the snow started to fall. So the bottom snow melted while lots more fell on top. It made the bottom heavy. Also, there was so much snow that fell that the piles were really high on the sides of the driveway. So, in order to actually get the job done, I had to maintain my strength, and that meant I had to pace myself. Small shovelfuls that I could toss them as far as I could so that the piles didn’t get so high I couldn’t throw over the top. This is a true story. Shoveling strategy is a real deal.

One step at a time. We didn't get to the street for hours.

One step at a time. We didn’t get to the street for hours.

5. Nature is beautiful, even when she is kicking your butt – The pictures won’t do it justice. When I woke on Wednesday morning, still tired and very sore, I looked out at the sunrise. Everything was covered in a pristine coating of new snow. Spectacular. The air was crisp. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Even as I continued shoveling…slowly…I was invigorated by it. It was truly awesome.

6. Might as well laugh – Seriously, what good would moping around do? We still had to dig out. So, on the day that I broke everything I touched (I did. I broke a plumbing pipe, a window, and the skin around my thumb), and my wife spilled her coffee and drop her eggs on the floor at breakfast (that was funny for everyone, except the puggle named Moxy, who believed she won the doggy lottery) we laughed a lot and moped very little. Maintaining your sense of humor is key. Don’t get me wrong there was the very occasional mini pity party. Life is what you make of it. We chose to make smiles, even in a challenging time.

7. You might have to be creative – When you no longer have access to grocery stores and hardware stores and your desk at work, you may have to get a little MacGyvery about things. If we had gone one more day without being able to get to a store, our next meal would have, as my friend, Lisabeth Pieters, said, “Another few days of this and the meals around here will be out of an episode of “Chopped”! We were feeling the same thing. What can you make for dinner out of vanilla pudding, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, stale Triscuits, a jar of pimentos and 3 cans of baked beans? Thankfully, we didn’t have to try.

8. You’ve usually got more in you than you think – This is one of the lessons I learn every single time one of these storms happen. (Yes, lucky me, I live in a place that every 3-5 years provides me with this valuable lesson.) An hour or two into shoveling on day number two, I was content with the idea that this was it. I was going to go back in the house and give up on all it. Snow would cover my house and people would wonder where I disappeared to. And yet, I didn’t. Each little goal was realized, we were invigorated with the reaching of goals, and slowly but surely we were dug out. Then we found the energy in ourselves and went and helped others get free. I’m still a little sore. Turns out I have 467 muscle groups I don’t use regularly enough to know I have them. To stick with the snow shoveling analogy, dig deep. It’s down there.

Help has arrived.

Help has arrived.

9. We get by with a little help from our friends – Thank you Ringo Starr for pointing out this essential truth. In my book, I talk about how important our relationships are in our lives. Sadly, sometimes it takes us an epic event – a wedding, a funeral, a bad ass snowstorm – to see it. We would still be trapped if my brother-in-law didn’t brave the weather and drag his snow blower over here. Who in your life would do that for you, and who would you do it for? Those are the people who are most important to you. Make sure you take care of those relationships.

10. Why does it take an epic event for kindness to overflow? – There are events in our lives that everyone remembers where they were when they happened. President Kennedy’s assassination, landing on the moon, the Space Shuttle disasters, and of course 9/11. After these events, and huge storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and forest fires, we forget our divisions, we put aside selfishness, we open ourselves to our neighbors, to comfort them, or to roll up our sleeves and help each other out. In those moments, our politics or our other divisions (I’m looking at you New England Patriots fans) don’t matter and we work together to make sure everyone has what they need to get through. We clean up, dig out, or share a plug on our generator. It is amazing, and sadly short lived. One of the unexpected things about weekdays off is that I sometimes get to see the Ellen Degeneres Show, and I really love that she ends every show with “Be kind to one another”. How can we harness that camaraderie and feeling of kindness everyday, and not just in times of trouble?

The view across the street to my neighbor's house.

The view across the street to my neighbor’s house.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve lived in Buffalo my whole life. It’s a rust belt town that has had its share of good days and bad. We get these storms. It’s part of the price for living here. We don’t get tsunamis, mudslides, wild fires, or hurricanes, but, man, do we get some snow. When we do, we band together, we use our muscles, we share our food, we take shifts staying awake and paying attention to generators or sump pumps. We hop on snow mobiles and go get medication for people who can’t do it themselves. We help out friends, and we help out strangers.

When the comes to bad situations, there is no place I’d rather live than Buffalo. It reminds me of what good things can happen when people work together.

Thanks to all of you who checked on us frequently, commented on my silly posts, and shared all of the pictures. I’m happy to have you in our circle of friends.

Want to see the pictures? They are all on my Instagram page. Enjoy.