Snow? What snow?

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Maybe it is because I grew up in Toronto, where we could get several feet of snow in a winter, maybe it is because my mother made me put on my snowsuit and boots and walk to school. Maybe it was the nature of the times. Regardless, compared to today, I would like to think we as a society were hardier than we are now.  Dare I say we have become weather wimps?

On Tuesday, we had a forecast that predicted we would get between 5 and 8 inches of snow in the region. And the forecasters, as a group, were certain that we would get at least five inches. They said we could take it to the bank. Everyone would get at least this much snow. It would start around 8 AM and be heaviest by noon, tapering off by midnight. Reports around my office in Herndon at noon were saying there was as much as six inches on the ground, roads were slippery and people should stay home. In preparation for this, the Federal Government closed, schools closed, and people huddled together as if tanks were patrolling the streets looking for radicals.  Oh, and it was going to be cold. Single digit wind chills.

I remember a picture from the 1970s.  I might have been 7 or 8, it is hard to tell, and I am bundled up in my blue snowsuit.  The driveway in front of the house is clear and there are piles of snow more than five feet high behind me.  I remember digging tunnels in the snow because it was so high.  There are several of these pictures from different years.  I have strong memories of walking to school in the snow, cursing under my breath about those who could not be bothered to shovel their sidewalks as I trudged through them, snow up to my knees.  And yes, it was uphill, one way.  And I was not older than 13, because I went to a boarding school when I was 13. I walked to school, about a half a mile, through rain, snow, and heat.  Oh, and wind chill.

The morning after

The morning after

Today, Thursday, is the third weather related closure of the schools in Northern Virginia, with only a couple of exceptions. I supposed you could argue that the side streets are too slippery for the buses to safely negotiate. You could argue that it is too cold for the poor little children to stand waiting for that same school bus. I am not sure I believe either. Yes, it is cold. Officially it is supposed to be -2 before you add in the wind chill. I am not sure I believe that temperature as most of the outside thermometers were considerably above that and there is not much wind.  Most of the side streets are really not that bad, certainly negotiable by garbage trucks, and Priuses alike, even the hills, which the buses do not go down. So I am not particularly sure what the reason for closing the schools is. Perhaps it is as simple as people just not having the right clothes?

In 2014, I would have expected that the ability to get children to school, safely, and in most types of weather would have improved over my slogging up a hill in the snow. Clearly, it has not only not improved, but has gotten considerably worse. We bus our children from across the street to the school door (or drive them an equally short distance) and then bemoan the fact that they are overweight.  We complain about lousy traffic, yet fail to properly equip our cars for winter driving by making sure our windshield washer fluid is full and we have sunglasses at the ready for glare. Is it any wonder that when a real disaster strikes, people throw up their hands and demand the government help them? Especially when it is clear they cannot even handle a little snow.

The Virginia Elections Are Over

As we wake up on the 6th of November, 2013, the Commonwealth of Virginia has concluded its election cycle.  And most of the results are in.  But it is not the results so much as the rhetoric around them that I want to discuss.

There are a number of Monday Morning quarterbacks that will be slicing and dicing the win of Terry McAuliffe.  There are many who will be crowing that the challenger, Ken Cuccinelli kept the vote close.  And in fact, the margin between the two candidates is only 55,420 votes.  Barely the margin of error.  Mr. Cuccinelli, in his speech was even heard to say that this was a referendum on the Affordable Care Act and the message was heard loud and clear in Washington. It is at this point that I put my hand up and ask, "did you even look at the numbers?"

Mr. Cuccinelli, a favorite of the Tea Party, has been arguing, despite other legal opinions to the contrary, that the ACA is a violation of the Constitution and the rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  He ran his campaign on it and as Attorney General of Virginia brought the first suit against it before the votes in Congress had been fully counted. As I said he lost by a little over 50,000 votes.  According to the numbers, a bit more than 2% of the total vote.  But before we start lifting up the new governor elect, or paying attention to the loser's trumpeting, we need to look closer.

Mr. McAuliffe won the election with 1,064,016, Mr. Cuccinelli had 1,008,596. In total only 2,217,907 people voted in the election for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 2 million people.  Let me put this in perspective.  The population of the City of Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth, is 210,309.  The population of the County of Fairfax, the population is 1.119 million. The entire population of the Commonwealth is 8 million. The total voter turn out for the election of Governor - the man who will run the Commonwealth of Virginia for the next four years was half of the total population of her most populated county.  If I added up the population of the entire National Capital Area, I would have a population in excess of two million people.

Now, there are those that will complain that not everyone in Fairfax, or Richmond, is eligible to vote, and that is a fair argument, so I went to the Commonwealth of Virginia's voter registration site and downloaded the number of voters.  It is quite an interesting spreadsheet.  Based on the number of active voters in the Commonwealth, there should have been about 4 million people vote.  So less than half of what the Commonwealth identifies as active voters bothered to vote.  But to address the pundits who will argue that this election was a referendum of the viability of the Tea Party, or a vote against the  ACA, or even a vote for normalization, I ask you to consider this.  In the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to their own registrations, there are over 5 million registered voters in the Commonwealth. So while the turnout could be argued to be high for an off-year election, it was not even 50% of eligible voters. The new governor was elected with barely 1/5 of the voters in the Commonwealth casting a ballot.  This is not a mandate. It is barely a majority (as 1/5 voted against him). Yet clearly 3/5s of all eligible voters did not care enough to vote.

The take away is this. This election was little more than a blip.  Yes, we who live in the Commonwealth will have to live with the results for the next four years, but as the yelling and screaming about who won rebounds around the nation, remember this - it really does not mean anything.  So do not read anything into this. It was just a local election.

“Winging It” is not an emergency plan

As much as I mock the generally inept Department of Homeland (In)security, their sub-agency, FEMA is quite often on the mark with their projects.  The newest push, during National Preparedness Month (that would be now, September), is suggesting you make an emergency plan with your kids.  And really, when was the last time you checked your emergency plan.  September 10, 2001?

Worrying about terrorism is not going to help. Instead you should worry about a local disaster, such as a gas tanker exploding in your neighbourhood (Gainesville, VA in July), or a propane tanker overturning near volatile oil lines (Sudley Manor Road in 2012). Snow storms, earthquakes and severe weather (Sandy, Katrina, Ivan, Floyd) are more likely to cause a disaster, and result in serious damage to your home than any random act of terrorism.

And yet, most people have not done much to prepare. And worse, as the echos of the last storm (in this case Sandy), fade, and the real pressures of day-to-day life take over, the desire and focus on preparation fades.  When was the last time you checked the water in your basement?  How about that canned food? Do you have any emergency cash? Updated your document cache with all those new forms? What about that new pet?  If you had to evacuate now, would you be able to? Would you know where to go? Could your family reunite? Where? How? When? Under what conditions?

If the answers to the above questions start with "...umm..." then you are not prepared. Take sometime this weekend and look at your kits, your plans, and ensure your tools are ready.  Because you might not get a second chance.

Personhood, Take 2

RICHMOND, Va. - A proposed "personhood" bill in Virginia's General Assembly could spark debate that may leak over to the Presidential campaign. (WTOP)

Was Virginia not paying attention when Mississippi went through this?  It is no surprise that Bob Marshall (R) has introduced this bill.  If it is related to the erosion of women's rights or the destruction of logic, Bob Marshall is usually behind the effort, but just because the bill might survive a legal challenge, this does not make it any more sensible, logical or necessary.  And, in fact, it could result in more harm, to the living, to those it is meant to protect and to those not yet thought of than it will bring benefits.  The delegates in Richmond have a number of much more important issues to be discussing over the next 60 days than grandstanding.    If Marshall would focus more on the damage that sitting in hours of gridlock than on the trivialities that he focuses on, he would find a lot more people supporting him, than treating him with the derision he deserves.

Katerina’s Greek Cuisine – Manassas

I am not what you could describe as an adventurous eater.  In fact, for most of my formative years, I considered lettuce to be a food stuff to be avoided.  Garlic?  Ha!  Would not touch the stuff.  Now part of that is the environment I grew up in and certainly at school I was not exposed to things that generally are considered flavourful.  But thanks to a friend, I was introduced to Greek food (specifically gyros) before I learned about a taco (no, I am not kidding).  Since then I have forced myself to try new and different foods.  I am still not hot on things like eggplant and you can keep your broccoli, even if it is covered in soy sauce.  But I still like a good gyro, and I am generally willing to dive into most Greek foods.

So, this weekend, as part of our no chicken fingers pledge while the Elf is at camp, we went to dinner at a new Greek restaurant in Manassas called Katerina's Greek Cuisine.  Now we like to patronize our local restaurants. Most are family run, tasty and offer a good deal and Katerina's is certainly a fit in all three.  The portions were healthy and we left after three courses for under $50.  Of course, that was without wine (they are still waiting their ABC permit) and as you know we both like wine.  I am hoping they have a good selection of Greek wine when they finally get their license.

It was a wonderful dinner.  We started with Saganaki, which is Kaseri cheese flambéed at the table, and it was very tasty - you squeeze some lemon juice on it which really makes wonderful.  I had a gyro platter with lamb (it is the only time I will eat lamb) and found out that pork is the traditional Greek way of making a gyro and the chef graciously gave me a small sample of it.  It is very different if you are used to the lamb version.  The pork was light and floral rather than the spicy lamb I am used to and I will certainly give a try next time around.  My wife had a selection of spreads, and other than the hummus, I cannot tell you what they were, other than very tasty as well.  One of the ones we had was lots of feta, garlic, some sun roasted tomatoes and a couple of other things tossed it - it was very tasty and our favourite of the bunch.  We wanted the rice pudding for dessert, but they were out, so we had the Galaktoboureko –  a creamy baked custard and filo dough drenched in lemon & orange infused syrup. I highly recommend it!

I give it five stars.  The food is good, the atmosphere is friendly and you want to go early, because it only has a handful of tables and when we left at 6:30, it was already full.