Southern Snow

As a major snowfall approaches my home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina weather forecasters warn of a dusting to several inches of snow showing us a spaghetti of forecast models which seem like “cover their butt” scenarios that make them right, no matter the outcome.  Panic is immediate!  Even before the first flake falls, schools close, and bread, milk, water, beer, and wine shelves are cleared.  Then we all watch endless newscasts of the impending Armageddon while our North Carolina “Holy Crap, it’s snowing” emergency snow clearing plan is activated.

Highlights of the plan as per our city website:

  1. If snow is in the forecast, City crews apply a salt brine solution to major thoroughfares, bridges and overpasses 24 to 48 hours in advance. This helps to prevent snow from sticking to the pavement and makes plowing and additional salt application more effective…
  2. If snow or freezing rain begins to fall the Public Works Department activates its snow program. Salt spreaders and snow plows are mounted onto 25+ City trucks. Up to 100 employees begin working around the clock in 12-hour shifts until the streets are clear…
  3. Next, heavily traveled streets referred to as primary streets are treated with salt. If one or more inches of snow falls, crews begin plowing roadways… During inclement weather, the City plows more than 1,000 lane miles of streets….
  4. Residential streets are plowed only after all primary and secondary streets have been cleared.
  5. The program is not designed to provide convenient road conditions for extensive travel throughout the city.

This plan is sound unless we actually get snow.  I’d like to be clear that our city’s snow fighting crews are excellent and equal to their peers in any other part of the country but when it comes to snow they know that they are fighting a losing battle.  The plan has an iffy start since the first step of applying the snow melting brine is usually a waste of time and salt since 90% of the time our snow starts as rain so the salt brine solution is washed away before it can do anything.  Then when the actual snow starts the limited number of plows are hard pressed to even keep the main highways clear.  Remember the disclaimer on their web site: “The program is not designed to provide convenient road conditions for extensive travel throughout the city”–WTF

With or without Brine the snow quickly overwhelms the plows and the untouched side streets become impassable which is actually a good thing since it keeps the cowboys off the dangerous roads until the intense southern sun returns and melts the road glaciers.  Eventually the plows surrender and just go home for a deserved rest.  And a day or two after the final flake falls a brave plow reappears on our frozen side street at 2am in a futile, but appeasing, attempt to clear the impenetrable ice.  To northerners this may sound FUBAR but we who have lived through this snow dance for years are resigned to the fact that we will be home-bound for up to a week.  Spending millions on more snow fighting equipment for an occasional major snowstorm would be like manning northeast beaches with lifeguards during the winter.snow cleared driveway

Despite my unplowed window to the rest of the world I’m programmed to keep my driveway clean which gets me 50 feet to the snow and ice-covered roadway–driveway to nowhere.  But the unplowed roadway is a safety barrier preventing me from venturing beyond the safety of the driveway.  Why?  Because after a few experiences of driving during southern snowstorms I’m terrified of sharing the snow-covered roads with fair-weather driving southerners or too-cocky transplanted northerners who somehow make it to the main roads.  Too fast, too slow, too close—hundreds of crashes-crashes-crashes.  Many quickly discover that the only difference between their perceived go anywhere, all wheel drive SUV and other vehicles is how far they go off the road.southern driving in the snow

After a few winter storms in the south I stopped trying to transfer my unreasonable northern snow clearing expectations and decided that waiting the few days until the southern sun clears the roads is a better option than getting caught in a demolition derby.   Being trapped in my neighborhood isn’t all bad since this is a rare southern phenomenon (hopefully) that does have some positives: watching southern kids discovering the magic of sledding, snowballs and making snowmen, bundling up for a neighborhood walk sans cars, getting together with neighbors to help shovel driveways, and enjoying the beauty of freshly fallen snow brings me back to some of the good things about my past winters in New York.

Neighbors shoveling driveways

Neighbors helping neighbors

Snowy scene

Most of the time the break is enjoyable as long as the power stays on and the bread, milk and beer lasts.  And unlike New York, in a few days it’s back to a normal southern winter of 50-60 degrees with sun and a Carolina blue sky.

frog statue in snow

Cold frog

Full of Sugar!

I’ll take a 3 Musketeer, Sky Bar, Welch’s Fudge, Hershey, and Cracker Jacks.”  That’s how I spent my paper route money.  Packing away all that chocolate and sweets was not the best financial investment and often led to cavities and a few extra pounds, but the sugar fix seemed to “outweigh” any of the negatives.

I continued my sugar-heavy diet into my early adulthood happily loading up my coffee and cereal with sugar, scarfing down a double fudge cake for my birthday or taking a bicycle ride break for that refreshing root beer float.  But as I got older and my immortal attitude faded I decided to reduce my excessive sweets intake to prevent those cavities and added pounds.  Gradually, ice cream and cookies became an occasional special treat rather than a staple.  But just when I thought I had this sugar thing under control new warnings from scientists, nutritionists, healthcare professionals, and especially my wife raised a red flag about the amount of added sugar (AS), not just in the obvious players like cookies and cakes, but in most foods.  So, I started to pay attention to nutritional labels and WTF–bread, ketchup, orange juice, pasta, pizza, and peanut butter have added sugar.  That shoots my supposed semi-healthy diet back to the “needs work” level.sugar tracking cartoon

I started to read nutritional labels and it confirmed that foods that I thought were sugar free are loaded with AS.  It’s kind of like discovering that those brownies you ate at that party were laced.  I’m disappointed in the food industry who covertly loaded up everything with added sugar but, ultimately, we are responsible for what we eat, and I should have paid more attention to those numbers on ALL food labels and what they mean.

It was time to become an informed consumer and learn more about what seems to be an ingredient in everything.  So, I googled: Added Sugar, Foods with Added Sugar and Bad Effects of Sugar?  These are some of the major facts from my search:

  • Candy, baked goods, and sweetened dairy are the main sources of added sugar. But foods you don’t suspect, like breads, soups, protein bars, cereals, and most of our favorite drinks can have sugar
  • The brain is affected with sugar creating addiction and cravings for more and more sugar.
  • Studies have linked a high sugar intake to a greater risk of depression in adults.
  • Candy can rot your teeth (knew this one)
  • Sugar is linked to Increased inflammation resulting in joint pain and increasing your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It may make your skin age faster.
  • Can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
  • Eating less sugar can help lower blood pressure.
  • Damages your pancreas and insulin levels often resulting in type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • If you have diabetes, too much sugar can lead to kidney damage.
  • Can lead to weight gain (knew this one)
  • It can make men impotent
  • Recommended sugar intake for Men: 9 teaspoons/36 grams daily
  • Recommended sugar intake for Women: 6 teaspoons/25 grams daily

The biggest surprises in my unscientific, but informative research is: the prevalence of sugar in everything we eat, the low amount of the recommended daily added sugar allowance, and the serious health risks of a heavy sugar diet.  Eating a couple of pieces of my favorite carrot cake would include 82 grams of added sugar, over double the daily recommendation of 37 grams–FUBAR.  With all these negatives, it’s time to start paying attention to everything we eat, read nutritional package labels, and use the tools available to become informed consumers.

One of those tools is the FDAs Food Tracker calculator, so you can determine nutritional values including the amount of added sugar in your foods.  Just enter a food name in the calculator and click on the nutrient info: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx  After a few clicks on the calculator I realized “I’m full of sugar”.

I’ve decided to cut back, even more, on added sugar, being mindful of the recommended added sugar daily dose limits.  Will I totally give up sugar—no way!  I think that total abstinence is like holding your breath and when you finally breath in or come off your 0-sugar diet it’s a huge inhale of air or sugar.  The fact is that large amounts of sugar is in most foods, so I will stop putting sugar in my coffee, look for lower sugar content substitutes, read product nutrition labels, and only eat my sugar laden favorites when no one is looking.

I don’t think sugar should be an all or nothing choice, but we should all be informed consumers so we, and not the food industry, are deciding how much added sugar we eat.  Take charge of your diet by using the calculator above as a guide to choose healthier foods and budget for your occasional sugar feast, read those food labels, and lobby the food industry to create healthy foods that don’t taste like cardboard like a slice of double fudge chocolate cake with 0 grams of added sugar.

Climate Change Morons

I live in the warm south, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, average January temperature 50/30 and our local newscast (1/3/18):

“It’s officially colder here than in parts of Alaska…Today’s high in Anchorage is 48 degrees, our’s… a balmy 32. Anchorage’s low for tomorrow, 20. Our’s…15 degrees.”

Our low of 9 degrees last night broke a record cold set in 1887—beyond FUBAR!  It’s snowing in Florida, Hilton Head, and Myrtle Beach.  Hell has truly frozen over!climate change cartoon

Our President thinks climate change is a hoax which might reflect the brains running our government—scary.  For years thousands of scientists have been warning that we are screwing up our world and accelerating global warming with our excesses including the unbridled burning of fossil fuels and unchecked deforestation.  Seas are rising and formerly rare weather disasters have become common everywhere and regions that were warm are cold, cold are warm, rainy are dry,….  Climate scientists and experts have recommended solutions to the problem, but our President seems to think that he is more of a climate expert than these apolitical educated scientists.

In a recent Trump tweet, he showed either his arrogance or ignorance about climate change:

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!

Belittling the universally accepted and scientifically confirmed climate problems trivializes the increased frequency of abnormal weather and losses, both life and property, from hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, and extreme temperatures.  This is a real problem and not a joke.

Let’s compare the climate change credibility of our President to our climate expert scientists.  The diverse scientists, both liberal and conservative, have no reason to lie about their climate change results.  They follow the Freakonomics model of believing the data— 1 + 1 = 2.  The President lives in the past and is a fossil fuel advocate relying on coal and big oil companies bottom lines to justify his decisions.  It seems like the only science used for our President’s non-existing climate change policy is totally political and driven by energy company and development-anywhere profits.

It’s past time for a change in leadership and policy.  We need strong leaders who are willing to stand up to the powerful fossil fuel industry and radically alter our environmental policies and reverse the way we treat our Earth, or our grandkids are going to incinerate or drown.   So next time you vote, remember the weird weather, your grandkids, and your power bills and elect people who are not “climate change morons” or at least elect morons who will listen to the scientists.