4 Ways I’m Surviving Winter in Southcentral Pa.

My view on a snowy day

I have several friends who dread the winter and can’t wait for it to end. Maybe it’s due to my pasty skin and propensity to sweat, but I have always preferred colder weather. And although I’m not living in Florida, southcentral Pennsylvania has the mildest climate of any place I’ve lived. On the rare occasion that it snows, snowplows clear the roads in a timely fashion, especially compared to Indiana. I think back to one ice storm in Muncie when my mom’s car got stuck in the street in front of our house. And of course, there’s my renewed interest in skiing.

Recently I read the excellent book “Wintering” by Katherine May in which she uses the ups and downs of the winter months as a metaphor for rough patches in one’s life. May interviewed native Scandinavian, who said she was happy never to move back because of the difficulty of dealing with cold weather and snow issues daily.

That got me thinking, like May, that maybe the reason I enjoy winter is because I don’t live in a place where it disturbs my life regularly. I loved the two years I lived in Minnesota, but I was a middle schooler who didn’t have to shovel, drive, or make it to work on time.


When I do tire of winter (and it usually involves wind not cold), I mostly seem to find something indoors to entertain myself.

Other than my obsession with Mitchell’s college search, this year a plethora of interests have distracted me from the winds that seem even worse out here in the country.

First, I loved watching “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS on Sunday nights. The first night I started season two, Mitchell said, “What are you watching?” But as the weeks have gone on, even he warmed to the small-town British vet life that has comedy, romance, and of course adorable animals.

On a completely different note, Greg watched (for a second time) with me “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” which I found sad but interesting. Football is one of my least favorite sports. However, being related to and friends with people who find it interesting, I can’t completely ignore it. The murders are tragic and so is the idea that Hernandez’s chronic trauma encephalopathy may have contributed to his actions.

In terms of music, I am thrilled that one of my favorite bands Cloud Cult has a new song out “One Way Out of a Hole.” I first heard Cloud Cult’s lead singer, Minnesotan Craig Minowa, interviewed on ”On Being” a few years ago and after listening to the band’s music, I was hooked. The group largely avoids the commercial music industry, so I’m really excited to listen to the rest of their new album soon.

Finally, food is always something that comforts me, as long as I don’t overindulge. Let me clarify by saying — not the food I make, but rather the food others prepare. I was introduced to a new (to me) restaurant in Hershey – Simply Greek — by some tennis friends about a month ago. All the food on the menu looked delicious, but on that visit I only chose a gyro considering I had to play tennis again in a few hours. Nevertheless, it was excellent and reminded me of my doner kebab-eating days in Germany. The desserts appeared even tastier, so now I will have to go back and somehow save room for dessert.

I’ll take a picture of my food next time.

Although this winter has been milder than some, sometimes my urge to hibernate prevails. Thankfully I have had books, music, television, food and of course family, friends, and my cuddly pooch to keep me company.

The Midwest Tour

One of my favorite songs by the Cincinnati-based duo, “Over the Rhine,” begins with these lyrics, “Hello Ohio, The back roads, I know Ohio, Like the Back of my Hand.”

Up until the age of 12, I could relate to these words. Born in Columbus, I spent my elementary school years in Bowling Green in Northwest Ohio. We had family in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati and spent the 4th of July at my grandparents’ house on Lake Mohawk. When we returned to Ohio from road trips, we played the Ohio State fight song on our cassette player and sang along.

But by the time we moved to Minnesota in 1987, our only familial ties remained in Cleveland.

Nonetheless, the rest of my childhood and college years were spent in other small(ish) towns in the Midwest.

Which is why when Greg suggested we take a road trip this summer, I thought of the Midwest.

I realize the Midwest is not most people’s top vacation destination. In fact, when mentioning our trip to local friends, I got interesting responses. One friend said, “Nothing says vacation like Ohio.” Another said, “I’m sorry.”

Of course, when I qualified my explanation by saying we would end up in Chicago, they said, “Oh, Chicago is cool.”

Even my children were dubious. When I shared our plans with a fellow baseball mom from Kansas, she completely understood. I told Mitchell I finally met someone who got it.

He said, “That’s good Mom, because I don’t.”

By the time the end of June rolled around, I could hardly contain my excitement.

Our first stop was Cleveland to visit my mom’s sister, Aunt Laraine (Aunt Raine for short). We have been to Cleveland many times to visit her and my grandparents, but there is much we haven’t seen.

As is my typical M.O., I suggested we start our visit with a trip to an independent bookstore, Loganberry Books. Aunt Raine lives on the west side of the city and Loganberry is on the east side, but my family let me drag them to this delightful store.

My aunt and I walked in first, and Aunt Raine announced, “This is my niece Anne Garber, visiting all the way from Elizabethtown, Pa.” The bookstore was large, with a wonderful selection of new and used books stacked to the high ceilings.

Following our visit to Loganberry, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While Mitchell and Julia aren’t rock and roll enthusiasts, they both enjoy music and have been subjected to their parents’ choices for years. It turned out they were at great ages to visit.

Part of the enjoyment of the Rock Hall is simply admiring the building, designed by the same architect who created the Louvre Pyramid.

After the museum, we were famished. Greg suggested we go to B Spot, one of Michael Symon’s Cleveland restaurants.

B Spot is known for Burgers, Bologna, Brats, Beer, and Bourbon. The kids especially liked their Bad A** shakes. Mitchell got an apple pie bacon vanilla milkshake, which was surprisingly tasty. I loved my Hoppin’ Frog Shandy, and Aunt Raine declared her dinner the best burger she’d ever eaten.

We had to leave Cleveland early the next morning as we were planning to drive the entire distance to Milwaukee that day. When I suggested the Midwest road trip, Greg mentioned he wanted to go to Miller Park. As with Ohio, Milwaukee doesn’t sound like a vacation destination; however, I’d spent time in Wisconsin during college and became a fan of the state.

The route to Milwaukee from Cleveland consists of taking the Ohio Turnpike to the Indiana Turnpike to Chicago and then driving two hours north. I realized this was a perfect opportunity to stop in Bowling Green so the kids could visit my first hometown.

When I tell people I am from the Midwest, they often mention how flat it is. Well, it doesn’t get any flatter than BG. Most people see this as a drawback, but I love flat. Hills make me carsick, and the flat open country roads feel like home.

Our first stop was my old house. It didn’t look the same as I remembered, but as we drove the narrow roads, so many memories popped up.

Next, we visited my elementary school, which has grown, but was still recognizable. Some of the playground equipment is unchanged.

I had shared with Julia that when I was her age, a friend and I would walk from school to the library for German tutoring. On the way we stopped at a store called Ben Franklin for candy. Julia asked if we could stop there on this visit.  I doubted the store was still there, but it is, and is now called Ben’s.

After lunch, we peeked in the town’s record store, Finders. The store is enormous. What was meant to be a short visit ended up as an hour-long browsing session. During that time, Julia and I walked to Flatlands, a coffee shop nearby, to use the bathroom. Out of politeness, I tried to purchase a cup of coffee. When they didn’t have my preferred roast, the barista insisted on giving me a free cup of coffee instead.

I basked in the Midwest hospitality. Thirty-two years later this place still felt like home.

Following one more stop at Ben’s for Buckeyes and other candy, we left town via the university. Greg admitted he hadn’t been thrilled with the stop-off, but it turned out much better than expected.

Once we left BG, we settled in for the arduous drive to Milwaukee. We arrived around 7 and showed up at Kegel’s Inn, a German restaurant in West Allis, where we stayed in an apartment above the restaurant.

Our only full day in Milwaukee started with a delicious breakfast at Blue’s Egg where we enjoyed an appetizer of monkey bread and caramel dipping sauce, a bananas foster latte, eggs Benedict and French toast.

Our relaxed demeanor gave us away, because the waitress said we “had the happy look of a family on vacation.”

In the afternoon we wandered through the shops in the Historic Third Ward, including the Milwaukee Public Market. We also walked along the lakefront, so I could show my children the beauty of Lake Michigan.

We then headed to Miller Park to watch the Brewers play the Mariners. For dinner, we ate some Wisconsin favorites – brats, cheese curds and custard. Unfortunately, the Mariners won, but we had a fun night, even Julia, who isn’t always a fan of baseball.

The next morning we drove to Chicago to sightsee and visit my high school friend and her family.

Julia was thrilled that our downtown parking spot was near the Nutella Café.

After a dessert-like lunch, we went to the Chicago Architecture Center for an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River. We finished our afternoon at Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park (see photo above).

Greg and Mitchell needed to fly to Pittsburgh the following day for a baseball tournament, so we couldn’t catch a Cubs game as we had hoped. We did, however, take a stadium tour of Wrigley Field.

A day later, Julia and I said goodbye to our Chicago friends and embarked on our girls’ road trip through Indiana and Ohio. After four bathroom stops, a license plate game, and lots of music and craziness, we arrived in Butler, Pa.



The baseball tournament was a bit of a letdown, with rainouts and losses.

Overall, though, our Midwest vacation was one of my favorites ever, much to the surprise of my doubting friends. And, we only touched the surface of the hospitable, picturesque middle states. Next up:  Midwest Tour 2.0.

A Lifetime Sport


Recently, while rummaging around in the attic, I came upon my high school yearbooks.

A friend wrote in my senior yearbook, “Good luck in life, and I hope you accomplish your dream of marrying a wealthy man, volunteering at the hospital and playing a lot of tennis.”

I relayed this to Greg, and he said, “Well, at least you play a lot of tennis.”

True that.

After taking a 20-year break from the sport, six years ago I ran into an acquaintance at the local coffee shop who I heard was “playing the circuit.”

Julia had just started first-grade, and I had yet to find employment of any kind.

This friend invited me to a clinic at Spooky Nook, a new facility near us. At the time, there were six indoor courts located in the middle of the work-out area. Music thumped in the background while we hit on the courts below.

As it turns out, muscle memory exists. Tennis came back easily. While exercise in general reduces stress, beating on a tennis ball is especially satisfying. It helps when the ball lands in the court.

If you asked me in high school if I would still be playing tennis at 43, I would have said no. While it was an integral part of my teen years, after high school I needed a break. From seventh-grade on, I played several days a week, year-round. I have great memories of traveling in the school van around Central Indiana to play teams like the Logansport Berries, New Castle Trojans, and the Richmond Red Devils. In the summers in high school, I spent my afternoons in a three-hour clinic, traveling to tournaments on the weekends, always stopping at Steak ‘n Shake on the way. One of my closest friends to this day I met in those summer clinics.

After playing for a couple years at Spooky Nook, I heard that the the Nook was getting rid of the courts. I ended up moving to Hempfield Recreation Center where opportunities abound. There are 10 outdoor courts, including two with a grandstand because the club hosts a professional tournament. And players almost always fill the six indoor courts. If I wanted, I could play every day of the week, morning, afternoon or night. I could play on several USTA teams, both doubles and singles, with men and women of all ages. The club holds social events on holidays and other weekend evenings.

In high school, everyone told me that tennis was a lifetime sport, but I didn’t realize I could center my social life around it.

According to a study last year, tennis players live an average of 9.7 years longer than those who participate in other lifetime sports. Experts surmised that this has to do with both the fact that it is a social sport and that tennis is similar interval training, a very effective form of exercise.

In addition to the health benefits, playing in a USTA league can offer travel opportunities as well. For the last two summers, one of my summer teams qualified for the regional tournament in Princeton, NJ. Had we won that tournament, we would have traveled on to nationals.

We didn’t win, but the experience deepened our friendships, provided the opportunity to visit a charming small town, and gave us the chance to compete on beautiful college campus.

While I would love for my children to start playing tennis now, I also want them to choose their activities. Mitchell, who is very much his own person, has followed in the footsteps of his dad and grandfathers, who played baseball. But after making a nice throw at a recent game, the coach asked him jokingly, “Where did you get that arm, Mitchell?” referring to Greg’s dad, who played professionally.

“I get it from my mom,” he said.  “She plays a lot of tennis.”

Glory Days

On a rainy Sunday in May in Ocean City, Md., I sat alone in my in-laws’ beach condo and cried. I had stayed back to clean while my family ventured out to watch the new Star Wars movie “Solo.” Since cleaning is not my favorite activity, I took a break to check Facebook. And when I did, I saw that a friend of mine from high school was in her last stages of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. She was 43. I called my mom and my tears bubbled over.

My classmate’s death got me thinking a lot about high school. Mitchell will be a freshman in August. When my dad asked him if he was looking forward to it, he said no. He doesn’t want to be the youngest in the school again. Also, he dreads his summer reading assignment of To Kill a Mockingbird and the test that follows the first week of school.

I lack sympathy. Compared to my transition to high school, his seems benign.

After moving from Ohio to Minnesota between sixth- and seventh-grade, my dad promised I would graduate from high school there. Two years later, he broke that promise and we headed to Muncie, Ind. To say my mom and I loved Minnesota would be an understatement. It is a beautiful, progressive, clean, albeit cold, state. Indiana seemed like a step back into time.


Goodbye Party, North Mankato, Minn., 1989

Due to my dad’s late decision to change jobs, we didn’t leave Minnesota until the beginning of August. Our house wasn’t ready and hotel space in Muncie was limited because of a tennis tournament in town. We got stuck in a run-down motel on the east end near the Muncie Mall.

For two weeks.

The Muncie Mall has improved greatly over the years, but in 1989, cigarette smoke permeated through the building, and the mall had no decent lighting. I loathed our evenings wandering the mall’s dim hallways, loitering in J.C. Penney while my parents picked out curtains.

Time passed, though, and we finally moved into our house. School started at the large, diverse, public city school I picked. When I say I picked it, I mean it. My parents let me choose what part of Muncie we would live in based on the school I wanted to attend. There were several rural county schools, a laboratory school affiliated with the university (with a wait list), and two city schools. I chose a city school because I thought there would be fewer cliques and because the school offered German.

CentralMuncie Central High School

Although there is nothing more anxiety-inducing than entering a cafeteria full of teenagers and not knowing a single one, my first day went okay. My mom planned to pick me up after school, but since the school was so big, we didn’t discuss where she would pick me up. As I exited the front doors with hundreds of other students, I saw her frantically running across the lawn, waving her arms, yelling, “Annie!”

Apparently, she thought she would never find me.

Despite the depressing first weeks in Muncie and the embarrassing incident on the first day at Central, my four years in Muncie turned out to be much better than I expected. There have been few times in my life when I have met friendlier people than those in Indiana. Midwesterners are known for their hospitality, and of the places I’ve lived, Muncie topped the charts.

Muncie Central wasn’t a top academic school. In fact, my college admissions counselor told me later that in addition to GPA, SAT scores, class ranking, and class choices, students also received a rating for their high school. My school rated at the bottom. There were some less-than-stellar teachers and unfortunately I didn’t retain much from biology, physics or economics. But there were also some outstanding and caring teachers, advisers, and coaches. And even though I live miles away from my high school friends, when we get together, it feels like nothing has changed.

At the time of course, it did not feel like these were the best years of my life. The years were filled with awkwardness, uncertainly around boys, and a few fights with friends. Some kids rebelled with drinking and drugs. My rebellion involved evangelical Christianity and wearing a wooden cross around my neck. I longed to move on to the wealthy, academically-stimulating, private liberal arts college I’d chosen.

But this place and its people seeped into me.

TennisMuncie Central Girls Tennis 1992

In the early years, my friend’s dad drove us all over the state to watch our school’s semi-famous basketball team (winning their 8th state championship in ’88). Our German Club took annual trips to Chicago, skiing trips to Michigan and eventually a trip to Europe. My high school tennis experience is one that I still value and use today.

As Mitchell enters ninth-grade, I can only hope he has as good of an experience as I. He will attend a better academic high school than I did, with several AP and dual enrollment (college course) offerings. The proximity of our town to the East Coast is a plus. He is more athletic than I was. He has good friends, some of whom he has known since he was an infant.

But what I want to say to him is this:


Cherish these four years. There will be stress, no doubt, over school, sports, friends, and girls. But there will also be opportunities. Take advantage of all of them and enjoy them to the fullest. Don’t worry too much about where you go to college. You can be successful no matter what if you work hard, be persistent, be kind, and have a positive attitude. Most importantly, these are your people, and they will always be your people. So enjoy them while you have them with you.

Making the Grade

Dedicated to Charlene Czerniak, Hugh Fairchild, Friederike Alberding, Becky Clock, and Don Wafer

In college I took a creative writing class in which I wrote a poem called “The Scarlet Letter,” about my high school physics teacher who gave me the only C I received in school. Clearly I had some issues with this man. In hindsight, I don’t feel he was a bad teacher, only that he didn’t explain physics well to those who didn’t get it. The students who understood physics loved him.

But throughout my education, this teacher was one of the few who I felt didn’t care about all his students’ progress.

My teachers in the small, quaint elementary school in Northwest Ohio I attended were excellent. My fifth- and sixth-grade teachers were perhaps the two best teachers I had. My fifth-grade teacher had a unique interest in science, my least favorite subject, and was the only teacher who made it fun and interesting for me. My sixth-grade teacher taught me more about writing than any other teacher until college.

In high school, three teachers in particular stood out. My German teacher spent as much time chaperoning trips to Chicago and eventually to Germany as she did teaching. Her teaching ability and care for her students were exceptional. My journalism teacher supported my friend and me when the principal admonished us for writing a newspaper article about the excessive number of fights in the school. She taught me life and writing lessons I still use. And my tennis coach, who I never had as a science teacher, believed in me when I needed encouragement the most.

Without these mentors I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And thankfully, even though the teaching profession is more difficult than ever, my children have excellent teachers, too. My kids are in school more than six and a half hours per day, a total of 33.75 hours per week.  That is A LOT of time that someone else besides me is influencing them.

What I feel toward these individuals devoting time and patience to my children is incredible gratitude. Julia’s teacher this year is no less than outstanding.  She’s a seasoned teacher, who has been in the classroom for 35 years.  Can you imagine?  I cannot. One might sympathize a bit if she wanted to put in a little less than 100 percent, but this woman puts in 110 percent.

Mitchell, on the other hand, attends an intermediate school (grades 4-6) and has had three teachers in each grade. When leaving his smaller K-3 school to move to a school of 900 students, I worried how he would fare. Would the teachers nurture him enough or would they treat him more like a middle schooler? My concern was unfounded, because his teachers have advocated for him and created a fun learning environment.

If I wanted, I probably could homeschool. I have a graduate-level education and although I might need some assistance with science, I most likely could manage. But I would hate it and so would my kids.  They crave daily interaction with their peers, not to mention the benefit of a professional trained to teach them. Greg and I probably could also scrape by the funds to send them to a private school.

But I remain a firm believer in the value of public education. Both my parents started their careers teaching in public schools. I attended public schools and worked for a public school system for nine years.  My kids are learning to get along with a diverse group of people. They are learning to succeed and fail, which prepares them for life. They are learning that things don’t always go their way. They deal with a ridiculously long bus ride. Occasionally I drive them, but I won’t cater to them forever because life doesn’t work that way.

In this day, there is so much pressure on teachers. They constantly have to adapt to new and different teaching styles and content. The work day doesn’t end when teachers leave school, and they must stay up-to-date. Yes, they get their summers off, but once they complete what is required of them, it doesn’t amount to much time. To deal with all of this plus politics and parental complaints, teachers must truly love their job and their students.

I admire them immensely and am thankful for those who have dedicated their lives to this profession. It’s not an easy job, nor the highest paying job, but it is one of the most important.  I will be forever grateful to my teachers and to those who educate my children.

How did your teachers positively impact your life?

Alberding (2)

My German teacher, friends and I in Germany in 1993.

A Life Well Lived

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, a friend of my mom’s asked her if she was going to be “one of those crazy grandparents,” who couldn’t stop gushing over her grandchildren.

“No,” my mom said. “I won’t be one of THOSE grandparents.”

Ah, but she was wrong. When Mitchell was born in 2004 my parents lived in Indiana, but my mom came and spent the summer with us.

For the first time in my life, her attention was focused on a child that wasn’t me. Now I know what it feels like to have a sibling, I thought! But this was my child, and my mom was devoted to him.

And thus, the unique grandparent/grandchild relationship between my parents and children began. It only intensified (in a good way) when my parents retired and moved here five years later.

In a sense, it’s completely different from the relationship I had with my grandparents, in that they always lived 100-1000 miles away. But in another sense, it’s not so different, in that my grandparents were devoted to my cousins and me.

My dad’s dad (Grandpa McKenzie) was particularly special to us. To all who knew him, this man was known for his incredible patience and gentleness. He was born in Canada in 1918 and immigrated to the U.S. as a toddler. His father was Scottish and his mother Canadian.  He graduated from Ohio State at a time when it wasn’t so common to attend college. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and fought in Germany during World War II. He worked as an industrial engineer for years and sent three children to college in the 1960s and 70s.

By the time I was born in 1975, my grandpa had already defied death several times. In addition to putting his life on the line in the war, he also had two heart attacks in his late 40s and early 50s.

What I remember him for is the endless time he spent with me.  One of my earliest memories of him includes riding in the backseat of a car driving to Florida while he read old Christmas cards to me and let me comb his greasy gray hair over and over with his small black pocket comb.

He and my grandma retired to Florida when I was seven. My family stayed in the Midwest, but the distance didn’t matter. We traveled to Florida at least once a year, and they visited us. In fourth grade, my parents put me on my first plane ride alone to spend my spring break with them.

As I grew up, my grandparents continued to show up for every milestone in my life no matter how far away they were.  They were there for my high school tennis matches, prom, and high school and college graduations.

In 1996, my grandpa was diagnosed with kidney and colon cancer. He lived through it, long enough to see me and three more of my cousins get married and meet four great-grandchildren.

In 2006, the renal cancer that hit him in the 90s spread to his lungs. Ever the optimist, he entered a clinical trial.  The trial gave him a few more years of life until he started heading downhill again. In early 2008, both he and my grandma were admitted into Hospice.  She passed away in January.

Greg and I flew to Indiana for the funeral, knowing that it would probably be the last time we would see him. The funeral and family gathering were bittersweet as we remembered my grandma and said our goodbyes. Within the next three weeks, three of my cousins and I decided to travel one more time to see our grandpa before he passed. Of the four of us, my visit was last.

A few days before we were scheduled to arrive, my aunt told my grandpa, who was drifting in and out of consciousness, that Mitchell and I were coming that weekend.

“Well, I need to make it until then,” he said.

And he did. He was almost unconscious when we arrived, but when I held his hand and told him we were there, his eyes opened and he looked my way. A few hours later, surrounded by his family, he died.

Almost eight years have passed since then, but his legacy is still with us. I see his endless patience and dedication in my dad, who spends hours with my kids and makes it a priority to attend their sporting events. I see it in my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

Unlike him, I do not have endless patience, and I’m not always so laid back. But I think the attribute I admired the most about him was that he appreciated every day and moment with those he loved. Even during the years when he was sick, he never stopped loving life. I am only hopeful I can do the same.

Anne and Grandpa McKenzie0001

My grandpa, cousin, and I in 1983.