February 23, 2012

The Legend of Victo Spring

As a kid there were times of the year I loved. I loved the Spring and Summer, with the warm winds blowing and tons of outdoor opportunities. Perfect weather for a day-long bike ride, a leisurely walk or a family barbeque.

The Winter was another story. Since I lived in New York which got its fair share of snow, winter was the flip side of summer in every way. Outside activities consisted of trudging through snow and trying not to fall on the icy driveways and sidewalks. Exercise consisted of shoveling or snow blowing all that snow, with only the occasional bit of sleigh-riding to actually enjoy it.
The temperatures drop so low you gasp every time you step outside. You learned to combine trips outside to do more than one thing. Go outside to get the newspaper in the morning? No way. Better to wait and grab it later on your way out.

Yes, winter life can be harsh. But it's never harsher than the months of January to March. Those are the deadest months of all, that grey zone where there's not much going on and people all over are simply trying to hang on, to look forward, and wait. Wait until things warm up and thaw out. In short, they're waiting for Spring.

As a kid, I was no different. I was waiting for Spring more fervently than anything else. To me Spring meant a return to freedom. Freedom to go outside, have fun and get back on the bike. Get back in the pool. Get back to life. The life that seemed to get put on hold when the mercury dropped in November and the snow started flying.

However, there was a problem. The calenders seemed to mock me. I would open up my new calendar to January and see a snowy scene, maybe left over from the Holidays. Snow, ice, trees. Fine. I lived with that for a month. No big deal since the scene outside matched what was on the calendar. Then, a month later I'd flip the page to February. Another cold scene. This time it would usually be a house, village or person in a snowy, cold environment. The message? "It's February and it's STILL cold." I would grimace since my own situation had not changed.

Then, it happened. I reached the end of February. The very next day, March 1, I flipped the calendar page to March. Suddenly, like Dorothy opening up her black and white door into the technicolor world of Oz there it was: a beautiful Spring picture. A sunny sky and green grass framing some gorgeous scene. Sometimes it was a mountain, sometimes a family playing in the yard. It was beautiful. Warm. Inviting. 

I stared at it in disbelief. Surely these calendar makers weren't serious? Outside my window was still snow and ice. It hadn't gone away overnight despite the calendar transitioning from February to March. Spring hadn't suddenly arrived today just because the calendar page was flipped and we were suddenly in March, right?

And then it hit me: It should have.

Yes, in my teenage reasoning I came upon it: since the calendars all have a nice Spring scene on it for March, and since Spring really does arrive later in that month, we needed something to commemorate that in-between period. The disparity between what the calendar picture shows and what's really outside.

And thus I created my own holiday. Victo Spring.

To be fair I started out simply referring it to as "early spring" or "my spring", both of which drew curious stares from people who overheard it. Some offered to teach me about the lunar cycle and the seasons. Others just shook their heads. But the reality of it was this: Spring was imminent. We had taken the first step by making it into March and flipping that calendar page, whose picture revealed a change was taking place. Although not there yet on March 1, it nonetheless indicated that there was a big warmup heading our way.

Over the years I got older, got wiser, but never let go of my holiday which had now become known as Victo Spring. I carried it with me and little by little mentioned it to other people. I mentioned it to my wife who at first thought it was hilarious. She eventually warmed up to it when she realized I wouldn't let it go. When we had children I made sure they were indoctrined from a young age. It became a family tradition; sometimes mocked, sometimes applauded, and sometimes just a curiosity.

But then an interesting thing happened. It started to take hold. My wife and kids mentioned it to their friends. The network of people who knew about it started to grow exponentially. Other friends heard about it and began asking questions. I dutifully explained it all to them and they smiled. They all seemed to like it. They said that over the years they too had grown tired of waiting for Spring to arrive. They liked the idea of Victo Spring and they embraced it themselves.

Victo Spring became the preeminent way of heralding the imminent arrival of Spring. 

So much so that a few years ago they asked me, "How is it celebrated?"

And at first I had no clue. I had always just flipped the calendar on March 1st, performed a little Spring dance (it's not pretty) and went along my way. That was the earliest Victo Spring celebration.
But now people were asking to take it to the next level. Surely there must be something we can do to celebrate the arrival of March and Victo Spring?

And so three years ago we started our annual Victo Spring celebration dinner. It always occurs on March 1, which is of course the actual arrival of Victo Spring. We open it up to all, and we go out to a Hudson Valley restaurant, pretty much take it over completely, and have ourselves a great time. We have dinner, swap stories, get re-acquainted with friends we may not have seen in a while. It's a way to usher in Spring and get some social activity back in your life. Many people have told me that after a long, cold, possibly snowy winter, they love the idea of an annual initiation to Spring ceremony, almost as though we're holding it to invite the Spring winds and warmer weather to arrive. In short, it's just what some people need.

I invite you to embrace Victo Spring too. Embrace the fact that Winter is coming to an end and Spring is headed your way.  Consider this your  wake-up call: the Spring equinox is coming. And things are definitely heating up.

February 09, 2012

Picture This: No More Kodak Cameras

It was my first. I picked her up from a local store since I had heard good things and the price was right. I couldn't believe the concept: a camera that used no film and hooked up to a computer to show the pictures. It seemed like the whole Polaroid instant film concept taken dangerously far into the technology realm.

It was the Kodak DC-215. It was my first digital camera.

No, it wasn't the best I ever had. That honor still goes to my Olympus C740-UZ, with it's 10x zoom and amazing depth of field. The DC-215 wasn't even the most reliable, as anyone who had one back in the day can attest. It's one big weakness? The battery tray. It had a habit of not staying shut and popping open at the worst time, splaying your batteries all over the floor of wherever you were: your home, front lawn, Disney World, etc. However, it had the distinction of being the first, for me and I'm guessing for a fair number of people. It ushered me into the new world of digital photography, with better than average picture quality and a seemingly unlimited number of pictures.  And with that in mind it was perfect that the company that delivered this was Kodak, a company whose name was synonymous with photography. When you think cameras, Kodak comes to mind.

But no more. This is the year that Kodak will halt production on it's cameras. As in: it's not going to be in the camera business anymore. At all. Period. Oh, and did I mention that Kodak invented the entire concept of digital cameras? Well, it did. And now it shutting down because it can't compete in the industry it created.
Competition from other manufacturers, as well as modern-day camera integration into all cell phones, has battered this former industry leader. Unable to eke out a living in their own industry, they're shutting down.

Not to bemoan the subject, but what kind of a world is it where the Kodak company exists but doesn't make cameras and doesn't make film? A strange world indeed. Perhaps at some point it will come back as a niche or upscale offering, with a luxury camera that appeals to die-hard professionals or techies. But until then, since it can no longer compete in the consumer space, it's time to wave goodbye to the last of the Kodak cameras. By the end of this calendar year they'll be nothing more than a sizable piece of history. And hopefully, that history will contain pictures captured by Kodak cameras.

February 01, 2012

Why February is Cause for Optimism

Traditionally thought of as the darkest, coldest month, in fact February is one of the most positive months for change.  There's lots to like: the days get noticeably longer, with the sun staying around later in the day postponing sunset until a more reasonable hour. Think about it: during the dreaded January it's truly the dark days -- it's pitch black by 4:30 pm. 4:30 pm! That's the time for a coffee-break, not lights out. In February, whether people realize it or not (and usually we don't) much is done to rectify this.  Truthfully this started in mid- to late-January but it kicks in big time in February. Starting as early as Feb. 1, the days stretch out until at least 5 pm and that's just for starters, as each day another minute or two is added to the day. By the time the end of February hits, daylight doesn't end until a more respectable 5:45 pm, or shortly before most people are thinking about dinner.

Another good thing February has going for it: it's the last full month of Winter. February is what I call a Countdown Month, where it's 28 days of waiting for us to get to March and the imminent arrival of Spring. There is the sense among lots of people that they can survive X number of days to get to March. After all, they've survived this long, since November, then December and the arrival of the winter solstice on December 21. They rationalize they can probably make it 28 more days.  And, although Spring doesn't hit until March 20, there is some sense of relief when you flip the calendar to March. As if you're helping hasten the arrival of Spring. As if it's really coming. And so, February is the conduit, or countdown, to that. Don't believe me? Open almost any calendar and look at January. Snowy picture. Winter scene. Flip to February. Pretty much the same. Different location. More snow. More cold. Now brace yourself as you flip to March.  It's almost always a beautiful Spring scene. It's getting you ready. It's almost here.

This is the big pay off from February. And it's glorious. And starting today, it gets underway. Enjoy. Let the countdown begin.