Of Instant Soups and Frozen Lakes

By SA Rowner

When did midwinter break become a “thing”?

Like most Jewish schools, my kids have off for an extended weekend at the end of January. It’s really nothing so new, as parents of high school-age kids already, we’ve been through this rodeo a few times before.

We’ve gone skiing, snow tubing, and for an easy younger kids favorite, just finding a hotel with an indoor pool in some obscure town within a couple of hours from home, asking the hotel how booked they were (to gauge our chances of getting some family time in it), and the voila – midwinter vacation.

I’m not a fan of sharing my vacation with crowds. Nope, when we go away, I prefer to bring along a kiddush Hashem, and not pay for the privilege of waiting for long lines, crowded attractions and less-than-patient people.

So we used to be the experts at figuring out where others wouldn’t go. The snowtubing or ski resorts within 1-2 hours of NY – avoid.

That’s not to say that you won’t find somewhere you can enjoy yourselves, but we generally would try to figure people’s travel limits and then stretch past it just enough so we could have the quiet we crave.

We’d also try to find activities that weren’t the most popular thing to do, although we can’t claim to have been 100% successful.

Like the time I had this romantic vision of my family making instant soups on a frozen lake.

In my mind’s eye, snow-capped pristine fir trees surround a mountain lake, solidly frozen with a thick layer of ice, then carpeted in two inches of pure white snow, as our family makes its way single file, leaving perfect footprints in the virgin snow, exactly to the center of the lake, in perfect harmony, wide-eyed wonder, happy smiles, and perfect mists rising from red cheeks atop knotted scarves…

The vision was so good, I had to actually try it.

And we couldn’t have been the first ones to think about it either. Look at your pump-pot urn. Why on earth would it feature a large handle if not to take along with you on a frozen lake to make soups?

That solves the “where to get hot water on a winter day in the center of a frozen lake conundrum.” Instant soups? Easy enough to procure at pretty much any kosher store. Willing family members? Now I was getting some resistance…

But wait, where would we find a frozen lake?

I called the ranger stations at numerous state parks in North Western NJ that I knew had lakes to find out about how safe the ice is for walking on. Not one ranger was willing to answer.

I searched the web for NJ ice fishing, figuring that would be the closest thing anyone would actually suggest people do, and yet, it entails walking out on a frozen lake. No real luck there, either.

The NJ Division of fish and wildlife website ambiguously stated, “Obviously, winter weather patterns play a major role in the amount of time there is safe ice in any particular year.

“This is especially true in New Jersey. Therefore, the length of the ice fishing season can vary greatly from year to year. Freezing temperatures arriving in late December can result in safe ice forming on a good many ponds and lakes and ice anglers gearing up for action by early January.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

“Ice fishing is a very safe sport but common sense can go a long way to ensure this. A minimum thickness of four inches is the rule of thumb for safe ice for individual anglers. Areas near underwater springs and bubblers around docks result in thinner ice and should be avoided.”

Greeeeeaaaaattt. That was almost as helpful as a pair of shoes for a snake.

So what to do?

The idea wasn’t good enough to make a run to Alaska to fulfill, and because I couldn’t be certain enough on the safety of the idea to satisfy my family, we took along the urn and drove westwards, towards PA.

Since my reluctant family was kind of tagging along but hesitantly anyway, unsure how this was going to be a fun trip for them, the “Are we there, yets”, began almost as soon as we got into the car.

Finally pulling off the road near a slushy rails-to-trails type place I grabbed the urn and the soups and began marching down the trail to a snow-covered picnic table about ¼ mile down the trail. The kids begrudgingly followed, the complaints getting louder with each footstep.

Finally sitting atop the wet, cold slushy benches, we made the soups as everyone kvetched how cold they were. And I was asking to hear about this, and not in the positive sense for a lonoooonnng time to come.

This wasn’t matching my vision of a pleasant mid-winter break activity.

Memorable, but not for the right reasons.

We should’ve just rented a kosher vacation home from Florida Kosher Villas and been done with it.

Ok, no frozen lake, and instant soups optional.

But a private pool, kosher kitchen, great weather, and so much more will certainly make it memorable.

And I’d have been sure to hear about it for a loooooooong time. For all the right reasons, this time.