Here in Florida, we don't get to experience many of the traditional trappings of the holidays. The icicles hanging from the eaves of our homes are made of lights, not ice. We don't have fireplaces, so we buy DVDs with hours of a yule log burning in some northerner's hearth. And snowmen? Forget it. But we Floridians are crafty. While our friends up north are shoveling their driveways, we've come up with ways to enjoy the wintertime, minus the winter.
LAND O'LAKES — For 20 years, Fred Krauer manned the snow plows for New York City's sanitation department. Every winter, he worked 13-hour shifts pushing the frosty slush from the city streets.
Krauer and his wife, Linda, both 56, retired to Florida in 2004 to get away from the winter weather. But last month, they came home to find everything white.
Their neighbor, Anne Childers, 60, had asked the Krauers if she could have the lawn surrounding their attached villas in the Oakstead subdivision painted white as a surprise for her 81-year-old mother, who loves snow.
The fake stuff was fine with Krauer.
"There's not enough there to plow," he said.
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Vicki Hutto, president of VIP Pest Control in Tampa, has painted dry, thirsty lawns green for the past three years. A spritz of color erased the damage from the drought.
She got the idea of switching to white paint after a conversation with northern transplants who said they missed the snow at Christmas time.
Sadly, Hutto can't relate. She grew up in the south and has never seen the white stuff in person.
Not that she hasn't tried. Hutto went on snow-hunting trips to Lake Tahoe and Canada in recent years, only to find heat waves instead of winter weather.
"Maybe someone should pay me to go where they don't want snow," she said.
In October, her Wesley Chapel yard was the first to receive the treatment. The company has since whitened about a dozen lawns.
The "snow service" starts at $150, and customers can add sparkles or mosquito repellent for an additional fee. The paint is rain-proof and environmentally friendly, Hutto said, and should last about six weeks.
"I think it's giving people something to laugh about," she said. "That's what we need right now. The economy hasn't been that great, our soldiers are off at war. We need something to smile about."
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Smiles are exactly what Anne Childers was after when she had her lawn and Krauer's painted the week before Thanksgiving.
She wanted to do something special for her mother, Sadie Gamble, 81, who moved in with her last year.
"She loves Christmas like a child," Childers said. "I wanted to do something that would surprise and delight her."
While Childers was growing up, her father was in the Navy and the family moved around a lot. They spent winters in Newfoundland and New Jersey. Childers hadn't seen snow since the early 1980s, her mom since the late 1960s.
Snow was magical, said Gamble. It meant Christmas was just around the corner.
"You go to bed on Christmas Eve, even when you're old and gray, with such anticipation," she said.
Childers was able to keep the white lawn a surprise until VIP Pest Control came out to paint. She set up a chair on the driveway for her mother to watch the lawn transform.
Gamble thought her daughter's surprise was fantastic.
"I wish that I knew that everybody could have somebody like her when they get to be where I am. It would be wonderful to know that everyone could be cared for so well," she said.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.