Awaiting the storm

This morning the skies were blue and the mountains clear. Over morning coffee, the horizons were bounded only by mountains with snowy feet and bare crowns.

By noon, the clouds had covered the sun.

Here at the twilight of the day, the nearest mountains are nearly only memories, or abstract reminders as slightly darker parts of the undifferentiated horizon.

Disappearing mountains

At any moment now, the first of the flakes will begin to fall. Well over a foot will fall before these falling clouds rise again, having dropped the burdens of their great snow-hordes. The vaults of heaven will open and grant us a full share of winter.

We are safe at the footsteps of a mighty cliff, overlooking the Greek-inspired Diana’s Bath and Echo Lake. We have nowhere we need to go in the time before the clouds lift – although if we’re feeling adventurous the best of snow will be available on Attitash & Wildcat. The snow shoes are in the car. The outdoor pool is steaming in the chill. We are fully stocked with books and snacks, and the lodge has a full restaurant (and bar). The role-playing games are in full swing.

Let the snow fall.

The Blizzard of ’18

It is hard to tell, in these later days, when something is really bad or when it is simply overhyped. Or possibly, really bad but national coverage so you only got the glancing blow from it. (See also: Hurricane Sandy.)

Today’s blizzard has the makings of a Real Event. We’re used to storms up here. It snowed on Christmas Day and we thought it was scenic. Until we had to start shoveling, at least. In 2015, feet of snow fell and did not melt on an unrelenting weekly basis. Snow is no reason to panic. But today’s storm has a few attributes that make me think the hype has a chance to be justified, and we have a reason to be wary.

1) The key one is the wind. Usually our snow storms are just snow. It falls on our driveway and we shovel it. But this storm has near hurricane force winds associated with it. Sideways snow is more serious than straight snow. This makes it harder to keep a house warm, and also threatens trees. We’ll be absolutely fine as long as we keep power. This isn’t usually an issue. But things will get very serious for us very quickly if we lose power. And that’s what wind threatens to do.

2) Potential. The worst of this storm is actually offshore. Our planned 12 – 15 inches is not the best this storm can do. The heart of it could be worse. And it’s gradually been moving closer to us. Even two or three days ago this was only going to be 4 inches. It’s a tiny distance. If the weather forecasters get just a bit of a surprise, we could end up with far more snow than any of us are ready for.

3) Cold. The storm is part of a one/two punch. It’s actually “pretty warm” today (eg. in the 20s). Given our streak of last week (seven days under 20 degrees – which hasn’t happened in 100 years) twenty actually sounds pretty warm. And it is, compared to what’s coming next. There are places in the world where a winter temperature of -9 degrees is normal. Boston is not one of them. We’re right next to the ocean, which ought to moderate our temperatures. It’ll be worse inland. This is not a normal temperature and may set a new record for the day on Saturday. This is what makes the prospect of losing power so appalling.

It gets worse

On the plus side, pretty much everyone wisely canceled almost everything, so we’re working from home. It’s cozy. The kids are much older now, so it’s a lot easier to spend a day with them! And I’m looking forward to the traditional snow day pot luck with neighbors!

I’ll keep you posted!

10:18 am – They say we’ll be getting about two inches of snow an hour from now until 4 or 5 pm tonight. So far it’s not too heavy, but very steady. Accumulations are hard to gauge because of the wind. I hear some plows attempting to plow a nearby parking lot. Good luck – this snow won’t stay where you put it!

11:28 am – Visibility has dropped a lot. I can probably only see about 200 feet. The snow appears to be falling sideways and you can hear Hollywood-style whistling. I’m on my second pot of coffee.

9 am – it begins
11:30 am picture – Compare and contrast with this morning’s picture

1:31 pm – The neighbors have started shoveling and snowblowing. I’m skeptical regarding how useful that is in 40 mph winds. Visibility has, if anything, gotten worse. So has the wind.

Even less visibility

3:32 pm – The dark is rising and the snow is falling.

Visibility lost

11:21 pm – well. I think that was as much snow as we’ve ever dug out of our driveway from one storm. The snow piles are nearly as tall as 2015! The snow stopped falling around 5 pm and the wind stopped whipping. It’s hard to tell with the drifts how much fell, but I’d have to think it was at least a 12 inch baseline. And our driveway is not kind to us in the drift department. Adam probably spent 3 hours shoveling. I spent at least two. It really had to be done tonight, because the big freeze coming will make the snow harder and the work harder. But we did it. Mostly. I think.

If I can’t move my arms tomorrow, you’ll know why.

Very high banks – almost as high as ’15
We had to walk a lot of the snow a considerable distance, including across the street.
Meanwhile, the kids…
The traditional Nobility Hill snow day potluck
How you get a car out in this situation
That’s a lot of snow to be moved

Winter Sports

This is why we don't wait for good weather to get outside
This is why we don’t wait for good weather to get outside

Last year, for a period of about two months, we could not take a walk. Every week we got pounded by another storm. Every week we’d laboriously clear the new fallen snow – moving it on top of the shoulder-high piles of snow that had already fallen. We struggled to make it to work. By the time the last foot fell, I was pretty sure that if another storm came it would be physically impossible to dig ourselves out – there was no where left to put snow. Everywhere we walked, we walked in narrow channels between vast and dirty snow banks. My awesome neighbors had a rotating potluck on storm nights so we could get out of our own walls, but eventually the entire world felt constrained and constricted. The walls seemed to compress under the weight of the frigid winter, as though it might finally crush us.

Family snow portrait
Family snow portrait

But some people seemed less claustrophobic. The skiers were ecstatic at the powder. The cross country folks went places they’d never gone before. The snow-shoers had the Fells to themselves. In the heart of this winter vice, we rented snow shoes to see if we’d like it. It was like taking the first deep breath for weeks, to get out into those woods again. My mother must have heard us gushing, because for Christmas this year we got the great gift of four sets of snow shoes, so we can break down those walls again.


2015 was also the first year that the Y offered ski lessons for the boys after school. They got picked up from the Y and taken to Nashoba Valley, where they were learning to ski like proper New Englanders. We signed them up again this year (with a ski group that doubled in size since last year!).

Then, this summer, came word that Stoneham Town Common would host a free, open to the public ice skating rink. For the price of a pair of skates, we could all glide around the common whenever we wanted, with our friends and families. Plus, Grey has started getting invited to open time at the Stoneham Arena (ice rink) on Fridays by one of his friends. When the local used sporting goods store announced they were going out of business, we quickly procured four pairs of ice skates.

So in the course of one year, we went from people with no winter sport proclivities to folks with snow shoes, ice skates and kids who know how to ski. (That’s what last winter did to us!) And now we find ourselves in our summer stomping grounds in the White Mountains. We have switched our regular tent for an unexpectedly swanky White Mountain Resort. I do not ski. I actually cringe if I start thinking too much about skiing, due to major knee injuries from the first and only time I went skiing. But Adam likes snowboarding, and the kids enjoy the slopes too. (Even if they do seem to be geniuses at losing ski gear.) So I’m enjoying hanging out in the resort and working on my book while the guys are skiing. (Edited: here are a few pictures I took!)

Well, at least that was the concept. In reality, it’s difficult to manage two not-strong-yet skiers simultaneously. Right now I have on my left a sweet little Thane-boy narrating the creation of Lego elements telling the story of Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three”, which he’s reading at the moment. Adam and Grey are skiing together. They’ll switch off in a little bit.

Brunch was tasty AND scenic
Brunch was tasty AND scenic

I’m enjoying the hygge of a mountain lodge. The scenery here is downright spectacular. The food is unexpectedly excellent. Last night, all the boys were asleep by 8:30. If the time spent skiing hadn’t gotten them to bed early, the hour the kids spent in the heated-to-99-degree pool while having a snowball fight would’ve helped them nod off. I wasn’t tired, though, so I got to spend two hours in front of the roaring fireplace working on my novel and listening to the guy behind me hold court for two hours. (I’m not sure anyone else in his party got a single word in that entire time.)

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this winter has so far been record-shatteringly warm. That ice rink on the common will open nearly a month after it was scheduled to. There hasn’t been enough snow to snow shoe on yet this year. In a Murphy’s Law moment, some of the heaviest snow of the year so far fell JUST as we were driving up here. I had an hour of white-knuckle driving of the highest degree. We haven’t gotten to try the rink yet. A repeat of last year is statistically unlikely, but it’s possible that this winter will be the inverse of last year’s unusual weather. (Of course, we’ll all remind you that the snow started after the Superbowl last year – it hadn’t kicked off by now.)

But when the snow comes, if the snow comes, we’ll be ready to enjoy it!

PS – Here’s a video Adam took of just how white-knuckle the driving was!

11 thoughts from shoveling

I often blog in my head while I’m doing physical labor. My very best blog post ever came from doing the laundry. Here are my deep thoughts from this morning’s dig out.

My house, today
My house, today

1. I’ve always loved my neighbors, but this winter has made me extra grateful
Adam is laid low by the stomach bug that knocked me out. He’s no longer actively ill, but in the weak phase. Also, we don’t own a snowblower. Also also, I promised to take care of a neighbor’s house while they were gone. This means I’m like extra duper screwed, right? Wrong. I have the key to the neighbor’s snowblower (the folks who are gone have the best one on the block). I flagged over another neighbor to help me, and he spent two hours doing the snow blower work while I did the shoveling work at both houses. We’ll be potlucking at at yet another neighbors house tonight. Friends are awesome. I love friends. I haven’t seen my friends who live half a mile away in WAY TOO LONG. But neighbors who are friends are such a gift in blizzard conditions!

2. What would it take to actually make our little New England civilization stop working?
A la Hurricane Sandy, at what point does our society cease to function? Or does it shut down in dribs and drabs? Already there are plans for some Boston streets to be one way until April 1st. At what point does normal life stop? Are we already there?

3. Seriously, April 1st?
March is supposed to be colder than normal. The 10 day forecast only gets above freezing once (35 degrees). There are two more precipitation events in that forecast, adding up to 5 – 10 inches of snow. I don’t know when life will go back to normal, but six weeks seems like a good guess. It will probably be a lot longer until you can no longer find snow anywhere.

That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that's where we blow the snow, but still...
That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that’s where we blow the snow, but still…

4. With great power comes great responsibility
A common thought as I shovel snow is that winter is a crappy time to be a feminist. See, I’m physically perfectly capable of shoveling snow. I don’t believe in a gendered division of labor. Do you see where this is going? What it means is that I, as a feminist, can’t tell my husband that snow is his job because he’s a man. This is a crying shame on days like this.

5. Thank goodness we got a new roof
I’m guessing that our old roof wouldn’t have held up to this. Lots of people have lots of leaks. Our pitched roof is dropping the snow all by itself, no problem. The insulation looks great too, as the only melting is sun melt on the Southern exposure.

This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.
This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.

6. I blow dried my hair this morning.
I almost never do that. The few times I’ve tried it was to make my hair look good, a goal that I’ve never really been successful in accomplishing. It looked great this morning. Then I pulled a wool hat on top of it. The point was that going out in 13 degree weather with a high wind warning for two hours of shoveling with a wet head. I should try less hard, and maybe the whole hair drying thing will work.

7. I seriously wonder when I’ll make it into the office
Tuesday? Tuesday only? Will there be parking when I get to Fort Point? What’s the best combination of not spending stupid time on the road and stupid money on parking, while still spending time with my colleagues. I can’t work from home until April 1st, and might go insane if I tried.

Josh is rocking the roof rake
Josh is rocking the roof rake

8. The children’s brains are currently oozing out there ears
They’ve never played this many video games in their life. I’ve lost all will to parent. Judging by how many of their friends are online, making Minecraft traps with them, I’m not alone.

9. But at least they won’t miss school?
That’s the upside of this all happening over Feb break week, right? No chance of snow days this week, nuh uh! And hopefully by the time next week rolls around, we’re now longer in the icy clutches of Snowmageddon. (10 day forecast says it snows 5 – 8 inches Sunday night. I hate you 10 day forecast!) I feel really badly for the teachers whose success is judged by the standardized tests these children will be taking in a few weeks. They’ve missed so much instructional time, and I have to say that I think my kids study skills and core skills have backslid in the last three weeks. Totally not fair to their excellent teachers!

Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.
Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.

10. Let’s see who’s laughing this summer
I’ve gotten plenty of comments from Northwesterners who point out that Boston currently has more snow than Snoqualmie Pass. The entire US is suffering from a changing climate. (BTW – any time we want to collectively start acting on this problem is good for me. Count me in.) But given a choice between extra violent winters, extra precipitation and more extreme weather, and drought and loss of ground water… I’ll take the nasty blizzards. The entire West is going to bake this summer, with no snowpack to feed the rivers. Florida is losing it’s potable ground water. We may live in Snowmageddon country, and this may be our new normal, but at least we have water.

11. We’ll get through this
The spring will come. There was a year in medieval history when summer never came. That’s not our situation. They may be delayed, but we’ll have snowdrops and crocuses and lilacs and camping trips this summer. We’ll look back on this as an epic memory, but we will some day see grass again!

Happier (warmer) times!

Follow ups

Well, my fellow New Englanders, I did my best. I figured writing about the impending snow storm would make it, in the spirit of New England storms, become a non-event. Last night, as the hour for its arrival passed with a few errant snowflakes, I hoped.

It was not to be. Now, I try really hard not to complain about snow in New England in winter. (Or 100 degrees with 90% humidity in summer.) At least, no more than the standard complaints. But really. This is unacceptable. My husband I each put over two hours in shovelling our driveway out again. We had to carry snow across the street from the first shovelsful. It would’ve been a significant snowfall if it was the first of the year — maybe a little over a foot. But coming on top of existing berms, it was brutal. And you know, I consider that in the modern life, there are very tasks jobs where my gender matters. Hardly any really. But when the snow piles are 5 feet high, it turns out upper body strength is at a premium. I simply could not get the snow high enough for most of the locations, so I had to walk a long, long way carrying heavy snow to clear it.

I did, however, sneak in 5 minutes of pictures to show just how bad it was today. I was hoping to get all artistic and try out camera settings etc, but there was just Too. Much. Snow. As it was, I made it to work at the crack of 11 this morning. The only saving grace was that everyone else has to deal with the same snow.

Also, Grey has been successfully signed up for Kindergarten. It was rather anticlimactic. The woman at the front desk seemed very surprised that I’d actually read the web site, filled out the appropriate paperwork and had the needed documents already copied. Hopefully she favorably remembers me forever from now. Or at least for the, er, 7 years she and I will be BFFs.

(Takes a look at her camera memory card.) Hey, there are some other arty pictures here too, with me trying to figure out my camera. Fun! (OK, I admit it. I’m not feeling too hot. I have the uneasy sense that this blog post doesn’t have any coherence. That’s a classic combination for a picture post!)

Perry the Platypus wears a hat.
Perry the Platypus wears a hat.
Date night. I won this round on behalf of the Allies.
This is the capability that made me really want a new camera. You can't do this with a point-and-shoot. At least not mine.
We played a game called Arimaa. My husband won. Then he spent a week reading up on strategy.
I love this chess set.
They spent hours with this "house" they built
It's so hard to take pictures of lots of snow.
It's so hard to take pictures of lots of snow.
Where would you put this snow?
Where would you put this snow?
Snow shoveling is a neighborhood activity. We were all out today, and the kids played while we shoveled.
Snow shoveling is a neighborhood activity. We were all out today, and the kids played while we shoveled.
Where we do put the snow. Those are stairs, if you can't tell.
Where we do put the snow. Those are stairs, if you can't tell.

Here are all the pictures

As ye shovel, so shall ye reap

You might have heard that it’s been a wee bit cool in New England this year so far.

Negative 1.3

Sometimes I’m a little slow to get going in the mornings. This morning I noticed that the “Min” 24 hour temperature was higher than the current, and the “Max” 24 hour temperature was lower. Huh? That’s totally backwards? Then I noticed the little “minus” sign.

Brutal man, brutal.

It’s almost enough to make you look forward to the next twice-a-week snow storm we have scheduled. At least when it’s snowing, it’s rarely below 20 degrees. Which… the difference between -1 and 20 degree is the same as the difference between, say, 50 degrees and 70. So 25 sounds pretty decent on a negative morning. There’s just one problem

Taken from inside where it's warm

GOOD GRIEF we have a lot of snow. And in our old New England neighborhood there is NO WHERE to put it. The last snow storm I was reduced to moving shovels-ful across the street, or walking half a mile with a loaded shovel to a narrow strip of of cleared space to dump it into my back yard. (OK ok… maybe only a quarter mile but after your first bajillion trips it gets tiring.) All the places we normally shovel our snow to are piled not only above my head, but above my flagging arm strength. I have become fearful of the avalanche danger inherent in walking out my front door.

The only consolation is this: we were sufficiently New Englanders to prepare for it.

See, the first few years I lived here I figured if I didn’t shovel, well, big deal. It would just melt tomorrow or the day after anyway. This is true, by the way, for the West Coast. Even at my homestead’s 2000 feet of elevation, it was a rare snowfall that lingered in shade for more than a week. So back in the old days (pre-kid) we might get 6 inches of snow in late December and I’d do a partial job, or I’d ignore it, or plan on “doing it later”. I can hear my fellow New Englanders chortling in Shadenfruede at the inevitable outcome of that decision. I mean, maybe… MAYBE there will be a warm snap in December that will, like grace, wipe away your snow-sin. But the more LIKELY outcome is that those slushy footprints of snow will become as hard and calcified as dinosaur footprints. The partial pathway where you dragged one shovel’s length of clarity will be the only path you can possibly walk for the next 3 months. As you hit berms of unhandled snow for the next several infinities of winter, you will curse your previous profligacy.

After a few winters, you get the idea. You tackle December and January snows as though any flake on the ground after 24 hours will be a permanent addition to your home — a lasting testament to your good character and ability to exit the house.

This year, however, Christmas threw us a curveball. As we luxuriated in the 5 star accommodations that my mother-in-law provides, a good 18 inches of snow was falling, untended, on our driveway. A late December snow. Untackled. My kind neighbors dug out our walk. (Quoth one, “Wow, you really don’t have anywhere to put the snow, do you?”) The driveway, however, was the kind of Arctic wasteland that might cause sled-teams to despair. And two weeks ago the forecast was for a snowpocalypse (rightly, as it turned out).

So we set about to right our wrongs. We went to Rounds Hardware, bought 50 pounds of rock-salt, another shovel and an industrial-strength ice-breaker. My husband and I spent an entire Saturday naptime chipping away at softened snow and walking it three miles out to the back yard to dump it. By the time our kids woke up, our driveway was bare and dry. And then we got two feet of snow. We were, my friends, justified by our work.

I think of that, as I equip my children with long poles and whistles on their way out the front door. We may be suffering, but at least it wasn’t for our stupidity. And even if we get the horrifying predictions of a foot or two of snow, at least there’s a clear path to the glacier in the back yard.
In an ironic twist of fate, I was called upon to temporarily abandon my blogging (which, seriously, if this blog gets any more abandoned it may start crying itself to sleep at nights) in order to fix a frozen water pipe. Apparently -2 degree weather can freeze pipes inside your heated home! Fun fact!

All I have to say is: hair dryers. Your best friend for insulation AND plumbing work!

At least little boys like playing in snow

Thane just likes to eat snow, and tries to make a late breakfast of the snow he gets on his shoes in the morning

Prelude to the Afternoon of Shovelling the Driveway

The last few days have not gone as planned. First Grey got the stomach bug, and lo. Sunday was not as expected. Then Monday I had procured tickets to The Secrets of Tomb 10A, and my husband and I were going to go check out the mummies ALL BY OURSELVES. It was going to be just like Vienna. And maybe we’d have a dilatory lunch or something. Bliss!

Then I was going to pick the kids up from Lawrence and drive past all my old haunts one last time. You can go back to visit, but you never again go back to belong. It was such an unexpected belonging — me and the creaky, broke, corrupt, lovely City of Lawrence. I would go a last time over the 130 year old iron bridge that will soon be demolished, that I could see from my window at work. I’d check out the latest foreclosure signs. I’d whisper goodbye and feel silly and maybe shed a few tears as I pulled away from Rubertina’s a last time.

All this was not to be. I spend the day as sick as I’ve been in Grey’s lifetime. I think the last time I was that sick was while I was pregnant with him. The time before was my freshman year of college. I rarely get very sick. But I was washed out. Sitting up was too much work. I napped from 10 am to 3 pm. My butt hurt from excessive sitting. Before about 8 pm, what I’d had to eat was 20 cheerios, 5 Ritz and some Jello. I skipped COFFEE people, that’s how serious it was.

On the plus side, I seem to have lost some weight! Not the best way to go about doing it, but don’t look a gift stomach bug in the mouth! (No really, to be avoided.)

Then, this morning, the boys’ first day at their new daycare, we go in to find Thane’s crib covered in vomit. Of course, based on his behavior today I’m not at all convinced he’s sick, piker. He’s certainly not anywhere as sick as *I* was, Mr. Incredibly Perky and Can I Come Up On the Couch For the 93rd Time Mom?

And so my last week of employment freedom races by in a blur of effluvia. And I haven’t even done the taxes yet. (Tomorrow! It must be tomorrow!)

I’d tell you more, but there’s about 3 inches of sticky white snow that should be shoveled while Thane sleeps, or this’ll get ugly.