Category Archives: winter

Snow-day thoughts in March

Last night it was cold, so we lit the fire, which is a wood-burning stove. Then one of the cats jumped up on top of the stove and hurt his paw and I spent the rest of the evening stressing out in case the other one did the same, now that it was even hotter and would probably burn all the flesh off his little pads. Of course, since they’re not used to there being a fire there, they’ve come to think that the stove is just a fun place to jump up and play on, and have no idea why it should be any different just because there’s a bright orange light behind the glass. So I guess we can never light a fire again. Oh well. I’ll just drink wine to keep warm.

Because. This entire winter has been a damp squib, more like a practice for winter than actual winter, where it got chilly for a few days and then stopped. We’ve had no snow days and only the barest sprinkling of snow. Social flakes, I think they call them, because it’s enough to chat about but nothing further. Now that it’s mid March, though, we’re expecting a doozie and we’ve forgotten how to deal with that. I’ve been thinking about sandals – I am not up for a snow day.

Snow on road under lamplight

There appears to be snow.

Now it’s Tuesday and here I am making snow-day French toast for lunch. It’s a snow day, though the snow is mostly ice and not much fun for playing in. Dash is still in pyjamas and hasn’t been outside at all – but he did utter the immortal words “You’re right, Mom” a little while ago when he finally agreed with me that his ipad game would never end and he’d have to just stop playing it. It only took about two hours for him to come around to my opinion, so those were two hours well spent (by me alternately nagging/not nagging).

You can’t hurry French toast, as Phil Collins always says. I think it’s done now though.

Then some friends called for us and we ended up going out to sled on the big hill behind the school for an hour, which was much better than staying at home all day.

Did I have a point? Was it about the cats? So one cat now has a sore paw (he’s not limping at all but it looks nasty) and his brother looks like he’s gone five rounds with Mike Tyson because he has scrapes around his eye and something weird going on with his nose. And one of his ears has seen better days. We should’ve called him Rocky.

Life with cats goes like this: they sleep on the end of our bed, unless we kick them out. And it’s so sweet to have them there, purring away like little happy engines, a comforting weight by your feet, that we leave them there. Then halfway through the night I find that there are two cats right where my legs want to be, and I have to put my legs somewhere else. And at 5 am or so they wake up and think it’s time to play, or to climb on my head or knead their paws on my hair or pounce on my toes under the blanket, and then I lie there waiting for them to run off and thunder through the house instead, until 6:30 when they decide it’s breakfast time and someone has to feed them. (They were quite delighted with the time change that moved feeding time up an hour. They won’t be so happy in the autumn when we’re an hour late one day.)

Drops of ice on the washing line


After a glass or two of wine my fingers fairly fly over the keyboard; but they fly up to the delete button twice as often too. Still, as a method for getting my thoughts directly to paper, I have nothing but good things to say about typing. I really wish Dash would practice his keyboarding more because I think once he can type his writing will take flight. Also, his spelling will improve.

I should add that it’s after dinner now so my mentioning of wine is entirely appropriate. Merely mentioning. It came to mind for no particular reason.

Now we are waiting to see if the schools are opening on time tomorrow, since I’ve made a vet appointment for Birchyboo (not Oakiepokes – you can see how their full names are coming along) in the morning and I suspect I’ll have to bring at least one child along to it. It’s the child who wants to be a vet, so that’s okay.

I just read The Long Winter to Mabel, being the sixth of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I know I’ve mentioned these before, because we’ve been reading the series since I happened on the first one when Mabel was four or five. I love going through it slowly like this – I just pick up the next book at the thrift store or the book sale, but we don’t rush to get it from the library to dash through the the way we do with other series. This means that it’s a slower process but much more part of her childhood instead of a momentary blip. And as I’ve never read this series before I’m enjoying it too.

Anyway, The Long Winter, as you might surmise, is about a particularly hard winter for the pioneer family, who have finally settled in De Smet, Dakota Territory, where the Little Town on the Prairie actually is. There are blizzards from October to April that year, they have to burn sticks of twisted hay and sit around the stove in the tiny kitchen all day, they have nothing left to eat but bread made from wheat they grind in a coffee grinder – and Ma still cares about getting the laundry done. I would fail Pioneer 101 instantly.

Happily, our one paltry snow day of the year comes with wine, Girl Scout cookies, and a fireplace we can’t light because of the cats but we still have central heating. I think we’ll survive.

Snowy sidewalk by road, child with sled

Coming back from sledding

The Bad Parent, skiing edition

You know when you talk your child into doing something, and then they hate it, and there they are trying not to cry in front of a well-meaning stranger who is invested in this thing and to whom you’ve paid money for it, wailing, “I never even wanted to come in the first place. I knew I’d hate this,” and you haven’t a leg to stand on because that’s exactly what happened and I thought you’d change your mind once you tried it is no defence at all and you feel like an idiot and a terrible parent …

Well, that’s nearly what it was like.

A month ago:
Me: Guess what, guys? We’re going skiing! It’s going to be fun!
Mabel: I don’t want to go. I don’t like skiing.
Me, to self: She’s just saying that because she doesn’t like the unknown.

Two weeks ago:
Me: Yay, skiing will be great!
Mabel: I don’t want to go! I can’t miss my ceramics class!
Me, to self: She’s just annoyed about missing ceramics. She’ll love it once she tries it.

A few days ago:
Me: Mabel, good news! The forecast says it’s going to be really really cold on Saturday so I’ve cancelled the second day of skiing. You won’t miss ceramics after all.
Mabel: Yay ceramics. But boo skiing. I still don’t want to go.
Me, to self: Yeah, yeah.

Yesterday, on the slopes, standing in front of our private ski instructor:
Me: Come on, put your boot in there.
Mabel: Noooooo! Waaaahhhhh! I never wanted to come but you made me!


Somehow, I managed to exude “We’re doing this” vibes instead of “Oh crap you meant it all along” ones, or maybe she decided it did look like it might be some fun, or maybe anything at all because the machinery in a seven-year-old’s mind works in mysterious ways, but she deigned to click her boots into her skis and shuffle over to the lift. And once you’re at the top, there’s only one way down, right?

The poor instructor had a quick introduction to all the things Mabel doesn’t like – being told she’s doing well, being called a princess, having anyone be nice to her when she’s on the verge of tears, being complimented, being told she’s smiling when she’s not… – and he soldiered on. I tried to keep out of it, and, well, there we were, with Mabel being towed down the mountain by a bearded guy skiing backwards. I swooshed and swooped and it all started to come back to me and I did not manage not to say “Whee” out loud at every turn, because skiing, even slowly, is exhilarating.

Mabel skiing with her instructor

Most expensive babysitter ever

We went up and down three times, and by then our hour was almost up and Mabel was done. We said thank-you to the very patient instructor (well, I did; Mabel growled) and went inside to warm up, where she had a full-on breakdown at me about how much she hated it and how she wasn’t going to ski any more and how we had to go home right now.

That was the lowest point, right there. After a little while we found B and Dash, who had had their own lesson wherein Dash had proved to be a natural and was immediately promoted to stage 4 and taken down the even bigger slope, and decided it was time for an early lunch.

Once large slice of pizza and an ice-cream sandwich later:
Me: So, do you think we might ski a bit more after all?
Mabel: Okay.
Me, to self: PHEW. And also, VINDICATED!!!

Dash skiing

Dash about to leave me in the dust

So then we all went back out and skied some more. And slept well last night. Ow, my legs.

Looking up the ski-slope

View from the lift


Maybe a blog post will help me collect my thoughts. They’re a bit scattered at the moment. They come under three main headings:


I don’t usually think much about physics, though I am grateful to it for providing my family’s income, but today there’s a big announcement from an NSF-funded collaboration called LIGO telling everyone that gravitational waves have been detected for the first time. I know a tiny bit about this because this is exactly my husband’s field, though he (sadly) didn’t work on this stuff himself. But we know lots of people who did, and it’s fun watching them have their long-awaited moment just now.


At the start of 2015 I said that taking the kids skiing was something on my wishlist for the year, along with fixing our shower and going to New York. Well, miracles do happen and we fixed our shower up beautifully last August, and we went to NYC twice, and now, finally, we are about to go skiing. A few weeks ago I got all proactive and booked two nights at Liberty Mountain in Pennsylvania, about two hours’ drive from here, as well as a private ski lesson for the kids with us in attendance, so we can start them off right. (B and I have both skied a little, though not for years.) I was delighted with myself for using a Friday off school to get the nights I wanted, and crossed my fingers that the weather would cooperate.

Well, there’s no snowstorm forecast for this weekend, so in that sense I suppose the weather didn’t entirely shaft us. But in other ways my timing was serendipitously awful. Both school districts (now that we’re in two) decided to have school this Friday after all, to start making up for the week that was missed due to snow, so now I have to take the kids out of school for it. (We won’t be the only ones absent, I’m sure.) Valentine’s parties that were meant to happen today will happen tomorrow instead, and they’ll miss them. Dash will miss his vision therapy session today, because we weren’t doing VT when I booked this. And Mabel was very annoyed about missing her ceramics class on Saturday morning, because she loves ceramics and she is suspicious of skiing, which she’s never tried.

Finally, the weather forecast is not for snow but for extremely cold temperatures on Saturday. I decided nobody would want to slide down a mountain on two planks in a possible high of about 14F (before windchill) – that’s minus 10 C at the warmest – so I cancelled the second night at the hotel and the second day of skiing. It will be cold tomorrow too, but hopefully not so cold that we don’t get in some more time on the slopes after the one-hour lesson is over.

And of course, B has to rush away from work early, today of all days, when they’re all congratulating themselves on what great sciencers they are and having cake and partying it up in their novelty physics ties and their socks and sandals.*

Silver lining: Mabel gets to go to ceramics after all. Here’s hoping it makes up for the dental appointment we have scheduled for Monday, when she gets yet another crown. Worst teeth ever.


The final thing that’s got me not settling down to anything today is that I heard back from the agent I’d sent the new-and-improved version of my book to back in October. It had taken so long that I knew nothing wonderful was going to happen, so I wasn’t surprised when she said no, but it was a very nice no. Basically she said she likes it a lot but she can’t take it on right now because she’s too busy, and she gave me some suggestions of people I should send it to. She said nice things like “charming” and “delightful” and “I hope to see it in print some day soon.”

So do I, y’know.

So now I have to gird my loins and write a better 500-word synopsis and send it out again into the world, and a colder and less cosily familiar world at that. The realm of Irish publishing is very small – and it’s a very Irish book, so I think it has to start there – which means there aren’t that many options for places it can go, and I’ve exhausted all the personal contacts I have. I’m trying some UK agents too, but without luck so far.

So that’s where I am. Photos of smiling children on skis to come, I hope. Or news that we broke our legs.


* They don’t really wear socks with sandals. Hardly any of them do. I just like to tease him about it.

Snow joke

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My kitchen chairs have been taken from me. My sofa cushions are two rooms away from their sofa. The big brown blanket that belongs on my bed has been repurposed. Yes, it’s a blanket fort, and it’s been there for three days now because I can’t face the mutiny I would encounter if I told them to dismantle it.

Scratch that. I’ve told them to dismantle it. They haven’t, and I haven’t bothered to follow up. I take the blanket with me every night, we sit on the bench in the kitchen, and nobody used that sofa much anyway. The fort is in use as an animal hospital and they spent a good hour designing, engineering, building, fortifying, populating, guarding, and creating signage for it. That’s good enough. Standards are low.

It’s day nine of the weekend that never ended. They’ve been off school all this week plus Thursday and Friday of last week, for the snowstorm that ended on Sunday morning. We dug out on Sunday and Monday, our roads have been perfectly passable since Tuesday at the latest, and yet…

There are many reasons why this is so, even though it is far from ideal for all concerned. The Washington DC area is southerly enough that snow is not a sure thing every winter, but northern enough that sometimes snow happens in large quantities. That means the cities and towns and counties and school districts are somewhat equipped to deal with snow, but not as well prepared as places like Boston or Chicago, where this is just called winter and people get on with it. We got our season’s worth of snow in two days, and we’ve nowhere to put it. The roads were prioritized but the sidewalks and bus stops were left to languish under extra feet of ploughed snow. The school closure decisions are made county by county, not by smaller districts or a school at a time, and though our area dug out quickly some people didn’t even see a plough on their street till Thursday.

This is no joke for those people who were expected back at work on Tuesday morning but have had to scramble to find last-minute childcare for every other day of the week. It’s no joke for those children who depend on a free hot meal at school every weekday. (Some schools opened to provide lunches for those who could get there and needed it.) It’s not even much fun for the lucky ones like me who had nothing much else to do and could at least let their kids profit from late lazy mornings, seasonal outdoor exercise, an extension on the science fair project, and a few family movie nights instead of a workaday week of spelling tests and classroom spats, too little recess and too much homework.

By today I was actually going to feel a little inconvenienced if the kids did have school. Mabel’s annual checkup was this morning and it was much easier to bring Dash along too instead of rushing around trying to get them both to school – I even, finally, got him a flu shot, which certainly wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been with us. Afterwards we had lunch in IKEA and … well, maybe I’ll find another movie for this afternoon.



You think the hard part of the storm is going to be the storm. When you’re in the middle of it, with the snow swirling all around and the view out the windows looking very much like Hoth, and the constant nagging worry about whether you might lose power and if there’s anything you could be doing now to prevent that or make things easier when it happens; not to mention the worry about trees falling on the house or the roof caving in under the weight of the snow.

Looking down the street in the snow


Snow-covered bikes

Not bicycling weather

However, assuming that none of those terrible things happen and you didn’t really think they would, the aftermath is worse. Because then you have to venture out, and you have to shovel the stupid white wet stuff off your car and out of your driveway, and the kids are complaining because it’s no good for sledding (too deep, uncompacted) and no good for snowballs or snowmen either (too fluffy, not sticky), and because it’s too long a walk home from the place you took them to sled, and because their snowboots let in snow and their chins are numb and they can’t feel their fingers. And then the snowplough comes by (if you’re lucky) and shoves a whole lot more snow in front of your house.

Mabel playing in the snow

A mountain lion leaping from bank to bank

Dash sledding

Sledding fun

No, that didn’t really all happen to us, and yesterday, after the storm, wasn’t so bad. It’s quite nice, really, when the sun comes back and the wind dies down and all the neighbours come out and chat to each other about how great it is that we still have electricity. But today the white stuff is still there, and it’s hardly even pretty any more because it’s just all piled up getting in the way and not melting. And the schools have already announced that they’ll still be closed tomorrow, so who knows what the rest of the week will look like, and let’s not even think about the possible snow that’s forecast for Friday because by then we will absolutely all have died of tedium and irritation.

Shovelled walkways

Not so pretty

Clear sky over snowy road

The long road home

Time’s up

I have very suddenly reached the end of my tether. I have a headache and it’s time for everyone to go back to school. I am now hiding in the spare room, which is full of clothes and dust. The dust is not making me feel better about my tether and the end of it.

Dash has written a play and wants us to perform it. Mabel is demanding food even though we just got back from Ikea where I bought her lunch. We left it too late to go ice skating and I have a headache. I would like

I would like

I would like

I would like it to be less dusty in here. I would like to donate a lot of these clothes. I would like to finally put lining in these curtains and put up the second set before we have guests here this year. I would like to walk around the house with a trash bag and fill it with things I don’t want to be here.

You will have noticed today’s fatal flaw: the vital mistake I made that probably brought all this down on me. I went to IKEA on a Sunday afternoon. I brought with me a child who was much more interested in purchasing a stuffed panda with her saved money than the shelving I was actually looking for. I did not buy shelving. I did buy a large plastic laundry basket to hold toys in her room, which is currently employed as a bath for the panda and not in her room at all. Yet.

This room is very calming, actually, apart from the copious dust. It’s a pale blush shade of pink, but saved from girliness with wood and plain dark colours. The sun is shining on the golden floorboards. The bed is low and just soft enough. I would like to be a guest here, I think.

I cast about for whatever it might be that will make me feel better just now, that will scratch this itch of antsy-ness. I can hear B keeping the children away from me, trying to explain that sometimes I want to be not with them, not getting things for them and doing things under their noses and constant interruptions. It’s hard to understand. They are having trouble processing it. Probably for the first time since the holidays began, a cup of tea and a biscuit is not the answer; though I can’t swear I won’t try it.

This is what the new year does to me: I want things to be clean and empty. I want bare walls and open spaces. I want silence and minimalism and nothing more than the basics.

Which of course explains why I had to go to Ikea and buy more stuff. Stuff to help with my minimalism by corralling things into other things.



I go to bed. It’s cold and windy. I am 85% well but 15% sick so I’m cold in spite of the down comforter and the fleece blanket. I try to relax my jaw so that I can sleep. I discover I’m clenching a buttock. If I unclench the buttock my teeth lock again. Relaxing both at once is impossible. I listen to the wind.

Mabel wakes up and calls out for me. I climb into her bed. It’s much windier on this side of the house and I can’t possibly sleep. I lie there thinking about windows and gusts and the trajectory of broken glass and how far the trees are from the house. I think she’s asleep so I try to leave. She wakes up. I say “I can’t stay here, it’s too noisy. Come and sleep in the spare room with me.” She won’t. I offer up the husband like so much chopped liver: “What if I get Daddy to come and sleep with you?” That would be okay.

I go back to my bed, turf out the poor sleepy man, and slide into the warm space he left. He goes to take his chances in the room in the back on the corner with the six year old. I worry about the 8 year old who was too hot earlier and has only a thin sleeping bag over him tonight, the coldest night of the year. Will he wake up enough to pull the duvet back over himself if he’s cold? Nobody dies of hypothermia indoors, in bed, right? The heating’s still working, isn’t it? How does the heating work, anyway? Is there a pilot light? Might it have blown out? Will the house explode tomorrow morning when I go to turn on the stove? I hear the gentle hum and whoosh of the heating kicking in and can at least check dying of hypothermia off my list of things to worry about for now. I listen to the wind.

They all feel so far away, spread around the house. I wish we’d slept in the basement. Next time it’s going to be this windy we have to all sleep in the basement. B arrives back in the doorway with Mabel clinging to him like a limpet. “She wants to be with you,” he says, or something, deposits her into the big bed with me, and goes back to the noisy windy corner of the house alone. Mabel pushes her head against my cheek, throws a leg over mine, holds my hand. I put my other hand over her middle. This is how we sleep, she and I. We know how to do this. After a while I can turn over and she’ll just bump her back up against mine.

I listen to the wind. I feel guilty about B and think he should sleep in the spare room, which is at least on the less windy side. There are no sheets on the spare bed. He could bring the warm duvet with him. I think I hear him moving into the other room. I write blog posts in my mind. I plot short stories in my mind. I hear something banging and worry about what it might be, straining to listen for the next time it will bang. I wonder if it will wake the 8 year old, who sleeps like the dead. I wonder whether all our siding needs to be replaced. I wonder whether the table is blowing around the deck. I’m still cold. I pull my pyjama sleeves down and I feel the almost-pleasant thrill all over my body that means all my follicles are standing to attention, goosebumpy. I realise that my teeth are grinding to the rhythm of Take me to Church. I try really hard to relax. I listen to the wind.

Much later, I realise I’m warm, and that I’m not listening to the wind any more. I must have been asleep. I have a headache. Mabel is taking over the bed, even though it’s a queen size. I go back to sleep. There’s snow outside, and it’s minus 20 and it will all keep a while.


This is basically just an excuse for some photos

I’m grateful for the lack of polar vortices we’ve had to endure so far this winter, I have to say. Yesterday’s snow disappeared in just about the time I like, which was pretty much overnight. By this afternoon at home time the same playground where I took all the photos yesterday looked like this:

Mabel on a swing; no snow.

The first winter I spent in the US, in Pennsylvania, we didn’t see the ground under the snow from mid-December to March. I can’t imagine that now. It was all so monochrome. Not to mention chilly.

Mabel is wandering around with many small stuffed animals in her baby Ergo, and has set up all the other animals on the sofa wearing as many backpacks as she can find. (Not all the other animals. We don’t have enough sofas for all the animals, let alone backpacks.)

Mabel on the hopper ball thing

I think the best Christmas present of the lot was this one, the $15 Loloball, or whatever they’re called these days. (I got one for Christmas in about 1980. Mine was blue and yellow.) It ostensibly belongs to Mabel, for complicated reasons of Santa-fairness, but Dash has really taken to it. They have negotiated that whenever he wants to use it he has to ask “Da?” and she replies “Da” or “Nyet” or “Nyet nyet” because apparently in Russian two negatives make a positive.

This is because they got a Russian teacher at the school this year and everyone gets a Russian lesson once a week or once a month or something. The teacher hands out photocopied roubles for good behaviour and they come home chanting some very Communist-sounding song about Ruskova. It’s hilarious. I have no idea whether they’re learning anything beyond da and nyet, but who cares? My kids are learning Russian, take that Montgomery County boo yah.

Anyway, he bounces and counts to see how high up he can get, and it’s something energetic he can do indoors without breaking things, so I call it a win.

Meanwhile, his sister continues to amass toys upon toys and play with them all and then eschew them in order to cut out paper dolls instead. She’s also perusing the Playmobil booklet at every turn to decide what she’ll buy with her star-chart earnings, and earmarking Li’l Woodzeez families for her next birthday. Or maybe that should be the other way round, for the sake of my finances.

paper dolls sitting up in bed

Snow, in pictures

Yesterday it was mild enough for the kids to stop at the playground on the way home, a day Irish in its temperatures and its greyness, but not really moist enough to be truly Irish. Dash played soccer with a bunch of older boys, Mabel mounted the swings with some other kindergarteners and presided over a long-drawn-out game of horsies. The forecast was for snow today, so we were making hay.

Bets were taken (virtually, on Facebook) among the parents on whether we’d get a delayed opening, a full snow day, or the rarely invoked early closing today. The snow was meant to come in the morning sometime, not overnight. There was no alert at 5am to tell us that school was delayed, and indeed when I came down at 7:45 it was as dry outside as it had been yesterday. School as usual, then, nothing to see here. Anyone who might have skipped working on a science project in order to join the soccer game might have been feeling a bit foolish in retrospect.

Light snow on the deck

A sprinkling

The first tiny snowflakes started around 10:30, as I sat by my window, typing some words in between frequent stops to make cups of tea and go to the loo. They were what the weather service calls conversational flakes. Mood snow. After a while, though, it was coming down pretty well. The time for early dismissal had passed, and the snow just about stopped by picking-up time. The roads had been treated and it was just above freezing so the snow didn’t stick, but I walked to get them anyway, and took some photos on the way.


The fat flakes sat heavy on the branches of all the trees, and there were suddenly more trees and more branches than I had noticed. We’re surrounded by them, but when each one is defined by a line of white, in sharp relief even though the sky behind is white and full of snow still too, they become a latticework over the streets and around the houses. It was sort of beautiful.

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Delayed opening tomorrow? What are the chances?

A slow snow week

On Monday morning, in the midst of my jubliation, I had a brief moment of sympathy for the children. “A full week,” I thought, “straight in, no respite; they’ll be exhausted by Friday.”

Then Tuesday was a snow day. Wednesday and Thursday were 11am starts due to the cold, and finally Friday was a full day again. I think that eased them in pretty nicely, thank you, and I’d quite like my unproductive week back to do over.

Trees in the snow

Snowy tangle of branches

In response to the cold, I sourced dinner from the freezer two nights in a row rather than go to the supermarket, and it would have been fine if the wine I’d planned to go with our fairly sad-looking veggie lasagne last night hadn’t been corked. But it was corked, and that was tragic, because the wierd dark lager that is the dregs of the beer selection box you bought for the party and nobody drank is not nearly as satisfying as a nice red on a winter’s night.

Crochet square

As threatened, I learned to crochet. Behold my square!

Today the thermometer went above freezing and I went to the supermarket and picked up lots of healthy! vegetables! to make hearty dinners with, but I still don’t have any wine because that was the wrong supermarket for wine, so I’m hoping someone reads this and brings home some wine before dinner. (You’ve got an hour. No pressure.)

Mabel in the snow

Mabel with her giant snowballs

As well as that, I’ve been working my way slowly through the more immediate bits of my to-do list, writing some stuff, some of which should come to light quite excitingly next week, and taking bad photos on my Kindle Fire and posting them to Instagram. If you look to the right you’ll find my Instagram feed there – isn’t that pretty? 

Oops, time to wine is only 35 minutes now. I’d better hit Publish. How was your first week back to school?