Under the Weather

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chiberia-7-1050x700-7244You’d have thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding into town the way weather reports heralded the arrival of a devastating Ice Storm that was projected to halt life as we know it. In what is becoming all too frequent an occurrence, the schools put out a message that early morning activities would be canceled and school possibly opened a couple of hours late to avoid the treachery of streets and sidewalks coated in ice. It did rain last night, but the predicted life-threatening conditions never arrived. My daughter disappointedly headed to school at her usual time, and life went on.

The drama of this late winter season has gotten to me. Last week’s dumping of snow followed by record low temperatures across the Midwest – a situation that meant 3 days of school closures – made an ordinary week an ordeal. Then an unseasonable thaw gives way to a new storm with potentially dangerous icy conditions. I am so over Winter 2019.

Each time we dig out and take the time for a sip of hot cocoa, another storm system starts heading our way. Or the polar vortex comes swooping down and forces us to wrap ourselves up in cocoons. Last week I kept seeing that Chicago was colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and probably Uranus. (Cue the sophomoric jokes.)

It does not help that meteorologists have taken to giving these storms names. Back in the day, only hurricanes were named, and in less enlightened times, those names were all female. Nowadays, though, we need high drama with everything, including our weather reports. I appreciate being apprised of conditions that might affect travel and safety. But either weather prognosticators need to get better at their predictions or reporters need to become more measured in their response to potential weather events. This “The sky is falling” approach to weather reporting has got to end. We have enough drama with our politics these days. And the doomsday scenarios only give my kid false hope for another canceled school day. With the way this winter is going, she will be making up snow days in July!

Meanwhile that famous rodent Punxsutawney Phil has supposedly predicted an early spring. If only, Phil. If only.

 

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Snow Shower

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IMG_3163This past Saturday I hosted a baby shower for my godson and his wife, who are expecting their first child in February. About 30 well wishers were to descend on my home, all of them bearing gifts for the lucky couple and some of them bearing food and decorations for the party.

The forecast the day before had called for snow in the wee hours of the morning. Although I was annoyed at the early season snow, which didn’t have the good grace to wait until after Thanksgiving, I figured an inch or two falling overnight would be an easy obstacle to take care of before the festivities began.

The snow front, however, meandered a bit more slowly than meteorologists had predicted. When I awoke around 8 am Saturday morning, snow was gently falling. There wasn’t much on the ground yet, but I was worried. My main worry was for travelers coming from significant distances to make it to the shower. I had hoped they would have smooth sailing on their way. I also wondered how I would manage 30 people tramping into the house in their snowy boots. I put down some floor mats and hoped for the best.

My nephew’s aunt and cousins from their other side were the first to arrive. They seemed unfazed as they bustled around the kitchen setting up pots of delicious food. Then my nephew (brother of the dad-to-be) showed up with his girlfriend, who set about adorning the house with “baby chic” decorations. Before long, guests began to arrive and the house took on that delightful chaos only a happy occasion can bring.

Throughout the party, numerous guests commented on how lovely the snow looked from my kitchen and family room windows. I had to admit it was a pretty backdrop, much more lovely than the bare trees and brittle grass that had been in evidence the day before.

The shower was a big success. Everyone was well fed, and the “Baby Bellinis” flowed. Guests got to write words of advice for the happy parents-to-be and to print messages on paper diapers. My favorites were: “This too shall pass” and “Fill it up!” We all enjoyed coffee and buttercream cake while oohing and aahing over the adorable onesies and other tiny baby clothes. And not one person was prevented from coming by the unseasonal weather.

The vicissitudes of life will sometimes throw us for a loop. They can also shower us with unexpected blessings. That’s a great lesson for that baby on the way – and for all of us.

The Cruelest Month

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It has been a long, cold, depressing winter with no real end in sight. As I write this, a blizzard is burying Minnesota in snow while here in Chicagoland, we have been subjected to yet another gray, rainy and miserable day.

All this winter has caused a certain lethargy in me. My energy level is low, and the ideas that usually teem in my brain have slowed to a trickle. I realized today that the bad weather has kept me inside too much. Not being able to take my walks outside has seriously hampered my ability to think and dream.

It is known that physical activity enhances mental performance. So a brisk walk in nature has always been my prescription for writer’s block. Lately, I just feel physically and mentally lazy. It’s hard to get motivated when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind and rain pelt the windows. So I’ve been spending my free time doing crossword puzzles and watching TV, eating carbs and getting sleepy. I feel like a bear in its den surfacing briefly, only to find that it’s not time to come out of hibernation yet.

The daffodils in my front yard have just started to send green stems shooting up from the soil. They look too petrified to open and bloom. There are no leaves – or even buds – on the trees outside my window. I long for inspiration, but all I feel is a dreary heaviness of mind and body.

By now we Midwesterners should be able to expect some light and warmth, some signs of growth in our environment. Instead, April so far has been one very unfunny Fool’s joke.

 

Snow Surprised

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IMG_0524.JPGA rare pre-Thanksgiving snow is falling outside my kitchen window as I write. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I welcome the winter white, it was lovely to wake up and view our trees and lawn covered with snow.

Last night my teenage daughter came home happy and glistening. She and her friends had gone outside in the snow that had just started falling and found it to be wet and packable, perfect for snowball fights and snowman building. Indeed, this morning as I drove slowly through our little town, I saw numerous children, puffy like the Michelin man in their snow pants and coats, happily making snowmen or dragging sleds to the local hill. Parents of toddlers pulled them in little seated sleds along the slick sidewalks.

A snowy day is perfect for an extra cup of coffee, a warm throw blanket, and a good book or a college football game on TV. Even a walk outside is not so bad since the temperatures haven’t taken a precipitous dive yet. An early season snow has trouble sticking on the warm sidewalks and driveways. Sure, there will be some snow cleanup later. But for now, the world outside reminds me that winter is coming, and that means holidays and family and mulling spices scenting our household.

By Thanksgiving the snow will have melted. This snow is just a warmup (or a coldup?) for the months ahead. So welcome, snow. It’s kind of nice seeing you again.

 

Snow Day

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This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland. It was our first big snowstorm of the winter, and I was ready. The kitchen was stocked and the snow blowers filled with gas.

It was also a Sunday, a day of quiet and rest for many. This felt like a minor miracle to me, and as I sipped my coffee, I felt grateful for the world of white outside my window.

Those who know me well know that I am not fond of winter or snow. So I’m not sure why I felt such a sense of peace about the near foot of snow it was predicted we will get by the end of the storm.

With Hubby out of town and Teenage Son fast asleep, I decided to go out and see if I could find the Sunday newspaper buried at the bottom of the driveway. I did not want The Abominable Snow Machine, our massive snow thrower, to tear it up and malfunction in the process.

So I trudged down and began to gently shovel piles of the light, fluffy stuff at the bottom of the driveway. It was so quiet and still, and the air felt crisp but not frigid. I actually began to be thankful for the blanket of snow.

Of course, scientists would tell us that snow is very important for the ecosystem, both globally and locally. For instance, farmers rely on melting snow for irrigation in their fields.

Scientific reality aside, I started to get into the rhythm of my shoveling and was motivated to do more. So I went into the garage and revved up Abominable so that I could clear the whole driveway. This machine is very impressive. It has a dual-blade system so that it can cut through very deep and heavy snow. It’s a workout for me to push, however, and I did get hot and sweaty by the time I was done.

Being a perfectionist, I wanted to clean up after Abominable, so I started shoveling the driveway. To my surprise, there was already a new half inch of snow on it. As I worked, I suddenly heard a sweet voice call, “Hi!” The voice echoed through the air, and I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. “Behind you,” called the voice of the young girl who lives next door. She was standing at her open bedroom window, looking out with glee at the winter wonderland.

Finally finished cleaning the driveway and making a path up to our front door, I rewarded myself with a warm shower and a fresh cup of coffee. Our satellite may be out (no doubt covered with snow), and the snow keeps falling, but I feel truly blessed and happy, and can’t help thinking about the words of Psalm 118 above.

By the way, I never did find that Sunday paper. I hope the paper carrier is home safe and sound and not stuck in the snow somewhere. In any event, I plan to enjoy this quiet snow day in my warm and quiet home.

Snow Job

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I was visiting family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this past weekend when I learned that the first major snowstorm of the season was headed for the Twin Cities. In Minneapolis, there are two seasons: snow and no snow. So this news came as a warning to Minnesotans that they should bid a fond farewell to their grass and ground cover until next spring.

The snowstorm news also felt apropos as I sat in a movie theater watching Force Majeure, a movie set in the French Alps that features a life-changing avalanche. But Force Majeure is no traditional action thriller. A winner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Force Majeure is instead a devastating closeup of a damaged marriage.

In the movie, rather than burying people, the avalanche serves to unearth the discontents of a wealthy Swedish family trying to enjoy a holiday together. It brings up issues of gender roles, freedom and responsibility, and moral values. After the incident, the couple grapples with their shame, disappointment, and fear for the emotional safety of their children.

The term “force majeure” is a legal concept whereby the obligations of both parties to a contract are nullified by, among other things, “acts of God.” In the film, one party temporarily abnegates responsibility in the event of the avalanche.

The snow in Force Majeure is almost another character. The forbidding walls of white loom over the little ski village where the family is staying. Rather than creating a feel of wonder, the Alps possess a smothering claustrophobia that deepens the viewer’s discomfort and even dread.

I have seen reviews of Force Majeure that refer to it as a comedy. True, there are some very funny moments. But the main thrust of the film is dark and serious. I recalled the early years in my own marriage, when the bloom was off the rose and we grappled with our real limitations as partners, parents, and people.

Here in Chicago we are dodging this first big snowstorm of the impending winter. Still, in the oft-quoted line from Game of Thrones, it is all too clear that “winter is coming.”

Since the weather outside is turning frightful, I highly recommend curling up inside and watching a good movie like Force Majeure.