Snow Days: Rules of Engagement

It’s dark when I awake at just after 6:00 a.m., dark and quiet. But there is a certain quality to the very air. I sit up in bed for a minute, and then I understand.

I throw off the puffy comforter and run to pull the curtains open.

The ground glows white in the darkness. For the first time since long before Christmas, we have snow.

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By the time I am dressed, and the coffee is brewed, by the time I am ensconced at the dining room table with my morning pages, Mark is home from the gym.

The roads aren’t bad, he says, but the snow isn’t stopping. The schools are all closed.

I run out and start the car, come back in to bundle up, and head off to physical therapy. The snow falls fine as glitter as the pale morning sun struggles to rise, but the roads are clear and the car hums comfortably along.

At the clinic, I talk to Ashley about transitioning to an at-home exercise program. She recommends that I get an exercise ball, and we talk about using the rowing machine at the rec center. She teaches me a new stretch, which feels really good, and she prints off the new exercises, and I am home by 8:45, home to a quiet house.

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I think that maybe it’s not the best day for a long outside walk, and I think of other good ways to get my steps in. So I sashay through the house with a dust mop, and then I retrace my steps with the vacuum.

In an hour, the first floor feels light and clean, and I think that rule number one of snow days should be that my house be nice and tidy.

Then I notice the front walk is iced with white froth, and I think about the mail carrier.  

I pull my jacket on and find the push broom; I clean off the steps, then I work my way down the walk to the street.

I put the broom in the car port and run back into the house for the canister of environment- and pet-friendly ice melt, and I madly sprinkle from street to door.

Maybe rule number two of a snow day should be this: Get my butt outside and make sure nobody’s going to slip  and slide on my patch.

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“There’s SNOW,” Jim says, a little wonder in his voice; he is in the kitchen, hair still a little owl-y, rummaging for breakfast.

“Yep!” I say, and some of the snow day magic seems to infect us both.

He puts a couple of frozen chicken cordon bleus on a cookie sheet to roast…on a snowy day, he says solemnly, one ought to have a hot breakfast.

I dig out the chicken tortilla soup from the freezer. While it defrosts in the microwave, I work through my email, where I find, to my delight, a long email from a special nephew. I send the soup for another defrostification spin, and I sit to write a long chatty answer (so chatty! Poor Brian!) to that special man.

Hmmm. Rule number three: use my unexpected snow day time to touch base with someone I don’t get to talk to often enough.

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Downtown Zanesville is like being inside a snow globe, Mark texts, but he’s coming home for lunch, so I pour the defrosted soup into a pot to simmer. It is bubbling merrily when Mark arrives, stamping and huffing, and Jim greets him at the door, almost dancing with the unexpected holiday quality of the day. He gets his dad a thick white soup bowl, and Mark ladles out the fragrant, tangy soup. We break out a new package of tortilla strips, and we keep Mark company as he eats and talks, telling us about the morning and the way the flurries transformed downtown.

And, I think, here’s rule number four: On a snow day, at some point in time, there must be soup.

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Mark heads back to the office and I tell Jim to get his sneaks on. His face lights up.

“We’re going OUT?” he asks, pleased, and I tell him I need to get some steps in, and I need to stop at a sporting good store to see if I can buy a two-pound medicine ball, so we may as well head to the mall.

And then, I say, we need to stop at Kroger for M&M’s, because it’s a snowy day and we really should make some kind of special cookie.

The snow hasn’t stopped, but the streets are still good. At the mall, we split up and do our individual circuits. Jim plugs in his headphones and bops away; I shoulder my purse and charge along.

The steps rack up; soon, I meet Jim and we head off for the sporting goods store, where they not only have my medicine ball, but it is marked one-third off. We use the outside exit and walk to the car, parked on the other side of the mall, through a light shower of snow.

We buy the M&M’s at the supermarket and then cruise out the back way, avoiding the busy retail section, navigating the back roads in the snow, while Jim plays triumphant anthems from action movies.

We slide into the driveway to the Indiana Jones theme. Appropriate, I think, because of Rule Number Five: On a snow day, we need to go out and have some kind of little adventure.

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There are many amazing reasons to blog, but the best one is the people you meet. A blogger I really admire has recently published a cookbook.* Lyn is an amazing woman who has traveled and lived in places I visit only in imagination; she now lives back in the States, and, with her wonderful family, she has compiled a book full of recipes that  have been tested by that most reliable group of people: her kids.

She includes recipes from faraway lands (I can’t wait to try making my own sambusas!), recipes passed down by family and friends, and recipes she herself has discovered and perfected. My copy of the cookbook arrived in yesterday’s mail, which seems like a meant-to-be kind of thing. On this snowy day, it’s Lyn’s Monster Cookie recipe I’m after.

I soften butter and peanut butter, shovel out white and brown sugar, measure up a hefty portion of AP flour, and get the rolled oats out. I crack eggs and watch the Mixmaster do its work and slowly pour in chips and M&M’s.

Then I use a one-third cup measure to scoop cookie dough; I roll it into my hands and flatten it, kind of like I’d do to make hamburger patties, onto lightly greased cookie sheets. I fashion the biggest cookies I have ever made and put them in the oven to spread and puff and settle, to turn brown around the edges and golden in the middle: to perfume the entire house.

While they bake, I grade papers (and oh, my goodness; these papers are insightful and thoughtful and organized and well-written.) The students have written about artworks or songs; I stuff my headphones in and listen to songs on links they included. I keep a little list of artists to add to my playlist. I have graded six papers so far, and I have five new artists to listen to. (The sixth paper was about a sculpture.)

I jump up from the computer to shift cookie sheets; I spatula off cookies and slide empty pans into hot sudsy water. I put more sheets into the oven and run back to my grading.

“Holy cow!” says Jim, drawn to the kitchen by the warm aroma of butter and peanut butter and chocolate. “These are like little pizzas!” And he decides that after dinner, he will put a cookie in a bowl and scoop ice cream on top and add a little caramel frosting.

I agree that’s an amazing idea; I dance back to grade another paper.

And then I sidle back to spatula more giant cookies from their roasting-hot trays, to quickly slide those trays into the dishwater, and to practice that fine old art of cleaning as I go.

Papers are graded; cookies are cooling. I wield a wet dishcloth on the countertop; I surround a beef roast with cubed potatoes in a big old Pyrex pan, cover it with foil, and slide that into the hot oven. I feel very pleased to have followed Rule Number Six: On snow days, I must make cookies and roast something wonderful, low and slow, in the oven.

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By the time Mark arrives home like a triumphant adventurer, the roast is tender, and the potatoes are infused with its spicy juices. We throw little salads together and we fill plates and we pour water, and we gather around the table. We start out in a flow of talk, but our chatter dies away as we lift forks to mouths and savor.

“Perfect,” says Mark. “A perfect meal for a snowy day.”

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After dinner, we light the fire; James curls up on the love seat with a blanket, turns the TV on, and promptly falls asleep. (A great idea, although not a requirement for a snow day: a long, warm nap.)

There is a full moon in a dark, dark sky.

There is a strange relief in seeing snow in a winter that seems to have been too warm and too dry.

And there is a strange magic in a snow day, a magic that makes ordinary tasks seem special, that imbues the everyday with holiday sparkle, that turns mundane into cozy and comforting. I pull the fuzzy golden throw over my sock feet, and I open my library chick lit, and I read by the fire.

But first I check the weather on my phone. The app says it may snow for the next three days. I take a bite out of a giant cookie, crunchy-edged and chocolatey; I slide my toes nearer to the fire.

More snow, I think. Bring it on.

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*Just in case you’re interested, you can find Lyn’s wonderful cookbook here: https://www.amazon.com/Mom-plus-nine-cooks-ingredients/dp/1794258159/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=cooking+plus+nine&qid=1581124468&sr=8-1