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

Snow Day

Snow day essentials

At the very end of our meeting, just as 5:00 tolled its happy “Go home!” peal, Shelley got a text from a student.

“Hey!” said Shelley, “There’s a rumor the College is closed tomorrow.”

We packed up to go, and we all snorted variations of “Yeah, right.” And then we saw Kevin, the custodian, right outside the conference room door, and he confirmed the rumor.

“None of us are to report tomorrow,” he said.

Thursday: A snow day.

The can’t-shut-up-, blah-blah-blah,-no-filter, voice in my head shouted, “Oh NO!  Not a snow day!  There’s stuff to be done tomorrow!”

I thought about collecting apples and bananas for our breakfast sale on Friday, thought about following up on RSVP’s for next week’s event, thought about paperwork to do and calls to make, classes that would not be taught and meetings that wouldn’t meet…But then, slowly and thoughtfully, that other voice, the wise and patient one, spoke up.

It said, “Yo! Blah Blah! Shut UP!  It’s a SNOW day!”

Oh, man.  A snow day.

****

I grew up along the southern shores of Lake Erie, where on clear days, I could see the roof peaks and smokestacks of Hamilton, Ontario, poking up far over the horizon on The Canada Side. The Lake, when clean enough–there was a period back there in the late sixties, early seventies, when it was not advisable,–was our summer playground.

In the winter, lake effect snows crowned us ‘The Snow Belt.’

When snow threatened, the plows came out, the trucks dredged salt up and down the thoroughfares, and, for the most part, life went on.  Cars might move a little more cautiously (except for the occasional eejit; I hear an echo of my father’s voice from behind the steering wheel on a blustery day, as some adventurer passed him going 45 in a 30 mile zone.  “What a yi-yi,” he would say in disgust, but if the foolhardy speeder wound up in a ditch, Dad would be the first to stop and offer help.) The world might sound a little muffled, with a dense layer of snow to absorb harsh noise.  There might even be sculpted drifts four feet high on either side of the roadway.

As long as the snow was steady and gradual, the road crews controlled things, and schools and businesses met as usual.  But, at least once a winter, we could count on perfect timing: an after-midnight, rapid snowstorm, when six inches to a foot of snow fell quickly and thickly.  The road crews couldn’t keep up, and the schools would have to close.

There was no greater joy than waking up at 7:00 to find out I could crawl back into my still warm blankets and sleep until 10 AM.  Sometimes it would even mean a dreaded test would be postponed or an incomplete assignment had 24 more hours to put itself together.  And sometimes there was nothing outstanding, no unfinished work hanging ominously, like a bulging water balloon, over my recalcitrant head. Sometimes, it was just an unexpected gift–a day with no obligations.

*****

I feel like I have met and mastered snow days. Over twelve years in the Snow Belt school system, I must have accumulated, given the Blizzard, the Ice Storm, and other truly major weather events, a backlog of over three months of ‘inclement weather’ days. I even remember a couple of snow days at my college, to which I commuted, but which was mostly a residential (hence, seldom closed) campus.

I have had a lot of snow day practice.  I have come to realize that, while there has to be an individual spin and interpretation of each event by every lucky participant, there are four essential components of a really good snow day.

Here they are:

  • something freshly baked,
  • a wonderful cozy book to read,
  • an intrepid adventure, and
  • a hearty, stick to the ribs, supper.

Today, I am doing my part to stick with the program.

*****

Gone are the days, alas, when I can deftly sleep in till 10 AM, or 11 AM, or noon.  I’m up this morning at 7:30–which is 90 more minutes of Z’s than usual–to find Mark scuffing around in his long, snuggly bathrobe and woolly-lined slippers.  When he hears me get up, he calls the dog downstairs and lets her out–she will not budge until my feet hit the carpet.

I perform the requisite ablutions and come down. I look at him expectantly.

“Are you closed, too?” I ask.

“No,” he says, sadly.  “Just moving a little slow…”

He schleps down to the basement to iron a shirt, and I pour my first mug of steaming coffee, which that blessed man was nice enough to brew for me. As Mark trudges upstairs to dress, I suck down coffee, write my morning pages, and read the paper.  I do my daily newspaper word puzzles.  Mark comes back downstairs, sharply creased and lawyerly.

He reluctantly gathers things together, remotely starts his Impala, and finally accepts that he really has to go.  It’s not all bad–Mark and his nice colleagues will welcome the Chinese New Year at the Panda Buffet at lunch–but still, he has to brave the blustery weather and a thirty minute drive.  I hope there are no eejits or yi-yi’s on Route 16 today.

The house grows quiet. I tackle the freshly baked portion of the day first.

I’ve decided to try the Joy of Cooking recipe for chocolate chip cookies–a day to be daring.  (My favorite recipe is still from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, the one with the red-checked cover. Those are wonderfully, reliably, good cookies.  But–you never know what else could be out there, another recipe waiting to become the new favorite.  I keep searching.) I vow not to mess with the instructions; I will follow the recipe exactly as is to get an idea, a baseline.  If I like it, I can innovate in later baking adventures.

Cookies
I dig out the ingredients, get them all ready in their measuring cups and bowls–pretending I am like those cooks on television who walk into their immaculate kitchens and–Gosh! Look at all these tidy little containers of ingredients waiting for me!

I tug out my stack of cookie sheets (my son Jim did a wonderful job of Internet shopping this Christmas past; from somewhere he leveraged a stack of no stick, heavy duty cookie sheets.  Now I can put almost a whole double recipe of cookies out on sheets at once.  Today, I only have to re-use two trays to bake up the whole batch.)

The Joy recipe is from pre-WWII days; it says to grease the sheets, so–non-stick or no–I do.

The only tiny variation I make is to throw in the end of a bag of mini chocolate chips with the full bag of semi-sweet morsels; I love the added chocolatey texture those mini-guys give a cookie.  And I like the way these cookies come out, flat but not pancakey, crispy with a little chew. I will get the Zanghi boys to weigh in, but I’m thinking this might just be a new default recipe.

I think this, because I carefully, scientifically, and thoughtfully (in between pulling sheets from the oven, putting new sheets in, and sliding hot cookies onto the cooling tray) examine and analyze with the proper tools : a steaming mug o’ joe, a cozy murder mystery, and a saucer of fresh-from-the oven cookies.

I’m reading the latest in Sally Goldenbaum’s “Seaside Knitters Mystery” series, Murder in Merino.  The books have a group of lovely friends at their core, and I am able to watch their lives unfold. So I’ve seen Izzy go from unhappy big-city lawyer to small New England town yarn-shop owner, from single woman to newlywed,  and to, in this latest volume, new mom. There’s also the perky and aged town matriarch, Birdie, who has wealth and wisdom and a long trail of out-lived husbands; there’s tough little Cass, who, with her brother, runs a lobster-trapping enterprise; and there’s Nell.  Nell’s like the earth mama of the group. She and her husband Ben are wonderful together; it’s a true love match; and they host delicious Friday night suppers,–weather permitting, on their deck.

I can count on the Friday night dinners and the Thursday night knit-togethers in Goldenbaum’s books, and I can count on recipes and patterns at the end of each.  (This one has directions for a throw with interesting cable panels; I might just buy great hunks of soft black yarn and knit one for the family room.)  And I can count on the sad discovery of a dead body; this little New England town attracts outcasts and conflicts and murders. And of course, the knitters always feel compelled to figure out whodunnit.

Completely outlandish of course–who would stay in a town, no matter how beautiful, that was such a death magnet?  But these books are not supposed to mirror reality; the characters are comfortable old fictional friends; and it’s nice to think about sitting on a deck by the ocean, enjoying cool breezes after the heat of the day.  Temps here are plunging to minus eleven; the wind chill, says my weather person, will make it feel like minus thirty.

Oh, for a warm ocean breeze.

*****

I clean up as I go these days–my messy baking roots just a dim and distant memory. By the time the last tray of cookies have been spatula-ed onto the round tray where I spread them to cool, all I have left to wash is…the last tray.

I check my email and find that my community engagement meeting is still on.  Ah: my adventure awaits!  I head upstairs and put on my public mask and get out of my cozy, elastic-waisted, snowy day gear.  James gets up and rummages in the refrigerator, pulling out the perfect snow day breakfast for boyos: cold pizza.

I start the car, crank up the fan, and let it warm.  While it does, I take the crazy little dog out for a walk.  The only hat I can find is Mark’s good Buffalo Bills toque; that pops off my clean hair uselessly, so I wrap my head in my long, scrap-knitted scarf, and Greta and I head down the drive.

One would think animals have that sense of--Ooooh, it’s really cold; I’ll just take care of business and trot right back inside.  But no. Greta wants to sniff and explore, to meander and wonder.  She finds deep deer tracks splashing through the snow.  She must put her slender snout in each one and snort me a report.

My cheeks start to feel petrified, so, since she has admirably performed her noble functions, I tug the dog back to a warm house and a chunk o’ wiener  treat.  I worry about those unprotected little paws in sub-zero snow.

The car is warm; the art museum where we meet just far enough away to justify driving.  Most of the team is there; we glow with intrepidation–Here we are, while the rest of the world shivers in their warm houses: we, –yes, we,–have braved the elements! Laine, the vibrant museum director, provides hot drinks and a little nosh, and we efficiently put our budget and our schedule together.  Huh. We who have mastered the arctic temps can easily handle a little bit of event planning.

I swing by the grocery store on the way home, and buy all the necessary apples and bananas for tomorrow’s event.  Panic averted; we are set to offer breakfast treats.

The car is warm; Jim, at home, needs his outing, his adventure, too, so we head back out to the public library.  Committed to reading the books piled high on my shelves, I don’t even let myself LOOK at the new books.  I flip through periodicals while Jim scours the film shelves, roves through stacks of graphic novels.  With his reading and viewing supplies replenished, we head home.

*****

It is now time to put together the hearty meal.  I’m thinking soup; we’ve had pasta sauce and chili already this week; and I have broth made from roasted turkey bones, and I have, too, all the other necessaries to make a big pot of Italian wedding soup.  I cook up three links of Italian sausage–specially bought sausage from western New York. It has a nice hot hit of spice, and, sliced into coins, the sausage  flavors the soup a little more piquantly than just the little meatballs do.

The soup simmers; I take Murder in Merino to my reading chair and pull the afghan over me; as I drift off—plooommph!—the little dog jumps into my lap.  We take that finest thing–a cozy, mid-winter afternoon nap,– together.

Mark comes home full of the bitterly cold day’s exploits.  We slather butter onto fresh slices of French bread from Giacomo’s, our favorite deli-bakery; we make turkey, bacon, and cheddar paninis–Mark’s and mine have caramelized onions, too–and we eat the sandwiches with steaming bowls of soup.  Darkness falls; the house is warm and cozy.

Markie eating

Tomorrow will come roaring at me, but the purpose of a snow day, I have decided, is to give us renewed energy for that cold, hard reality.  Snow days remind me of the essential role that ‘Home’ plays in my life.  And they tell me that surprises are possible, that, in the midst of a difficult winter, and all along Life’s sometimes trouble-y trudges, there are splendid and unexpected possibilities in store.

I end the day with a steaming soak in a brimming tub, and then I take my murder mystery to bed.  I almost finish it before I drift off, renewed and ready for what the morrow, and the winter, have in store. And thankful.

Ahhhhhhhh. A snow day.