Category Archives: Where We Live

My First Snowdrift

We’re having a snow day here in Northern Alabama, which means drivers panicking and people buying up all of the bread and toilet paper while people from, say, Boston just shake their heads and laugh. In honor of the snow day, here’s my first ever experience with a snowdrift ten years ago.

When I woke up this morning, someone had replaced my world with a white one.

As a rule, Southerners don’t have much experience with snow. We tend to look at snowstorms bemusedly. They’re like your eccentric uncle who only stops by every once in a while, causing an uproar while he’s here, delighting the kids and bothering the adults, then leaving a day or two later. His visits are so infrequent that each one is an event to be remembered and talked about, preferably in capitalized words. “I remember the Snowstorm of Eighty-Three.”

When I was growing up in Arkansas, it only snowed about every three or four years, and then only a few inches. Our schools never planned for snow days — why plan for something which happens once or twice a decade? Still, I loved snow. As soon as it would start falling, I’d drag out my cold weather clothes. Mom would always make sure Andrew and I had layers and layers of clothes on before letting us out into the arctic wasteland of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. She was undoubtedly afraid we’d lose our way in the half-inch upon half-inch of snow. Our visits outdoors involved more checklists than a Shuttle flight. Boots with fuzzy lining? Check. Toboggan cap with “Cheerios” printed across it? Check. Long underwear? Check. Big fluffy coat? Check. Warm gloves that make your hands about as maneuverable as a Radio Shack Armatron? Check. Water-proof ski pants? (I never did get to go skiing, but I had the pants.) Check.

And then it was out into the newly-white world, where Andrew and I would toss snowballs, make snow angels, and chase each other through the snow. When my dad could, he’d stay home and join in the chasing and the throwing and the making of snow angels. If only we’d had enough snow to make a really good snowman, we’d have been set.

I’d never seen large amounts of snow, except in pictures and the occasional James Bond movie. When we went to Alaska I saw cars with power cords, so that owners could plug in their cars at night and keep the engine from freezing up or the engine block from cracking. Huh, I thought. Imagine it being that cold. Imagine having that much snow.

Several years back I moved to North Carolina. North Carolina gets more snow than Arkansas, which is like saying, “We get more rain than the Sahara.” The first winter I was here we had a minor ice storm which shut things down for a day or so.

Then this year we had a system of winter storms move across the state. Last week ice and snow shut down schools and some businesses for about a day. On Sunday more ice closed churches. Local TV channels covered the weather with the seriousness and focus such media outlets reserve for forces of nature. They dubbed the event “Winter Storm 2000.”

They should have saved that caption.

The phone call came early this morning from my friend. Have you looked outside? There’s snow. I guess we won’t be going into work today.

I knew it had snowed overnight — it had begun snowing by the time I drove home last night. But I didn’t realize how much had fallen.

I had to go outside. I just had to. I pulled on several layers of clothes, including the aforementioned ski pants, which I still have. Mom would be so proud. Properly attired for the weather, I proceeded to open the door.

It wouldn’t open.

I shoved harder. The door slowly gave ground. I stuck my head outside.

The snow on our porch was so deep it was blocking the door.

(Let me pause for a moment. I realize that, for many of you, this is not a big deal. Well, pooh on you. I’ve never been anywhere when more than about three or four inches of snow had fallen.)

I stepped outside into a timeless world. The wind was blowing gently, pushing small flakes of snow to the south. The snow came up past my shins. I closed the door and fairly bounded down the stairs to the street below. In my head I heard Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow! with each crunchy step I took.

My car. Someone had taken my car and replaced it with a big mound of snow. I scraped my glove along it, revealing a stretch of blue paint like ice at the heart of a glacier.

There was a snowdrift between our car and my downstairs neighbor’s car. I’d never seen a snowdrift before. There was enough snow for the wind to sculpt into mounds.

I wandered out into the middle of my street and turned my back to the wind. The little flakes of snow drifted past me, turning and tumbling. There was one set of tire tracks in the street. Someone with a truck and a greater sense of urgency than I had driven somewhere. Where the tires had passed a thin ribbon of ice was left.

It was quieter than I’d ever heard Durham be before. I live near downtown, so I can always hear cars passing. Now all I heard was the hiss of falling snow and the cling-ling-ling of the windchimes back at my apartment.

I tromped down my street to the next one. Behind me were the deep depressions of my footprints. I paused to look at my tracks. Everywhere I stepped I was leaving a slurry of ice and trampled snow.

When I looked up, I noticed that a tree had fallen over, torn down by the weight of the snow. There was probably a chance I’d lose power.

I ignored the problem and caught several snowflakes on my tongue.

As I went tramping back towards home and heat, I saw someone else tramping along their street. She was bundled up like me, with a fuzzy blue stocking cap and a bright coat. We waved. Neither of us felt like shouting to each other.

Misty’s in Atlanta on a business trip. She’s supposed to come home tonight. I wonder if she’ll be able to make it, or if RDU airport is now just a large white field with a big sign sticking up out of it which reads, “PLANES GO HOME.”

I fall down in the snow and try to make a snow angel. The snow swallows my head. When I get up, the wind dusts me off. I’m beginning to dream of hot chocolate.

I should be more serious. The snow is causing all kinds of problems. One of my co-workers hoped to get a large chunk of his thesis data today. Misty is no doubt stranded in Atlanta. The power could go off any second, robbing me of light and heat.

I’m sure it’s just the cold wind keeping me smiling like this.


I am waiting in the funeral home foyer, listening to the grandfather clock across from me tick, tick, tick. I am standing with the other pallbearers. The clock’s big hand points to the phrase TEMPUS FUGIT.

I’ve been a pallbearer at three funerals now. When the time comes you lift the casket, marveling at how heavy it is, as if it is lined with lead to make you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth. The body inside is the person you knew minus what made them them, so why does the entire thing weigh so much? It settles in your hands and you think hard about important subjects, like how stupid you’re going to look if you trip over your own feet.

In a little over a year I’ve become a connoisseur of funerals, which is a lot like drinking shot after shot of vinegar until you can identify specific brands. Funerals are stitched-together affairs, and have so many parts that can go wrong. Songs especially are a minefield. I’ve now heard several of them whose conceit is that they’re being sung by the deceased and whose message boils down to, “It’d be great if you were dead like me.”

Pastors handle funerals with varying degrees of grace. Some have described someone I didn’t recognize, as if they had accidentally grabbed the Cliff’s Notes to someone else’s life. Worst are the ones who see funerals as an opportunity to convert mourners to Christianity, barely stopping short of slapping a GOD IS MY CO-PILOT bumper sticker on the casket.

This all started several years ago with a few funerals, drops of water that foretold the coming rainstorm. Now it feels as if I cannot go a month before I need to pull out my suit and somber tie, the one without crayon drawings of kids riding rockets into outer space. I have so much knowledge I have no use for, and no real knowledge of the heart of the matter. I now know that funerals for those who served in the military are hard: the service is longer, there may be a three-volley rifle salute, and the flag draped over the casket makes it harder to find the handles. And every time — every time — the flag is presented to the family, I lose it.

Like pastors, other people handle death in different ways. The usual Christian clichés give no comfort. “He’s in a better place.” “She’s at peace now.” Sometimes people go beyond clichés when they really shouldn’t. Misty’s grandfather died barely seven months after his wife did. At one point someone said to us, “There was a study, it showed that if someone dies within a year after their husband or wife dies, they were soul-mates,” and I thought of my two grandmothers, both of whom have outlived their husbands by more than a year. People say the most unkind, unthinking things, shoveling words into the empty space the deceased has left.

There are other clichés that are trotted out. “Why do we only all get together when someone dies?” someone always asks, and it’s always asked by those who flee the soonest from the funeral. Then there are those who understand, who hold you for a moment and say, “I’m so sorry.” Those who share their stories and rememberances of the dead, shining a light into parts of their life that you’d never really seen before.

Funerals are all about waiting, as the grandfather clock in the foyer reminds me. It finally chimes ten with muted, rounded tones that might announce the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past. We line up behind the funeral director and file into the chapel.

The coldest day of the year

This morning while driving the kids to school the temperature was 19° F at 9 a.m. It was snowing heavily but the sun was shining as well. The sun caused the snow to sparkle like glass as it was swirling in the breeze. It was like being on the inside of a snow globe.

This is probably not unusual for those of you that live in snowier climes. For me, it was quite remarkable.

Another Wii Christmas

Last Christmas, through a series of unlikely events, we got a Wii. The house rejoiced over a new gaming system.

Over the past year, we’ve played Mario Kart, Lego Indiana Jones and about a million games of bowling and tennis. We weren’t letting it collect dust by any means but I had no idea we could re-energize it with something new.

Today, I got the Fit game and board from my mom for Christmas. I’m having a blast with it. So the next time you come over, I am totally making you do the hula hoop. Be ready!

An Unusual Fit of Cleaning

We’d been talking for a while that we needed to do some cleaning before Christmas. Specifically in Eli’s room so there’s actually room to bring in some new stuff.

So to show him how Mom and Dad can clean up their stuff too, Stephen started pulling books off of bookshelves and chunking them in a pile to go to the used bookstore. Some 60 books later, we have a bit of space on a few shelves around the house. And a whopping pile to trade for other books!

The office was also a bit of a mess. Stephen still had portal gun bits and pieces strewn around for Liza to impale herself on and I had a corner that just seemed to continually expand when I wasn’t actively beating it back. So we spent about 30 minutes last night and here are the results:

Today, I’m going to try and convince Eli to part with a few things as well. If you hear the moaning, it’s Emo Eli trying to part with his toys.

Kat’s Visit

Wonder what we did while Kat was visiting last week? Here’s her photos of the trip.

Click on the photo to see all of Kat’s photos from her visit to Huntsville.

We had an awesome time with Kat here while Stephen was gone to Dragon*Con. Thursday, after I had dropped off Kat at her parent’s house and picked up Eli from school, he moped around all afternoon saying he missed Kat and moaning. I can’t say I’ve recovered any better.

Gardening Weekend

This weekend Stephen decided to get started finishing our front flower beds. This is what they looked like before:

This is what two of the three look like now:

Yes, Mom, we did use that black edging stuff that you don’t like. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything else that go around the curvy bits as well as that stuff. The good news is that the lamb’s ear and firewitch will cover it up in oh, say, about 10 years.

Most of the plants seem to be doing well despite the heat but there are three that don’t want to snap out of the shock. So I got up early to water them this morning and also watered the kids:

On Thermostats and Dreams

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been slowly upping the temperature in our house to see what the maximum comfortable temp is for working, playing and just plan ol’ living inside our house.

This past week, I’ve been working on 77°. Now last summer while I was nursing Liza, this place was regularly down to 73° and if I was having a particularly hot moment, 71°. By comparison, 77° is practically desert heat. Well the past couple of nights have shown me that 77° is actually too warm to sleep in.

Friday night I dreamed that I lost Eli and Liza in a mudslide. I survived but they didn’t.

Saturday night Stephen dreamed he punched Eli in the face.

Last night I turned the thermostat down to 76° and I dreamed of moving into a new house with two kitchens and beach access in the basement.

Does being too hot make you have bad dreams too or are we the weird ones?

A Hike and A Picnic

Wednesday, Wendy lured us on a small hike with a picnic in the middle and then a hike back.

Pause for a moment and think about:

    1) me on a hike
    2) with Eli the Whiny (when things aren’t going his way),
    3) Liza the Deaf Maker (when things aren’t going her way), and
    4) all of our stuff!

Wendy has no idea that I nearly called her 14 times before we left to say we weren’t coming. Well, I guess she knows now if she’s reading this post. But I got my act together and only forgot Liza’s hat and a spoon with which to feed her. Now you know why she is wearing her sweet potato stained hoodie in most of the photos.

We had a great time and Eli produced almost zero whine until we got in the car to go home when I made the mistake of telling him about ticks. Bad mom!

Eli showing off
Click the photo for more pictures from the hike.
Special thanks to Mike Self for helping make up captions for the photos.