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Snow Days

IMG_0712The snow came down and the text messages flew. Daughter and two of her friends planned a sledding party. So right after lunch, nine children and their parents hit our backyard. Most suited out in snow pants and boots. Waterproof gloves and coats. Some with snow ski glasses and face warmers. The dads unloaded wooden sleds with metal runners and big round plastic discs. Quite different from the days when I was a kid.

On a snowy days, the Mochow family would call. “Come on down. We’ll meet you at the top of the hill.” And they meant down. Their house was at the end of a curvy road leading to Star Point Dock, which the Mochows owned, near Byrdstown.

I bundled in the warmest, most water-resistant garb Mom could put together. Flannel pajamas and two pairs of pants. A sweatshirt and heavy coat and a knitted hat. Two pairs of gloves or mittens – neither water proof. To keep my feet dry, I stuck each foot in a bread bag. A thin plastic bag that held a store bought loaf of bread the day before. Then two pairs of knee socks and whatever boots or shoes I could stuff my feet into. Maybe Dad’s oldest barn boots.

Mom, Dad, my brother, and I piled into the car and Dad carefully drove to the top of Star Point hill where Ted Mochow met us and two other families. Ted drove a 4-wheel drive jeep and only the three mothers, who carried food for a pitch-in meal, rode in it. We five kids and our daddies rode on a long sled tied to the back of the jeep.

What a fun ride! A long homemade wooden sled made for pulling, not for sledding. Was it safe? Probably not. Somehow the rope was tied with a loop and in case of an emergency the person riding in front of the sled could unhitch the sled.

Dad usually sat in the front and I hunkered right behind him. We sat like bobsledders – our legs straddling the person in front of us. My brother, the oldest boy, got the last seat. Around curves, up and down hills for more than a mile we rode and then we walked up a steep hill to the Mochow’s home.

A perfect hill for sledding. No store bought sleds for us, but instead old metal cookie sheets and pieces of cardboard. The cardboard went faster and we could bend it to form custom made sleds. Snow angels, snowmen, snowballs, snow cream. All part of our snow fun.

Just like the snow fun in my backyard last Friday. The six-year-olds fashioned snow angels. Kids sled double with their mamas and daddies. The four-year-old ate handfuls of snow. One husband stood behind a tree and pelted his wife with snowballs. Several snowmen were begun – none finished. The deep snow finally packed down so that even the youngest, lightest weight child sled down the hill quickly.

And then they all came inside and stripped down. Fifteen sets of gloves and boots. Snow bibs. Hats. And layers of clothes. I loved that the closest-to-skin layer the youngest kids wore was their pajamas.

And when kids took off their boots and wet socks, I thought they should’ve worn bread bags. Their feet would’ve stayed dry. Not warm, but dry.

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Barely Enough Snow

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Finally, Mother Nature cooperated.  Snow!  Deep enough for my young Grands to slide down the short sledding hill in our backyard.  Early Sunday morning, my daughter sent a text.  “We’re coming to sled.”  Hallelujah!

I watched through the window from inside my warm house.  The two older Grands rode round plastic sleds, and because the snow barely covered the grass in places, sometimes they pushed each other almost all the way down the hill.  The younger Grands, ages 1 and 3, tromped and made snow angels and threw handfuls of the white stuff in the air.  Then they squealed when the cold wet snow fell on their upturned faces.

It was time to make hot chocolate.  You have to have cookies and hot chocolate after playing in snow, and I began getting ready for this day months ago.  In early December I unpacked snowman dishes out of storage boxes, and I bought marshmallows, colored ones shaped like cars, for hot chocolate.  I made cookies – the kind you slice and bake and serve warm, straight from the oven.

            But the cookies were eaten during the Christmas holidays, and when I found the marshmallow bag in the back corner of the cabinet, it was less than half full.  I scrounged through the freezer searching for anything that could pass for cookies.  I found a few cinnamon rolls – enough to cut into small pieces, cookie size.  Thank goodness for a microwave to thaw and heat them.

I use my mother’s hot chocolate recipe.  Sugar and Hershey’s Cocoa, mixed with a little water and boiled for two minutes.  Add milk and heat slowly.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  The best hot chocolate ever – topped with marshmallows.

Five-year-old Lou was first in the house and rushed to the kitchen.  She pulled apart the stuck-together marshmallows and taste tested one of each color to be sure they were okay to eat.  We loaded trays with snowman plates and cups, a pot of hot chocolate, and cinnamon- roll cookies and carried them to our basement playroom.  Lou’s parents and siblings sat on a plastic picnic tablecloth spread on the floor.

As my four Grands gobbled bites of cinnamon rolls and drank hot chocolate, cooled with crushed ice and topped with squashed marshmallows, they talked.

             Did you see me go fast down the hill?

             Daddy sledded down the hill with me.

             Did anyone else see Elaine (20 months old) when she fell?  She couldn’t get up with all those clothes on.

            I got Daddy good with a snowball – did you see me?  

            Momma, why didn’t you ride on a sled?

            Do you think we’ll have another snow?

All winter long, I’ve wished for a big snow, four inches deep or so, but unless we have a fluke blizzard like the one in March twenty years ago, it probably won’t happen.  For my Grands, the Sunday morning snow was enough.  Enough to make happy memories – sledding and playing and drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies.

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Backyard Nature Movie

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            Last Friday was a day for the birds.  My list of chores and errands vanished into thin air when I raised the shade covering the kitchen window and saw a skiff of snow and birds on my birdfeeder.

The birds must have been happy that I’d finally filled their feeder with sunflower seed.  Sometime last fall I mindlessly bought a 40-pound bag of Deluxe Bird Food.  The price was right.  I watched as bird after bird threw white millet and red milo seeds onto the ground and emptied the feeder.  And then, after a few days, very few birds nibbled, much less ate, my bargain seed.  A couple of weeks ago, I filled my feeder with sunflower seed and hung two nets filled with finch seed.  And last Friday while my bird friends dined, I couldn’t pull myself away from the show.

A dozen or more house finches ate side by side on the two eighteen-inch cloth mesh nets.  Some birds hung vertical with heads up, some upside down, some sideways.  I wondered if a finch doesn’t like to dine alone.  As a group they flew away and then returned a few minutes later.  Two, three, four – until once again a small flock pecked at the tiny black seeds.

Isn’t a northern cardinal its prettiest on a snowy day?  Why would a male sit on my snow-covered deck railing just three inches from the sunflower-filled feeder?  Maybe waiting for his mate?  When the female cardinal hopped onto a metal perch to eat, he joined her for a quick snack.  She stayed for a five-course meal and was happy to dine with tufted titmice, a white-breasted nuthatch, and purple finches.

And then a woodpecker zoomed in and all the other birds scattered.  A red-bellied woodpecker.  Try explaining to a five-year old child that a woodpecker with a red head is not a red-headed woodpecker.  My Grand was sure that I was confused.  “Look, at his coloring,” I explained.  “See the black and white ladder on his wings and back?  That’s how you know he’s a red-bellied, not a red-headed woodpecker.”  I agreed that I couldn’t see red on his belly and yes, maybe he should’ve been named the black-and-white laddered woodpecker.  The smaller birds filled every perch as soon as the Mr. Red Bellied flew away.

A rufous-sided towhee, really a large sparrow, swooped in.  With his tail pumping, he hopped across the deck railing to the feeder, appearing to choose his favorite perch.  He came  dressed for a dinner party – white belly, black head, and distinct brown and black markings.  Just when I thought the show outside my window couldn’t be better, a pair of deer trotted across the yard.  She pranced.  He, with his tall antlers, strutted.

Last Friday’s snow wasn’t deep enough for my Grands to sled down my backyard hill.  (I’m still hoping for a ‘real’ snow so we can have a sled party.)  But a dusting of snow was plenty for the setting of a backyard nature movie.  All for the price of a bag of sunflower seeds.

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