The ABCs of surviving a winter that won’t let go.

IMG_1942My life, it seems, until further notice.

Just this past Sunday, a minor miracle occurred: the deep freeze we New Englanders have been living in let loose its grip, just a tad. The temperature finally rose up into the forties, and the snow—all ninety inches plus that have fallen since the end of January—started melting.  And with that little wisp of a meltdown, the citizenry of my home town wandered out of doors, where we collectively took off our hats and gloves, tipped our faces up to the warm sun, and started feeling like human beings again. We were like the Munchkins, coming out, coming out, wherever we were.

That was then. This morning, two days later?  I woke up to Zero. Degrees. Fahrenheit.

Welcome to the Winter that Won’t Let Go.

I’m at a loss for words to describe this world. Let’s just say, we’ve been hemmed in and reduced to basics. It feels like I haven’t been out much, except to shovel. I’ve just been coming up for air, from the weather, from the snow, from a lousy chest cold. I’ve been feeling like an extra in a live/reality production of Dr. Zhivago. There’s been too much winter, too much chill in the air, and way too much snow for city living.

IMG_2462This was the day of the meltdown.  All those piles settled in on themselves, just a little.

But back in that brief Sunday dash of something leaning away from the arctic and ever so slightly towards the tropical, I had an idea for a way to post the gamut of what these frosty weeks have been about. Here’s a little alphabetical catch up—let’s see how this goes.

* * * * *

A is for alleluia. For weather that finally allowed me to peel off my good-to-twenty-below parka. And for the renewal of trust, that spring—glorious, magnificent, magical spring—might, in fact, be on its way.

B is for Broadway Market. I’ve pared down my grocery shopping these past few weeks to things that my little store around the corner sells. Decent produce, excellent cheese selection and meat options, everything hopelessly overpriced. But bless the Broadway Market for making it possible to not have to get in the car to answer the “What’s for dinner?” question.

C is for cars: for moving them, for digging them out, for finding somewhere to ditch them, for abandoning them whenever possible. These days I drive only when I’m absolutely sure there’s a place to park when I get where I’m going. Owning a car has become a burden this month.  Boston Coach is starting to seem like the way to go.

IMG_2238There’s no place left for the plow to push the snow. We’ve been reduced to protecting our little parking slots.  That pile at the bottom of the photo was five feet over my head, until my beloved snow-raked the summit off to our side yard. So we could continue with our digging out and tossing shovelfuls of snow up and over.

D is for digging. Digging out. Digging up and over. Endless digging.

 IMG_2031The view from our third floor.

E is for the evening skies. Despite the gray clouds that have been spitting flakes of white nearly constantly, there have been a few breathtaking sunsets, along with the loveliest of indigo skies, just before the dark takes over. A few days ago, there was a glorious day-is-done bonus: the sight of the waning moon, just a wisp of a fingernail hanging low in the sky, kept company by a bright Venus and a shy, faint Mars. It was bedazzling, the sort of thing made me stop people on the sidewalks, to make sure they didn’t miss it.

IMG_1830Oh, Jack Frost.  We’ve seen too much of you.

F is for frost. I can always tell how cold it is by the amount of frosting on my bedroom window when I wake up. There’s been a lot of frost. It would seem prettier if it weren’t indication of frostbite conditions outside.

G is for Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s a novel I’d started at least three times before it was selected by my book group, to whom I am beholden for foisting this quiet, epic tale on me, once more. I’m afraid I never would have made it to the end, if left to my own devices. Never would have appreciated this thoughtful, soulful, dying father’s sermon to his son.

IMG_1757H is for heat. And for how lovely it feels, to be in a warm spot on a cold day, particularly during an achingly long cold spell like the one we’ve been in. My new kitchen floor includes radiant heat, a home renovation luxury that I got talked into despite the fact that I didn’t entirely understand how it might work more efficiently than a decent pair of slippers. How do I feel about it now? Best home improvement ever, hands down. I’ve spent a lot of time on my yoga mat on the kitchen floor these past few weeks, doing my PT exercises, stretching my tight hamstrings, luxuriating in the warmth. I am a complete radiant heat addict. It is a gift from the renovation gods.

IMG_2420I is for icicles. Monstrous icicles. Impossible not to photograph. Beautiful and terrifying.

I is also for Instagram, where I’ve been posting lots of wintery photos, like the one above.  But that’s a story for another day, my odd and wonderful little toe into the social media realm with IG. If you want a preview, check out my IG feed @khmacomber. More on that subject later.

J is for my beloved John. He’s the man who’s put up with my manic worries about snow removal, our neighbors’ incapacity to dig themselves out, and our obligation to keep the sidewalk clear. He’s been up on the roof I don’t even know how many times. When everyone around us stopped yacking about the snow in the roads and started harping about ice dams and collapsing roofs, I didn’t get sucked in to worrying about that potential calamity. The man has us in good shape, Snowmageddon-aftermath-wise. Oh, my goodness, I am grateful for all he does.

IMG_2229My beloved, and his shoveling handiwork on display. Best Valentine Ever.

K is for kindred spirits. The people who check in, make me laugh, keep me sane. You know who you are. I am rich in kindred spirits.

L is for Lila, another book by Marilynne Robinson. My book group ambitiously agreed to read both Gilead and Lila for our next meeting. And while we knew Lila would be a bit of a prequel, focusing on one  character in Gilead, we decided to read them in the order they were written. Excellent choice. Such a treat, to be immersed in one view of the world, and then, by magic, to see that world from another perspective entirely! I loved reading these two books, back to back. And I’m looking forward to our discussion, which has been rescheduled for March due to–you guessed it–the snow.

M is for MGH, the Massachusetts General Hospital, where in April I will be getting a new hip. See A is for allelulia. This is good news. April seems like a good time to go out with the old and in with the new.

N is for the best of neighbors. I am lucky to have a couple of extraordinary ones. To our immediate east is my newest neighbor, with whom I share a common wall and a front walk. Jane moved here not too long ago, along with various of her twentysomething-aged kids who come and go between college and grad school and job searches. She is quick to shovel and happy to collect any deliveries left on my front steps when I’m out of town. We’ve fallen into a happy compatibility, easy chats on our shared front walkway over the recycling bins, both of us paying favors forward. I am glad to have her nearby. Meanwhile, at our back door is my favorite octogenarian, a man who bakes bread from his own sourdough starter, and who treats me to sweet little loaves, warm from the oven, in exchange for my making sure that his parking spot is dug out. He is a treasure, and I am glad to have him nearby.

IMG_2498Seriously: Am I lucky, or what?

O is for the Oscars. I can’t really explain why I care about who wins what, who wore whom, but I do. I am a complete sucker for the red carpet, for weepy acceptance speeches, for moments like Julie Andrews embracing Lady Gaga. I watched it all the way to the end.

 IMG_2473P is for purring. It’s what our cats are really good at. They are excellent accessories when the weather is cold and the thing that makes the most sense is to settle in with a good book.

Q is for whatever you can do with it, if you’re playing Scrabble. My beloved and I have had lots of weather-dictated weeknight date nights, with sangria and candles and one of us saying, “Let’s just play five moves each, and quit if we’re stuck with lousy letters.” It’s been a little bonus on the days when Harvard has shut itself down, due to the weather. Which it did exactly four times between 1636 and 1978, and which has happened at least three times this month.

IMG_1808A notable Scrabble victory, one that ended with me playing all seven letters to go out.

R is for relatives—checking in, sending funny emails and texts, forwarding each other news and weather updates. They are the inner circle of my kindred souls.

S is for skiing. Even though I haven’t been yet this winter. Just getting to watch fantastic ski racing makes me excited to get my hip fixed, so I can return to my most beloved outdoor activity. Watching great skiing has made me anxious to get back to swooping down my favorite trails on my favorite mountains. Meanwhile, thank you, NBCSN, for providing something close to live coverage of the World Championships from Beaver Creek. Watching good ski racing makes all this snow seem worthwhile.

T is for US Ski Team member Ted Ligety, and the most amazing clutch performance in the second run of the men’s giant slalom at those World Championships. He is The Man. He is amazing!

IMG_2483Not sure which I love more: those impervious to the weather boots, or that chartreuse parka I got from Lands End for $69 bucks a couple years back. Two staples of my winter uniform.

U is for my uniform these days. Fake fur hat, turtlenecks, Skida headbands repurposed as extra neckwarmers, a skinny lightweight jacket under my epic extra long down parka, my ski tights under my pants, and best of all, the tall snow boots that I ordered from LLBean just before the middle storm between the blizzards, and which miraculously showed up 24 hours later–and with free shipping! I have donned this outfit to shovel, to tromp all over town, to get to my appointments, even to be a lady who lunches at the MFA. Okay, that day I did bring another pair of shoes, but still, it’s been a consistent look that requires not much thought.  Staying warm and dry is the name of the game.

 IMG_2252V is for Valentines. Belated Valentines, actually. That’s what my Christmas cards turned into, sometime in the middle of February.  I’m a big believer in Better Late Than Never, when it comes to my annual effort at seasons greetings.

 IMG_2059W is for women playing hockey. In particular, my beloved Harvard Women’s Hockey team. They are joyful to watch, strong and fast and talented. And when they take their helmets off for the national anthem, they make me happy-weepy.


X is for x-rays. On a morning after one of those snowstorms, when the MBTA was shut down, I got up early and trekked to Mass General for one more set of x-rays, one more review of the options. Here’s to some forward progress on my orthopedic ailments.

Y is for yellow–I color I am looking forward to seeing more of.  Forsythia, anyone?

Z is for Zero. Degrees. Fahrenheit.  Which is where we began this post, and seems like a good place to end.  Here’s hoping there will be no more mornings with sub-zero windchills, not in my home town, not til next winter.

A gal can dream, right?

IMG_2475Hang on tight, little rhododendron buds.  Your day will come!



Snow snow and more snow

IMG_1461This is what it looked like.  Before the last snow storm.  Imagine another foot…

Do I even need to say that the last week and a half has been a blizzard of…blizzards?

Because that’s what I’ve been up to.  Every notion around where I might go and how I might get there has been completely overrun with considerations that have to do with the weather.   If we head north early up the coast of Maine, will we be ahead of the storm?  If we proceed to New Hampshire, will we miss the wrath of Juno?  If I drive to Vermont for a memorial event, will I be able to get back through Crawford Notch before the wind and snow make the drive impossible?  Meanwhile, back at home: has the plow guy shown up yet?  Should I stop in the hardware store in North Conway and pick up a new shovel?  Has the parking ban been lifted?  Is my elderly neighbor all set?  Does my sidewalk need to be salted and shoveled, yet again?

In other words, I am living in a decidedly grown-up world, where city forecasts that call for snow are cause for coordination, preparation, and action.  There’s no hopeful anticipation of a snow day, no joy at the prospect of building snow caves or snowmen or snow forts. Just logistics.  That, and a lot of shoveling.

IMG_1607One storm later…

I was not always so burdened.  Back before flash text messages and robocalls, I remember sitting by the radio in the kitchen, praying for my town to be on the school closings list–news that was greeted at my house with whoops of joy and the promise of maple syrup poured on fresh powder snow.   Even in my college days, I loved a good snowstorm–the bigger the better.  I didn’t need to concern myself with digging out cars or clearing sidewalks or anything other than having access to a dryer when the frolicking was done.

IMG_1724Ah, these were the days.  Lowell House, February 1978.

I was a college sophomore  when the great Blizzard of ’78 hit these parts.  I remember loving every minute of it–putting on all my foul-weather ski clothes, goggles and all, and leaning into the wind as my roommate and I tramped down the middle of a snowy, empty Mt. Auburn Street.  I remember taking part in a tunneling expedition, where some classmates had created a replica of Boston’s transit system through the mounds of snow in the courtyard of our dorm.  We all slid down the library steps, then trundled back to the dining hall and got extra marshmallows for my hot chocolate. I vaguely remember students serving meals, since the kitchen staff was short-handed.  Two days after the snow began swirling, I remember waking up before 5AM, packing  into a station wagon with my fellow ski team members, and sneaking out of town (through a driving ban–and after getting stopped in Somerville and told to turn around or face a $500 fine!) and making it to the Dartmouth Skiway in time to race.  I only vaguely remember the drive back, which ended with us  having to abandon our vehicle and subway back to school from the far end of the orange line.

Yes, 1978 was The Best Storm Ever, in my book.  Best in terms of the most snow, best in terms of the most fun.  And, as I didn’t realize at the time, best in terms of me being old enough to delight in it thoroughly, but not so old that I had any responsibilities attached to the accumulation of snow.

IMG_1689Two days ago.  Library steps beckon to be slid upon. Watch out for that rope!

* * * * *

Now, here I am.  I live in a building with parking, but to get to it, I have to drive into a curious little no-man’s land, between my back door neighbors’ house and their two parking spots, and a small apartment building that also rents out four more parking spots.  That’s eight vehicles in a tight formation that works just fine until we have a week like this one.   From an all but snowless winter two weeks ago, we find ourselves today with, quite literally, no place to put any more snow.  We get another dump, we’re going to have to start designating places to store white stuff instead of vehicles.  It’ll get a little like Survivor.  Someone’s gonna get kicked off the island.

Which, in truth, my beloved and I have already done to ourselves.  One of our cars is on the street, in a well-manicured spot.  We have some flexibility around beaching a vehicle across the river during snow emergencies.  Our son takes a car off our hands (it really does feel like a gift, until he needs to bring it back) on the weekends.  So our sketchy extra parking place at the end of our back porch?  That’s turned into a designated snow dump zone.

IMG_1648For now, there are still two parking spots out there.

Meanwhile, my spry octogenarian neighbor needs some looking out for, so that’s what we do.  He moves his car to one of our spaces, so the plow guy has somewhere to push the snow.  That done, I head over and tidy up his parking zone.  By which I mean I take my shovel and peel off layers and toss them up and over the ever-growing snowbanks, to give him another few feet to back his car into.

Clearly, without a coordinated effort, we’re all screwed.  Somewhere along the way, I became the designated grownup, the winter storm parking czarina. It’s a designation I’d give anything to offload.  I want wunderlust over snowstorms! I want to look out the window and be delighted, not dismayed.  I want to be a kid again.

Need I even note that all this snow makes a fiftysomething woman feel just a tad mortal?  With my shoulder in sub-prime shoveling fitness, I made a grand gesture to my current infirmity and bought myself a new shovel–a cute little 5/8ths scale thing.  It’s kept me from over-doing, but it makes the job take twice as long.  I know it was the right thing to do, but I am feeling diminished from my long-standing role as The Woman Who Is A Snow Shoveling Machine.  I’m pretty putt-putt these days, not much Vrooooom.

IMG_1686Proof I’ve still got it, sidewalk-maintenance-wise.

Some day my sweetie and I will push off from this place we’ve lived in for decades, to a home that’s easier to deal with.  Honestly, it’ll be winters like this one that’ll nudge us into action.  We’ve got a couple of soft landing spots marked out, places in town with underground parking, that sort of thing.  There are two nearby smallish houses I’d snap up in a trice if they ever came on the market, just for their easy parking scenarios.  But more than likely, we’ll stick it out here for awhile, and save our assisted living days (by which I mean, the days when we let someone else worry about snow removal while we sit at the bar and eat crabcakes and watch the Bruins and play cribbage) for somewhere off in the more distant future.

In the meantime, there’s another storm on the way. Might be time to rethink the snowblower option.