Saturday, November 18th, 2017

The weather outside is frightful. Snow is falling and sticking to the ground for the first time this season, and that’s what I consider to be the official sign that winter has begun. You can measure it on the calendar or by the stars if you want, but it doesn’t mean a thing until the snow starts falling and the ground starts freezing solid. This is it.

There’s not a lot of snow, and it’s pretty wet, but there’s enough of it on the ground that it’s easy to see no matter which way you turn your head, and I can take a picture of it and not have to explain that I took a picture of snow and not just my empty yard. That’s how you know it’s real.

It’s been coming down, on and off, since I got out of bed at eight and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon, so this might be the perfect day to curl up on the sofa with a book and drink gallons of hot beverages. Not that I ever needed an excuse to do that before, just that today I’d be able to use that as an excuse and everybody would nod their heads and say, Yes, yes, perfect day, wish I’d thought of that.

frightful | 9:38 am CST
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Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Just for the record, yesterday we had the first SUPER MASSIVE SNOW STORM OF THE YEAR that everybody talked about as if it was the end of the world, and when we went out to our car at the end of the work day, it turned out there was maybe an inch or two of accumulation and some ice to scrape off the car. How is it that, every year, everybody forgets what winter was like? We live in Wisconsin! Snow is the default setting here!

I shoveled the driveway this morning, also for the first time this year, also just for the record. I didn’t really have to; our car could have easily driven right over it, but I was insomniac and figured, what the hell, I need some cardio anyway.

In other news …

super massive snow storm | 6:07 am CST
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Monday, November 24th, 2014

“Let’s move to Wisconsin,” I said.

“You’ll love the seasons,” I said.

What a maroon. What a gully bull.

seasonal amnesia | 6:14 pm CST
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Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Among the things I will not be doing this morning is shoveling the driveway, even though I set my alarm clock to go bleepity-bleep-bleep a half-hour earlier than usual because the all-knowing National Weather Service said there was supposed to be somewhere between five and twelve inches of snow on the ground this morning. The driveway’s on the ground. So is our car. And when our car is separated from the driveway by twelve inches of snow, it doesn’t take us to work in the morning.

That’s why I gave myself an extra half-hour to shovel it all off this morning. It was a brilliant plan, except that, when I peered blearily out the window at the driveway this morning, there was no more snow on it or the rest of the ground than there was when I went to bed last night. Relieved, I went back to bed, reset my clock and burrowed into the bedcovers, where I laid for five blissful minutes until the cats began to dance on my head.

forecast | 5:30 am CST
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Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Friday morning, I opened the garage door to see if the snow that had fallen the night before was enough to need shoveling. It was. I grabbed a shovel and started to work.

I’d cleared about ten feet of the part of the driveway closest to the garage when I noticed that the plow had come by and piled up a wall of snow at the end of the drive that the car would never be able to get past. Shoveling a path down one side of the drive, I figured I’d start on the wall, to get the worst of the work out of the way.

When I got there and tried to chop it into chunks with the shovel, I found out that the plow must have come by last night when the snow was mostly slush, because it had an inch-thick shell of ice that was almost impossible for the shovel to get through. I had to tramp back to the garage to get the ice chopper.

After ten or fifteen minutes of chopping at the ice, then shoveling the chunks away, I had cleared a pitifully narrow path all the way to the street. It was back-breaking work made even worse by the high banks of snow piled up around the end of the driveway, making me lift every shovel full waist-high and pitch it up over the top of the bank.

As I started to chop at the ice again, a city truck came up the street, spreading salt. He slowed down as he got closer and stopped right in front of my driveway, so I stopped working and watched to see what he was up to. He turned the truck so that it looked as though he was going to come right up my driveway. I stepped back, thinking, What the hell? but before another cuss word crossed my mind, he dropped the plow and shoved that whole wall of ice off to the side.

I pumped my arm up and down and shouted, “YOU’RE AWESOME!” I don’t think he heard me, but he probably got the message.

awesome plow | 8:26 am CST
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Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

First snow of the season fell from the sky this morning as I was backing the car out of the garage, headed down the street to Crema to see if they could sell me a bag of coffee beans after I let our supply run out. I’m a bad coffee janitor.

The snow came down as those tiny little blobs that look just like Styrofoam. They even bounced off the windshield the way Styrofoam would, and they didn’t melt until the defroster warmed up the glass.

Back at home, there was enough snow built up on the back porch to be impossible to ignore, and it stuck for about an hour, so I think it counts as a real first snow.


first snow | 10:13 pm CST
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Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I am shoveling snow off the driveway. Yes, right now. No, I’m not holding an actual shovel in my hands right now. Okay, I’m not in the driveway right now, either. I’m in my basement lair, drinking coffee, but my belief is unshakable that, if I’m only taking a fifteen-minute break from shoveling snow, I can still say I’m shoveling snow, sort of like you can be in the break room at the office and still say you’re at work.

I’m not even sure why I’m shoveling snow today. I’m certainly not going to drive the car anywhere. Neither one of us has any inclination to do so and won’t, unless the other one manages to cut off a digit in a freak kitchen/home improvement power tool accident. Now that I think about it, that wouldn’t be so very freakish, considering our motor skills, coupled with our love of powered gadgets that come with lots of sharpened attachments.

We will be traveling to the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest later this afternoon (phone pictures of drunken B & O will be available in near-real time this year thanks to Twitter and a new cell phone!), but that will be by taxi. I guess I’m shoveling snow off the driveway so that he can pull up to the front door and we can walk to the taxi without getting our shoes full of snow. That makes sense. I’ll get right back to that as soon as I finish this cup of coffee.

Almost everybody else on the block has a snow blower now. The air was abuzz with the sound of two-stroke engines as I stepped out of the garage, shovel in hand, and I counted no less that four people clearing their driveways of snow using great honking big steel-body snow blowers. I, on the other hand, still do it the old-fashioned way, and not because I’m a snob about it. I love snow blowers. They are the ultimate power tool: Driven by a gasoline engine, one makes more noise than all my other power tools combined. A snow blower has not one, but two sets of whirling blades that will snatch the fingers off an unwitting operator before he can say “Oh, shit!” A snow blower is really a snow cannon: It shoots a salvo of snow in an arc broad enough to get it off your driveway, and it’s self-loading! You don’t even have to push it! All you have to do is follow along behind it and steer a straight course!

The reason I don’t have one of these awesome toys is just this: I’m a bit of a snob. I won’t buy just any snow blower. If I’m going to do this, I’ll do it right: It’ll have to be all-metal construction, self-propelled, powered by a four-stroke engine big enough to handle a massive dump of snow, and it’ll have to start itself. My dream snow blower costs thousands of dollars, and that’s the other problem: I’m cheap. Some day my aching back will trump my tendency to pinch pennies, but today is not that day.

This has been so much fun, but My Darling B has gone out to shovel snow now, which means I’ve got to get out there, too, or I’ll look like a total piker. To entertain you while I’m freezing my ass off and ruining my back, here’s a link to a story about a guy who built his own snow blower using a V-8 engine he had laying around his garage. Enjoy, and stay warm!

shoveling | 10:17 am CST
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Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Time for a few stray thoughts. I haven’t done this in a while, and I can’t come up with anything but complete randomness right now, so the timing seems auspicious:

Granola. I eats it. I didn’t used to because I thought it was ucky, and I thought it was ucky because it was pretty bad granola. Dry enough to suck every molecule of moisture out of every cell in my mouth and gritty enough to use as traction if my car got stuck on the ice. I don’t know who made that stuff or why, but as granola it was crap. Or maybe that’s just the way granola was made back then, and now they know better. We started bringing it home from the co-op when Tim asked for it, and as he asked for it more and more I started eating it, too. Crunchy and sweet, it’s pretty tasty stuff and comes in more flavors than the multicolored plastic stuff they sell to kids as breakfast cereal. There was a spell after Tim moved out where we didn’t bring much home for a while, and then a while back we started stocking up every week because both My Darling B and I were eating it for breakfast in the morning, and neither one of us are breakfast-eating people. Or weren’t. I guess we are now.

We practiced our dance steps last night and we were freaking AWESOME! By our standards. And the bar’s still set pretty low, but only because we’ve been at it for just five weeks, folks. It’s not for lack of trying. We’ve got all the steps down, for instance, but that’s about it. Grace, poise, timing, that’s all stuff far in the future. BUT WE’VE GOT THE STEPS DOWN, OKAY? That’s gotta count for something.

I thought we’d be able to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep now the weather’s warmed up and the cats have wandered off to find other places to bed down for the night, but the recent cold snap brought them right back to cuddle up alongside us like a couple of heat magnets. Last night they had me pinned to the mattress like Lilliputians pinning Gulliver to the ground. They were purring like great big furry purring things. They were just like another metaphor that I can’t recall right now.

We had one of those weekends where we didn’t go out much and it seemed as though we didn’t really do all that much. I mean, we weren’t inert blobs of protoplasm; we washed some clothes, took out the trash, cleaned the kitchen and unblocked the bathroom drain, things like that. Stuff got done. Also, I finished a book I started last weekend (no prize for guessing what it was about) and My Darling B got herself up into the biggest snit ever talking to me about the book she finished.

And some of us had plans that were dashed by the cold snap that brought us that one last dump of winter (at least I’m hoping it’s the last dump). B wanted to break out her roto-tiller and turn over some soil in her garden so she could plant lettuce, and I think she may have been just a teensy bit bummed out that she couldn’t. With temps in the fifties all week, she was living in anticipation for too long not to be utterly gobsmacked by the change in weather. I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded, but I’m a little more excitable than she is.

strays | 5:59 am CST
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Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Well, who’s going to come clean this up, then? Because it’s not gonna be me! I’m done shoveling snow.

snow snow snow DAMMIT

We here in Wisconsin have a saying about winter: It’s not over until April. March may get warm enough to go out in shirtsleeves and shorts, but there’s at least one cold snap and snowfall coming down the pike to slap us all in the face, and if you can’t abide by that, you’d better move to Texas.

We have another saying about winter that’s especially reserved for mornings like this one, typically uttered the moment we look out the window on the scene of freshly-fallen snow: Dammit! And then we pack up and head for Texas.

[Update: I just realized this is technically the first day of Spring. Touché, Mother Nature!]

final | 6:03 am CST
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Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Bangor and AroostookWhoo! Just finished shoveling snow off the driveway. Gotta sit down a minute.

I found this coffee mug at the thrift store yesterday and had to bring it home because I got a thing for choo-choos, but also because “Bangor & Aroostook” sounds enough like a phrase you’d hear in a foreign-language porn film that it makes me grin.

We got rain coming down on snow that’s turning to ice. The Great Ice Storm of 2009 cometh. There was barely a half-inch of snow on the driveway but it was all locked in place by a glaze of ice and soaked through with enough water that I might as well have been shoveling away a half-inch of crushed granite. My arms and legs are quivering like jelly.

Walking back to the house up the sloping driveway turned into a mad scramble on the layer of ice I exposed. Made me wonder if I’d done the right thing, but I’m sure as hell not putting all that snow back.

Bangor and Aroostook | 10:29 am CST
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Sunday, December 23rd, 2001

This morning I opened the curtains and found myself looking at seven and a half inches of new snow under a clear, sunny sky and temps well below freezing. I spent a half hour or so digging the walks and the car out of the snow; there were cars in the street that needed an hour of digging just to make them visible.

The kids will remember this forever as their first snowy Christmas. They’ve seen snow before, even seen lots of it, but they’ve never seen snow that lay on the ground for more than a month, and never this deep, except in the mountains, which were a novelty themselves. They’re already sick of shoveling, did I tell you that? Getting them to go out there to keep up with the falling snow is more work than doing it myself. Then, while I’m hunched over a shovel, I get a head popped out the door saying, “I’ll do that, dad.” I never know what to say to that, so I just snarl over my shoulder and they disappear.

Got a bit of a scratchy throat this morning, probably coming down with the same hacking crud that everybody else has had in the last week or so. Hope I don’t give it to Barb. We did a little cuddling last night, after she dragged me away from the biography I’m reading on Teddy Roosevelt, “unless you’re more interested in Teddy,” she said. “When I’m more interested in Teddy, you might as well shoot me,” I told her.

seven | 6:30 am CST
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Saturday, December 22nd, 2001

Washed up after PT, then took B to the post office so she could put in her hours for the volunteer service she does there. She says the post office is feeling the big crush now, getting truckloads of packages many times a day. When I picked her up in the afternoon, they’d just received 400 pieces, some pieces being bags filled with packages.

During PT, I was thinking of something I wanted to search the internet for; even had the search strategy planned in my head, but because I was running the treadmill and didn’t have a pencil and paper handy, couldn’t write it down. Think I can remember a bit of it now? Can’t even recall the vaguest notion of what it was I was going to search for. In the march toward drooling senility, I’m just one step closer.

Japanese workers have begun to put steel shutters around the TOW housing across the street in preparation for demolition; B’s old house is already behind the barrier, almost completely out of sight. Might never see it again.

B’s about a gnat’s whisker from cooking up ramen the way they make it in town. She sorta just threw together a bunch of stuff that looked right – chunks of chicken breast, carrot shavings, diced onion, and some bean sprouts – and what do you know, it tasted pretty good!

Finally received some snow worth bragging about. It was coming down this morning when we first went out, and was still coming down, even heavier, this evening as we were sitting down to supper, only to stop shortly after. We must’ve got at least 4-6 inches, although it sure seemed like a lot more when I was shoveling it off the walk ways over and over again.

[11/24/14: “TOW housing” is what they called the wooden houses built on the hill across the street from our house. The only explanation I heard for this was that “TOW” stood for “termination of war,” the time period when the houses were built. They looked to be about fifty years old, so that explanation is probably as good as any.]

jumble | 6:18 am CST
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Sunday, December 16th, 2001

Now this is winter!

Snow’s been on the ground for weeks, it’s cold enough to freeze farts, and the wind’s blowing hard enough to dry your eyeballs into shriveled raisins. Still nothing to brag about, the way they do here. The kids sure like it, though. They go outside just as soon as everyone’s done shoveling the walks and have a snowball fight that lasts for hours and spreads the snow around evenly.

One of the side effects of winter here is the icicles. The houses are insulated for shit, so as soon as we get a heavy snowfall, it all immediately starts to melt, and every building on base is left hanging with icicles as big as telegraph poles. Then the clouds break for a day and the icicles weaken at the eaves and they come crashing down so that it sounds like sex-starved elephants are mating with the side of your house. That can go on all day.

We have to make sure the sidewalks in front of our quarters are cleared before eight in the morning, so these last few day watches I’ve had the pleasure not only of getting out of bed at quarter to five, but adding a brisk morning shovel fest to my list of chores to do before the sun comes up. Snow in these amounts is such a novel thing to him that Tim still thinks shoveling it off the walks is great fun, does it with a smile. Works for me.

I’ve been on day watches for the last three days, so I’ve seen very little of the snow except for when I have to drive through it on the way to work. If the Japanese speed limits are good for anything, they keep people driving at a sane speed when the road is a sheet of ice. Top speed allowed on the road up to work: 36 mph on the home stretch. Most other places it’s 20. Drives most people nuts, but I’m in no hurry to end up in the ditch.

I also get to tromp through it on the way from the car into the building, and that’s the last I see of snow until I leave at night. We do mobilize a snow removal detail at work that goes out with snow blowers and shovels to clear the walks around the buildings, but I’m not allowed to do that because I’ve got too much rank. Any other place I’ve been stationed and had to pull scut-work details like that, I would’ve killed to ride a snow blower around; now they won’t let me. Figures.

Dave Arnzen replied: First of all there’s never too much rank, except for maybe during any war tribunals in which you ended up picking the wrong side. Second, think back, when you were an airman, the MSgt’s and TSgt’s didn’t have to pull any details either, but that sure didn’t stop them from grabbing the paint brush out of my hands, painting “This Stinks” on the wall that I was working on and say, “Better cover that up Airman before the Commander sees it!” … likewise, grab a snow blower, say they missed a spot, take it for a ride, cover the flt. cc’s [flight commander’s] car in a mountain of snow, park the blower out front, then let the detail get yelled at by facilities for leaving it out. TA DA !


never too much | 4:17 pm CST
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Thursday, December 13th, 2001

We’re going on a ski trip in January to Moya with the Mogul Mashers, a ski club here on Misawa Air Base. Another organization called Outdoor Recreation also sponsors ski trips, and we’re going to try them too, so we have some basis for comparison. Outdoor Rec will bus us to the site and back, and supply all the ski equipment, for a bargain-basement price. The Mogul Mashers don’t provide equipment, but will provide insurance, transportation to and from, breakfast on the bus outbound, wine & cheese on the return trip, and a stop at an onsen, or hot bath, after skiing. Sounds pretty spiffy. The price is a little steep but, as I say, I wanted to try it for comparison, so I figured we’d splurge on the membership and a couple trips with the Mogul Mashers this year and see how it works out.

We’ve still got snow here, although quite a bit has melted away by now. The weather squadron is saying we should get another big storm this weekend, but they’re always saying that. An interesting side-effect of the heavy snow is that all the buildings on base are so poorly insulated that the snow on the roof melts away instantly and icicles as big as telegraph poles come crashing down off the eaves. Our quarters have an overhang in back that the icicles hit so hard it sounds like a freeway accident involving lots of trucks carrying empty garbage cans.

skiing | 6:59 am CST
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Saturday, December 8th, 2001

With about six inches of fluffy snow on the ground, Tim and I had to try out the sledding hill north of main base. It’s not too bad, but it’d be better if it were steeper, or if we had a couple saucers to get going really fast. Remember saucers, the most insanely suicidal thing ever made to travel on snow? Couldn’t steer them, couldn’t even be sure if you were going to face forward, but you knew for damn sure you were going to reach speeds that would get you airborne if only you had wings, and sometimes you didn’t need wings. I don’t see them for sale here, so I’m guessing that lawsuits have finally eliminated them from the face of the earth.

Something else the sledding hill could use that has probably disappeared because it makes insurance companies pee their pants: a tow rope. Back in the snow-covered wastelands of Wisconsin where I froze solid many times, you could sometimes find a sledding hill where somebody had jerry-rigged a rope they’d wound around the wheel rim of an old tractor parked at the top of the hill. The rope was a big loop that hung over old tire rims on telephone poles on the way down, and dragged along the ground on the way back up. All you had to do to get back to the top was lie on your sled and grab the rope. You had to know how to ride it; if you didn’t grab it just right, it’d rip your arms out of their sockets, and you had to pay attention on the way up or you’d get dragged into the telephone poles. In a lot of ways, it was a more exciting ride on the way up than down.

Funny how all these things come back to you. I remember going about a hundred miles an hour, screaming my lungs out all the way down the hill, which Tim did this time, except that we were going about walking speed because the snow was so thick and hadn’t been properly packed down for speed. Somebody built up a ramp, which Tim managed to hit two or three times; that really made his day. He’s got a small ramp built right outside our front door, and he can shoot across the yard standing on his sled. There are quite a few other hills right in the neighborhood that are probably good for sledding, and I imagine he’ll find them all; he’s pretty crazy for the snow.

crazy for snow | 6:53 am CST
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Friday, December 7th, 2001

More snow today, and the weather squadron expected it to keep coming down all weekend, with temps just below freezing. By Sunday morning we might even have enough to build a decent snow man.

decent snow man | 6:50 am CST
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Thursday, December 6th, 2001

I woke from sleep after a mid to a sound I remember hearing a long, long time ago: a snow shovel scraping across concrete. Popped out of bed expecting to see another light dusting and instead was pleasantly surprised by about four inches on the ground and more coming down fast. (When I say things like “pleasantly surprised” about a lot of snow, you can tell I’ve been here only four months, can’t you?) Now this was a respectable amount of snow – nothing that lives up to all the bragging they do around here, you’d have to cover Japan in a sheet of ice a mile thick to come close to that. This had a lot of potential, though: fluffy wet flakes about the size of softballs that make for back-breaking shoveling, but easily pack together into killer snowballs. If it keeps up, we’ll be sledding by the weekend. I’m pretty sure Tim will just about demand it.

shoveling | 6:48 am CST
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