Snow, ashes and forced pauses

I ran yesterday morning, not long or far, but I was grateful to be able to run. After a year+ of fighting an injury, I’m starting to run consistently, and that’s a gift I do not take for granted.

I know, too, that if I had not moved from North Carolina to California, I would not have been able to run yesterday. Or today. Or tomorrow. Raleigh is covered in ice, and if there’s one surface I refuse to run on, it’s ice (not to mention that 18º is my minimum temperature for running even on the driest road).

I hear that snow is falling there now, adding to the layers of snow, sleet and ice—a pretty sight if you can watch it from the warmth of your home, but miserable if you have to go outside for long. A howling, bitter cold is coming next.

Here’s NOAA’s seven-day forecast for Raleigh:

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There’s the kid part of me that already misses snow days. Photos on Facebook show sledding and snow falling and the world blanketed in a glazed white. Schools stay closed, while families stay inside and read books, watch movies or play games. They make smores and hot chocolate and cinnamon buns.

My dog has always loved snow days, especially when it snowed enough to fully bury her tennis ball and turn it into a popsicle to dig up over and over. I know she doesn’t remember what she’s missing, but I miss it a little for her, the unbridled glee she felt on those days. Here’s a shot of her from one of our snow days last year:

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Part of me doesn’t miss these snow days, though, especially as cold as Raleigh is right now. Aside from the inevitable cabin fever, there is fretting for my husband and others like him who have to navigate icy roads to get to and from work.

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There’s the knowledge that children who rely on free or reduced lunch programs at school are going hungry. And there are the cries for help from homeless shelters bursting at the seams with dangerous white flag nights one after another. For too many, snow days mean fighting for life. (If you’re blessed with plenty, consider a donation to Backpack Buddies or the Raleigh Rescue Mission?)

Because of the icy roads, churches are canceling Ash Wednesday services. In its cancellation notice, my Raleigh church invited members to mark the occasion at home or with neighbors. I hope many of my church family will take them up on that suggestion.

Snow days force a stop in our regular pace of life, and maybe that’s something else I miss.

So much distressing news across the world has me reeling more than usual lately: 21 Christian Egyptian martyrs; three muslim students (all shining young Americans who grew up in my hometown) shot dead in a senseless act of rage; continued extremist violence in Nigeria; even anti-Semitic activity at nearby UC Davis. I cannot make sense of any of it.

The snow blanketing the roads doesn’t cover these troubles, but it does force a pause, a community’s collective inhalation. And it provides still, quiet moments to help us decide where God is calling us to spend our energies next.

The same could be said of the ashes that mark us this first day of Lent. They do not hide our faults, but they do encourage a change from our normal routine and an examination of how we are to prepare for the season ahead.

Sometimes it’s in the pauses that God can move us the most.

To my friends in snowy places, how are you pausing? To my friends who cannot imagine living in such cold places, what encourages you to pause?

The dog days of winter

I love snow days, and today has offered up a good one where I live. I know many of you who live north of here are sick and tired of snow, but for those of us who don’t often get snow, it’s pretty special when it happens.

My dog and I got out early this morning, and with the exception of a few cars trying to head down the road and a few other paw prints and footprints in the snow, we had the streets to ourselves.

I have always loved snow days. My dad often had to walk to work, but both he and my mom made sure snow days were special for us. My brother and I spent most of our time outside on snow days: sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights, sledding, sledding, more sledding. Even my mom, a northern transplant herself, took some rides on the sled. It helped that we lived on the perfect hill for sledding, and I sometimes wonder how many times I’ve walked that hill dragging the Flexible Flyer behind me for the next ride.

When we came in to thaw out, she’d have soup and grilled cheese and maybe even hot chocolate waiting for us after we peeled off sopping-wet layers to dry by the fire. I even wrote my first book (when I was five) on a snow day and called it The Snowy Day. It was a picture book – because I liked to draw, too, and I was busy reading picture books at that age – and I updated it a few short years later on another snow day.

I think my inner child taps into those memories and enjoys spending time outside, alternating with trips inside to thaw out with something hot to drink and a pen in my hand.

Having a dog makes snow days even more fun. My dog especially loves to freeze her tennis ball in layers of snow, chase after it, bury it in the snow and then dig it back up with her nose or her paws. She is equal parts joy and energy on snow days.

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A blur of fun

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Guarding her prized tennis ball; waiting for another throw

I think this is one of my favorite pictures of her.

The colder-than-usual weather forced both of us back inside pretty quickly (she would have lingered if I had let her). It’s one thing to play in 30 degrees and snow but another entirely in 18 in wind and snow.

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Warming up from the snowy chill

I went back outside later to take some more photographs. Tonight looks like it’ll be the coldest night we have had in years, and I’m hoping the snow will protect the plants. I guess I won’t know until spring which ones will survive and which won’t.

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A gardenia waiting for spring

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A snow bud?

I didn’t last long on this trip outside with my camera.

When I went back inside, I curled up under a blanket with a book I’ve been reading, Isabel Allende’s memoir My Invented Country. The dog snored and dreamed of chasing her snow-encrusted tennis ball while I read for a bit and enjoyed some hot tea.

One of the most poignant parts of Allende’s book so far is her description of leaving Chile as a child, with a journal in hand to keep her company:

I wrote everything down in my notebook with the industry of a notary,
as if even then I foresaw that only writing would anchor me to reality.
… When she gave me that notebook, my mother somehow intuited
that I would have to dig up my Chilean roots, and that lacking a land
into which to sink them I would have to do that on paper. (108-109)

My parents always kept scrap paper handy, and so I can relate to Allende’s sense that writing would be an anchor for her, that paper would be where she thrived. Maybe that’s why writing is one of my anchors on snow days and why snow days remind me of my earliest days as a writer.

How about you? What do you love best about snow days?