Winter Is Here for a While

Suddenly, we have winter again. That’s what it seems like. It began Wednesday night, and the next day we were shoveling snow made heavy by rain and freezing rain. Friday, I had to sand the driveway because of what happened overnight. Light snow was a constant yesterday. We’ll be shoveling for sure today when it’s a bit warmer. It’s 17 degrees F now. The cat, who likes to go outside, sits on the back of the couch, staring at the snow. Actually, this has not been a hard season, and naturally, I think of the ones before it that were. 

I survived tough winters when we lived in the boonies of Western Massachusetts. Snow storms. Ice storms — the absolute worst. Storms that lasted days. Lingering cold. One month it didn’t get above the 20s so road salt didn’t work.

When I was a reporter and worked from home, covering winter weather in the hilltowns of Western Mass. was part of my beat. I would check in with road bosses about conditions, and interview residents, store owners, and in those days, a loyal weather watcher who was the custodian in our kids’ school. People loved to talk about the weather.

Our former home in Worthington, Mass.

Then, I became an editor, which required me to commute from our home in Worthington to the newsroom in the nearest city, Northampton. My route was through three small towns, up and down steep hills. Each time I reached a border I hoped the highway crew had been there before me, and it was extremely rare they hadn’t. I knew their schedules. I left at 6:10 a.m. for work because a plow truck would make a sweep of the steep hill outside our home at 6 a.m. The crews in the towns I traveled were out early, too. 

We had to have our steep driveway plowed, and sometimes I just parked at the top, knowing we weren’t among the first on her list. (Yes, the person who did that was a woman.)

By the way, our middle son plowed state roads during the winter for a contractor. He has his own stories to tell.

If a bad storm came while I was at work, I left at 1 p.m. It wasn’t worth going at noon, because the guys always broke then for lunch no matter the weather. If necessary, I found places to stay overnight — with one of the kids, when they went to school, or with a co-worker.

I stored three buckets of sand in the back of my Subaru for ballast.

I watched the weather constantly.

I waited for spring.

Then, we moved to Taos, New Mexico. We were at the same latitude as South Carolina but at 7,200 feet elevation or higher. Temps had 30-degree differentials between night and day. We got snow, dry stuff, mostly in the mountains where it belonged. 

When we moved there, I swore I would never have a long commute to work again. I was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper there and had a doable 11-minute drive. We had snow-covered roads. But people tend to stay off them so the traffic was light. The crews there used salt and ground pumice to treat the roads. When we first lived there, they used ground glass from the recycling center, which made for a colorful display in the intersections.

View from our front porch.

We returned to Western Mass. six years ago, this time to Shelburne Falls, more northern than where we lived before but at a lower elevation and near a river. Being away eleven years, I see the change in the area’s climate. Winter comes later. Spring comes earlier. This winter hasn’t been very cold, except for brief spells, and not a whole lot of snow. We have a snowblower, but haven’t used it yet this winter because it couldn’t handle the icy kind of snow we’ve gotten. 

Anyway shoveling is great exercise, a mindless one I will add, which means I will be working on my new Isabel Long mystery, Missing the Deadline in my brain. I’m immersed in a great scene. And at 38,000 words, I have officially passed the halfway point. Now that’s exciting.

PHOTO ABOVE: The view from our front porch.

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: Looking for a good book to read? I have six in my Isabel Long Mystery Series and then there’s my new fast-paced thriller, The Sacred Dog, all set in rural New England. Here’s the link to Amazon:


Stay Warm

That’s what I’ve been telling people these days. As I write this post, the weather app says it’s minus-5, but it feels like minus-19 in the Western Massachusetts village where I live. Well, it is winter, and staying warm is on everybody’s mind these days.

So, I say “Stay warm” to the clerks in the stores where I shop, the person pouring my tea, and frankly, whomever I meet wherever I go.

I’m as prepared as I can be for this weather. Long johns and wool socks are now part of my everyday costume, well, except when I went for a job interview. (I suffered a bit wearing a suit, nylons, and dress shoes.) I wear a hat, scarf, and gloves when I venture outside. I don’t fool around.

As I write this, I can hear the furnace cranking. We have one of those programable thermostats so we have variable temps throughout the day and night. The thermostat’s set at 55 degrees at night because we like sleeping in a cool home. You know it was cold last night when the furnace had to kick in to maintain that level. That and the cat slept with us under the covers.

And then there’s the wood stove in Hank’s workshop, which is off my office. We’ll keep a fire going in there.

It’s good weather to work on the final edits of the next book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — Checking the Traps — which has a March 22 launch. I also just received the next history book to copyedit for a university.

Still, we might just venture a walk down to the village for hot beverages and just to see how tough we are.

In this weather, I feel fortunate that I have a warm place to live. That’s not true for everybody, and this is where this post turns serious. I see homeless people whenever I visit a nearby city. During the last cold snap, a man and woman died in a tent in the woods. While the cause of their death hasn’t been officially determined, the weather must have been a factor.

I will admit to being a bit hard-hearted in the past when I was approached by panhandlers. Although I often don’t have any cash on me, I didn’t give when I did. My justification? They’ll spend the money on something other than food or a place to live.

But after those deaths, I’ve changed my mind. I plan to keep singles in my bag, and if someone is holding one of those cardboard signs, I will give what I can. I may not have a lot, but I certainly have a lot more than they do. How they spend it is their business.

“Stay warm.” I told that to the homeless woman huddled on the sidewalk when I gave her money the other day. She said, “I’m trying.” And, you know, I believed her.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The frozen village of Shelburne Falls, where I live on the Buckland side.




A Wintry Mix

It is -5 as I write this post. That’s -20.5556 Celsius. The weather app on my phone says “feels like -27” (-32.7778 C) because of the wind. Yeah, that’s cold. And the frigid temps are only a part of a wintry mix these past few days. How about snow, shoveling, and sourdough bread?


Our driveway

First, I’m not complaining since this weekend’s snowstorm was the first significant one the village where I live has had this season. The ground wasn’t frozen during an earlier storm when a few inches fell, and the only hard part was the wet snow was heavy to shovel. Then, it all melted. And following that puny snowfall, the cycle of weather was cold temps when clear and relatively warm temps when it wasn’t, so we got rain instead.

The bulk of this weekend’s snow — I’d guess a foot — fell from Saturday night to Sunday morning. Hank and I grabbed our shovels to clear paths, the large deck, in front of the garage — and the biggest part of the job, the rather steep driveway. We were out there after breakfast although it was sleeting. We had to get the job done before the temps dropped.

As I tossed shovelfuls of snow above the driveway’s high banks, I was envious of our neighbors’ snow blowers. Should we get one? Sounds like a good idea. Well, we don’t have one today.

Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Shelburne Falls Village, Mass.

The job took two hours.

Afterward, we treated ourselves to a walk downhill to the snowy village for hot beverages. Chunks of snow filled the Deerfield River that runs through its middle. Thankfully, Mocha Maya’s was open, as was Keystone Market across the street. But that was it. Downtown was deserted.

Then there was bread. Since early morning, I began prepping dough to make sourdough bread using Michael Pollan’s recipe. For a couple of days, I had fed the new starter I bought, so it was ready to work. In between shoveling and other chores, I was in the kitchen pulling and folding the dough in its bowl, then letting it rest for a while — a process that takes several hours.


Sourdough bread I baked.

I was more than pleased by the end result. That night, we ate slices of bread with a potato leek quinoa soup I made along with a good Portuguese wine.

And except for another trip outside to scrape new snow off the driveway, I stayed put inside — working on the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I’m up to 20,000 words. I usually aim for 500 words in a day and I’m chuffed, as my UK friends say, if I go more. I answered questions about the third from my editor in Israel via email and worked on promotional stuff.

The furnace in the basement, which is set to a timer, just kicked in. Hank’s got the wood stove going in his shop beside my office. Soon, I will open the door to steal some of its heat. I am guessing that later we will bundle up in long johns and other suitable clothes before we venture outside for a walk. But pretty much, it will be a reading, writing, and a talking with family on the phone kind of day.

Yeah, it’s all about keeping warm these days.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Snow in the Deerfield River.

Snow, Winter

Digging Victor’s Shovel

Our friend Victor gave us a snow shovel after we closed on our house in Shelburne Falls in early November. We hadn’t had any snow up to then, but he knew our shovel was still in New Mexico with all of Hank’s tools, and chances were we’d get a storm before they were hauled here to Western Mass. Victor was right.

Let me tell you about this shovel. It’s got a flat metal blade of heavy-duty aluminum and a wooden handle. Yeah, it’s old. I’m guessing it’s from the ’60s. The red paint is worn, faded, and gone in spots, I presume from years of work. I saw a similar one in green on Etsy for $60 that the seller said could be used for decorative purposes. (Don’t get any ideas, Victor.)


The driveway cleared and sanded

I used the shovel for the first storm in early December when Hank and our son, Zack, were driving a 26-foot Penske truck loaded with tools cross-country. The snow depth was six inches or less and dry when I showed up the next moring. (We’re renting an apartment eight miles away during renovations.)

It took me a couple of hours to clear the long, steep driveway, the huge deck, and the space in front of the garage down below where I park my car. The tricky part on the driveway is that it is bordered on two sides by steep banks, so I have to lift that snow high in the air. Near the garage I have to contend with the snow the town’s high department plow pushes there.

I looked at it as good exercise — lifting that metal shovel filled with snow. I had no trouble making my 10,000 steps. For those who are interested, I didn’t have any sore muscles including, thankfully, my back.

Then there were two more storms. By then we had our plastic shovel from New Mexico, which seems awfully flimsy compared to Victor’s shovel. The plastic shovel may have a nice scoop, but I like the heft of the metal one. (Victor mentioned his shovel might be a bit much if the snow is wet.)

This past Thursday we got more snow. So did the rest of New England, with bad flooding near the ocean. Then the temps dropped, dropped, and dropped. The wind whipped around the snow.

Some of you may be wondering why I shovel and not my spouse, Hank. Over the years, we have developed a nice division of labor. He handles the carpentry inside and outside the house, plus other chores. I handle the gardening and snow shoveling, plus other chores. He did have to do a bit of shoveling Thursday night, so he could get his car out of the driveway, but it’s not his thing.


Dressed for the job

I arrived Friday morning in proper attire for the arctic weather we’re having: long johns, layers of clothing, hat, winter coat, scarf, and a facemask. Given the severe weather, my mission was to clear the driveway only. I did it in sections, coming inside to warm my fingers and toes at the woodstove. Of course, the banks are now higher, but I managed to lift the snow with Victor’s shovel and give it a good heave. The toughest part was where the driveway meets the road, and the plow pushed in snow. You can’t throw snow in the road. That’s a no-no. So I was finding places to throw that damn snow on the high bank along the roadside.

(Is there a snowblower in our future? Yes, I believe so, but we would still need a good shovel for the places it can’t go.)

I showed up yesterday, but the wind was too brutal to do more than clear a path to the mailbox. I return today to finish the job. It’s not much warmer. As I write this, it is -10. It’s supposed to warm up to 13, but, hooray, no wind.

And I can count on that red, metal shovel to get the job done. Thanks, Victor.

BOOK UPDATE: As I mentioned before, my first mystery, Chasing the Case, set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, is set for publication in either May or June by Crooked Cat Books. I finished the second round of edits with my editor Miriam Drori the other day. Now I am learning more about social media … and my fellow authors, lovingly called Cats. In a few days, look for the next in my 6Ws series — author Isabella May.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yup, that’s Victor’s Shovel.