Winter, New England Style

Ah, winter in New England. Go home, winter, you’re already drunk and it’s barely December.

Last week we had a snowstorm and we were home-bound for three days.  School was cancelled on Monday and Tuesday.  I worked from home both days and slowly dug out in the afternoons.

Snow on the back deck
We finally leveled out with over a foot of snow

A week later, temperatures reached 60° F.  I was walking around in shorts and flip-flops.  (I might be weird, but you have to admit that it wasn’t weather-inappropriate.)  The clouds dropped two inches of water on us.  With nowhere for the water to go, there are puddles and ponds everywhere.

Last night, the temperature rapidly dropped, the rain turned to snow, and we got a couple or more inches.  At least the end of the day cleared up with some sun.  The snowmelt, which became treacherous as night fell, was downright beautiful for a while.

Ice caught in mid-freeze
This water on the back of my car hadn’t finished freezing when I walked by.

Tonight, as I left the house to take the dog for an icy, slippery walk, I saw signs that we had some visitors during the day.  A hawk snatched a meal from our front yard.  Meghan left our Thanksgiving bundle of corn out for the birds and squirrels; it seems that we’re feeding the whole neighborhood instead.

Imprint of hawk wing in snow
Some small animal and a hawk came to our front yard expecting a meal. Only one of them was disappointed.

By this weekend we’re expecting to be back in the 50s with more rain.  The rollercoaster that is our local weather continues.  Whee!

Neil Gaiman in NYC

Meghan gave me an awesome Christmas present: tickets to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Norse Mythology at The Town Hall on February 9, 2017 in New York City.  She only purchased two tickets and it’s a Thursday night.  Too bad kids — you’re staying home!  (We arranged for our neighbor’s adult daughter Sam to stay with the girls for the night).

looking up the aisle on the trainAs the day approached I watched the weather forecasts with growing interest.  Snow was forecast for Thursday, the day of the event and the day we planned to travel to NYC.  By Tuesday the forecast was clear: snow, and possibly a blizzard.  Driving to NYC was out of the question, and flying would be problematic as well.  We have easy access to trains, though, assuming they would run in a blizzard.

The storm could not wait to arrive and it was snowing hard by the time we left the house for our local train stop.  In order to head south on Amtrak, we take commuter rail from our house to Boston’s North Station, the subway (or walk when the weather is nice, which is to say not this time) from North Station to South Station, and pick up Amtrak there.  The Amtrak train was scheduled to depart at 11:15, so we left the house by 9 am to catch everything on time.  As usual, we forgot a few minor things like toothbrushes, and had to purchase them when we got there.

pink unicorns
We watched people skating at the park for a while, until the pink unicorns came out — then it was time to leave.

Amazingly enough, train service ran perfectly despite being a real, legitimate, certified blizzard.  We had periods where we could not see the landscape at all, but the train continued to rock along at 100+ mph (verified via Waze on Meghan’s phone).  The ride from South Station to Penn Station is about 4 ½ hours.

By the time we got to NYC the snow had wound down, though it continued to snow back home for another six hours.  The streets were messy and wet, with snow piled up at every corner.  The hotel is only a few blocks from Penn Station, a few blocks from Times Square, and a few blocks from The Town Hall — NYC is great that way.

meghan at beer authority
I still wonder what she’s thinking here

We ate dinner around the corner from our hotel at the Beer Authority. The food was yummy, the beer selection is well-curated, and we had a very enjoyable time.  (I thoroughly enjoyed a Founders Porter and Meghan tried a Timmerman’s Strawberry Lambic that was surprisingly tasty.)

top of the empire state building at night
We popped out of the hotel, went around the corner, and had a (relatively) great view of the Empire State Building

We killed a little more time before the show by wandering the local neighborhood.  Times Square is always blindingly bright, but within a few blocks are much nicer views.

Finally, the main event: Neil Gaiman.  “Norse Mythology” was finished some time before the 2016 election, and every story in it is a faithful retelling of stories from the original eddas, but the story he chose to read was eerily appropriate: a book about the gods building a wall around Asgard to keep the ice giants out.   The reading was followed by a pair of previews, one for the American Gods miniseries (based on his excellent book), and one for a movie adaptation of an old story of his, How to Talk to Girls at Parties.  Finally, he came back out with Ophira Eisenberg for a Q&A session.  Mr. Gaiman is, by turns, very thoughtful and very funny.  Despite the cramped seats made for midgets with abnormally short legs we really enjoyed ourselves.

Neil Gaiman on stage
Neil Gaiman. He read a segment from his latest book, Norse Mythology, about building a wall around Asgard

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and killed some more time waiting for our 11 am train.  We visited the Empire State Building’s lobby and checked out a few adjoining blocks.  Our train was delayed for nearly an hour due to “missing equipment”, but we got back to Boston by dark and back to our car by 6 pm.  (Rush hour on the subway is never fun, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.)  Glad to be home!

Welcome to New England

It snowed today.

Well, they were really flurries but still, it snowed today.  I believe that this is the earliest snow I have ever seen in southern New England.

I have a hypothesis that the earlier the snow and cold come, the milder the winter will be.  I’m hoping this rings true this year.  I’m no fan of global warming, but I’m also not into paying huge heating bills either.


The northeast region of the US has been in a (relative) deep freeze for weeks.  Last night we bottomed out at -12° F.

Pictured is our oldest child trudging across the desolate, Hoth-like expanse that is (was?) Silver Lake.  Most of the snow has blown off, leaving a crusty powder that almost, but doesn’t quite, support you.

Not pictured: the tauntaun that I split open to keep the children warm overnight.

Mission to Maryland

We have a new nephew, named Kappa in this blog, so we made a road trip to Maryland to meet him (and support his parents, Tim and Kelly, for a bit).  We dropped Butter off at doggie daycare, rented a minivan, packed ourselves and Baba into said van, and headed out.

Little did we know that the D.C. area was set to get the coldest temperatures of the winter (teens and single digits), and a winter’s worth of snow, while we were in town. It was almost like we never left home.

Day 0

Though the trip down could have gone less eventfully (we hit snow in New Jersey that followed us, off and on, through the rest of the day) we arrived in Frederick, MD safely and in pretty good time.  It was the end of the day so we headed off to a very early bedtime after having dinner at the local pizza chain, Ledo Pizza.

Day 1: The Baby

We were in town for one reason, and one reason only: the other-other white meat.  After a surprisingly-decent free breakfast at the motel we headed to the Fox residence to meet the new nibling.  He wasn’t the happiest kid when he was awake and ate a lot, so no photos as that’s the only sure-fire way to avoid accidental boob shots.

Side note: right before we left town Kappa was prescribed Zantac.  It’s given to babies that spit up a lot, which allows them to keep more food down.  Who knew.  At any rate, it’s making the niblet happier since he’s not so hungry all the time.

We had a great lunch at a local BBQ joint called CarterQue Barbeque and Grilling Company (it’s next door to a veterinarian, which just doesn’t seem right) and a great home-cooked dinner at their house.

Day 2: The Extended Family

We woke to find out that some of the hotel’s pipes had frozen overnight (due to single digit temperatures overnight).  Our rooms weren’t affected, fortunately.  Megh and I were on our third room and I think the staff would have been mortified if we’d had yet another problem.  (The first room stank of air freshener and we immediately requested another, and the second room didn’t have a working shower as the faucet had broken before we took the room, so we moved yet again on our first morning. Kudos to the staff for handling it professionally.)

We had lunch with Meghan and Tim’s uncle, aunt, a couple of cousins, and her cousin’s children – a total of 15 people, including ourselves.  It’s worth mentioning here that Meghan’s uncle Tom is a former rear admiral.

Highlights of the day include: the alpha nibling (Delta) getting his fingers caught in a stationary bicycle crank, then walking into a swing while our own Beta child was swinging; and Meghan flooding the bathroom with an overflowing toilet.

Uncle Tommy finally became talkative as we were about to head out the door, so we stayed longer than we intended, as more snow started falling, to hear his stories.  The man is fascinating and we started planning another trip just to spend some time with him.

Day 3: Washington, DC In The Snow

An accidental halo over Beta's head
An accidental halo over Beta’s head

Almost six inches of snow fell overnight, which pretty much closed the state.  We’re old hands with the snow, however, as we’ve received record snow back home (nearly 100 inches so far, with more snow in the forecast).  The federal and local governments shut down, but we bravely headed out on empty, heavily salted and therefore mostly snow-free, roads.  We had the city to ourselves!

The Smithsonian only opened three museums: the Air and Space museum, the Modern Art museum, and the National Portrait Gallery.  They were limited by the number of people reporting to work so they opened the museums most popular and/or easiest to staff.  We never quite left the Air and Space museum, though.

Alpha has had a passing interest in World War Two history, and became deeply interested in the V2 rocket display.  She also had fun in the 747 cockpit on display.  (It’s the real nose of a 747 and the cockpit is available to step inside, but not to sit.)

Meghan, Baba, and Alpha watched D-Day 3D.  I dislike the narrator’s voice (Tom Brokaw) and Beta child was feeling restless, so she and I headed outside to play in the snow and walk around a bit until the movie was done.

Side-Story: Baba and I sat on some benches while Meghan and the kids stopped into the gift shop, and continued an ongoing conversation about current political events.  I had mentioned that I felt some congressional intransigence was due to racism against President Obama more than just typical Democratic/Republican squabbling, and our conversation continued.

Several minutes after my comment, the man next to us abruptly stood up, rudely inserted himself into the conversation by saying that not all Republicans are racist and that he really thought that Colin Powell would be the first black president, and left before we could say anything.  Apparently I had hit a nerve.  :/

We ended the day at Tim and Kelly’s house and some takeout chinese food.  Unlike the previous day, nobody was worn out or particularly angry and we actually had time to talk.

The kids broke up their sleeping arrangement when we got back to the hotel, by deciding that they must sleep in separate rooms.  Beta stayed with us and went to bed immediately, while Alpha got to stay up late watching a movie with Baba.

Day 4: Touring the Capitol Building

We returned for a second day in the capitol and sightseeing.  Baba had scored a tour of the capitol building by contacting her senator, Chris Murphy, so we had a date in the early afternoon.

We rolled into town and spent some time at the museums before our tour.  Meghan and the kids went to the American Indian museum (and had a great time, and a great lunch); I went to the National Gallery of Art; Baba went to the National Museum of American History.

Waiting in Senator Murphy's office for our Capitol Building tour
Waiting in Senator Murphy’s office for our Capitol Building tour

We made our way to the Hart Senate Office Building in time for our tour.  The congressional staff was very pleasant and professional –  a pleasant counter point to the daycare center that Congress is portrayed to be.

After getting checked in we were taken though the tunnels (with a mini-subway system FTW) to the main capitol building.

Highlights of the tour include the original Supreme Court chambers, the original Senate floor, the “Whispering Room” (the original House chambers), and the atrium under the dome (currently being restored but some of the artwork is visible and is gorgeous).  Though congress was not in session, we sat in the gallery for a bit.

Interesting to note: you need a ticket to visit the gallery, but the tickets remain good for the rest of the session.  Our tickets were free to us. We may re-use our tickets any time for the next few months!

We also had the obligatory self-guided tour of the Capitol gift shop before heading out for the streets again.

We ended our day with dinner at Jaleo.  Meghan and I discovered it on a trip to D.C. before we had kids, and were delighted when we discovered that it’s still there.  They serve Spanish-style tapas in a funky-yet-hip atmosphere.

We weren’t sure what to order, as all the foods on the menu were unfamiliar to us, so we gave our server a budget and let him choose.  Baba had this funny idea that our budget would be around $35 total; I had to butt in and recommend $120 for the five of us (she was shocked and glad that we were paying). The food was fantastic and well-worth the money, though I’m still not sure what I ate (though I know I wouldn’t have ordered it on my own).

The Waze app gave us a tour of the city both coming in and going out, as it routed us around traffic snarls.  I don’t think I’ll go road-tripping without it again.

Day 5: Heading Home

Heading home was mostly uneventful, as all such trips should be.  The Delaware “tax” was limited to tolls – on nearly every other trip there’s some kind of bad highway situation in Delaware to make the expensive tolls even more painful.

Baba showed distrust in technology and thought that the estimated arrival time that Waze provided was much too optimistic.  She loudly doubted the suggested route around Baltimore (taking I-495 South to I-95, instead of taking I-495 North to I-95 which the traffic map showed to be a parking lot).  When Waze suggested the Lincoln Tunnel would be faster, Baba offered a bet that it was wrong; when Waze later changed the route again (all long before leaving the New Jersey turnpike) she welshed on the wager.

The wager came and went as we made our way through the city – Waze found an interesting way to get us from the turnpike to the Merritt Parkway, but we arrived at Baba’s house a couple of minutes sooner than the original estimate – just over six hours from door to door, while bypassing some bad traffic snarls.

After dropping off the rental car and retrieving Butter from doggie daycare we made the rest of our way home.  We made it in the door an hour before bedtime, with the house still standing and the kitties very glad to see us.

Sledding in Wilmington

Wilmington sits in region of Massachusetts that is sadly bereft of protrusive terrain.  Coming from hilly Connecticut, I quickly noticed the lack of sledding opportunities.

It’s not all sad flatness, however.  We have a great prominence left by the glaciers at the south end of town, by a local ball field.  I’m not sure if the hill or the field have a name – Google Maps is currently mum.  It appears to be about 100′ high.

From the road, you would never know a sledding track is there, except for the number of cars in the parking lot that appear immediately after a snowfall.

There are two sledding tracks, one steeper than the other.  The flatter one is a favorite of the little kids, but the “ruts” tend to be better defined on the steeper track (ironically, making that one the safer track as you’re less likely to drift off-course).

Mt. Sled Helens

For a couple of years now, I’ve been pushing all the snow in the driveway into a single pile at the end.

As few as six inches of snow makes a pile three feet high, with a run of eight feet.

The kids have dubbed it “Mt. Sled Helens.”

mt. sled helens
Sledding down Mt. Sled Helens

We don’t have many hills of any decent size in this corner of Massachusetts, so this fills the gap when I can’t drive the girls to the good sledding hills.