Monday, February 27, 2006


The first time I saw snow I was about three, but I was sick and couldn’t go outside. I watched out the front window as my parents and neighbors slid down the snowy sidewalk on the coal shovel and garbage can lids. Now it is hard to imagine my parents ever doing such a thing. But they were young; why not?

The next time it snowed I was able to go outside and I had a snowsuit with stirrup pants. The little blue snowsuit had a furry hood and a furry collar. I thought I was pretty special when I put it on. My mother helped me build a snowman each snow!

When I was in elementary school, it didn’t snow very much. I do recall that it often snowed on Valentine’s Day. Those snows were not big or particularly troublesome, just white and beautiful!

My days in junior high and high school coincided with heavy snows. Birmingham simply was not prepared to deal with snow, so an inch or two of snow and everything closed down. One winter when I was a young teenager was particularly snowy. They were building a new four lane highway down Shades Mountain; when it snowed the road happened to be graded, but not paved. All of us spent magical snow days literally sliding down the mountain on sleds. Of course, we had to walk back up the mountain each time, so a few trips and we were done for. Hot chocolate shared around the kitchen table was a special memory.

Whenever snow started to fall, every teenager became glued to the radio. One by one, we listened while they closed the highways. We knew that once US 31 south of the city was closed, there would be no school. It was usually several days before the road graders could clear the highways – especially if we were hit with an ice storm. This gave me plenty of time to wear “Uncle Will’s boots.” Uncle Will was my grandfather’s fraternal twin brother. He died around the turn of the century, but somehow we had his boots. They fit me and I loved them!

I remember one New Year’s Day when we lost power for a couple of days. Our neighbors with electric stoves were hurting, so my mother invited everyone in for New Year’s breakfast. Since my father worked for the gas company, we had a gas stove and could cook. That breakfast still is a treasured memory.

I married Steve in 1969 and moved to Lebanon, Illinois. There they have REAL snow. I learned to drive in it. Driving on snowy roads was the only way I could get to my graduate classes at SIU. One time on April 1 it snowed three feet. Now that was enough to get them to close the roads!

When we moved to San Bernardino, CA, I learned that snow was more of an entertainment destination than an act of nature. I can recall one snow of about 1/4 “ ever falling in San Bernardino. But snow was easily found. All we had to do was to drive about 30 miles to Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead or Forest Falls. We used to take our small son sledding for the afternoon, then drive home on bone dry roads to 60 degree winter temperatures. In a way, it was surreal!

We arrived in Maryland in 1976 – in time for some wonderful snows. Our son, now capable of sledding without Mom and Dad, loved gathering his friends (ages 5 – 14) in the back yard. We had the best hill in the community! When we fenced our backyard, we put in a large gate that allowed the kids to sled on through to the woods. The kids built snow houses, snowmen, had snowball fights and enjoyed hot chocolate around the kitchen table.

We missed many Maryland snows by going to Alabama for Christmas for decades. And in Alabama we experienced incredible ice storms.

Our son grew up; we sold the house with the hill in back and bought another house on the water. There is no hill for sledding; and there isn’t much driveway to shovel. We love watching the snow fall on the trees behind our house. The creek freezes over and becomes white with snow. The sailboats are the only dots of color. It is beautiful and peaceful! Our grandchildren are just a few miles away, but we don’t see them when it snows. They stay safely at home, go sledding, and enjoy hot chocolate around their kitchen table.

Living in Maryland for thirty years, I have learned to drive on the snow pretty well. I know to carry kitty-litter and a snow shovel, plus some metal gutter grates to drive out of the snow on. I have AAA in case of emergency and have a blanket in the trunk – just in case. I know how to clear my windows with a credit card almost as well as with a special ice scraper! I carry a walking stick with a point on the end for use on the ice. I have enough experience to know when it is time to leave the office in a snowstorm and still arrive home safely.

And with all of that experience with snow in all those places, there is one thing I have never experienced…a White Christmas!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Information - Changing Needs

When I was about four my parents bought Encyclopedia Americana, and I thought it contained everything that anyone would ever need to know. At night I would sneak out of my bedroom and look at the big books. Of course, I couldn't read and there were few pictures. But I felt very grown-up.

Throughout my childhood, each year we bought the World Almanac and subscribed to National Geographic. My father saved Readers' Digest. Later, as his career advanced, my father started subscribing to Fortune and American Heritage. We saved them all!

When my mother died, and my father closed the house, we had to part with our cherished Encyclopedia Americana and about 30 years of annual yearbooks, plus all the old magazines of every type. By then there was Southern Living to add to the collection. Nobody really wanted them, not even the hardcover American Heritages. Not that this should have surprised me. My years as a librarian taught me that these things are hard to dispose of. Libraries subscribe to the publications that want to keep. They are beseiged by potential baby boomer donors looking for a good home for cherished old magazines and encyclopdias, and, of course, a write-off.

When I was in college, they told us it was very important for a teacher to maintain a resource file. As a professional, it was important to create a file of all those topics that were of professional value and collect clippings about those topics. Of course, it was also important to save your textbooks and to create a professional library. I listened intently and did just what they said. By senior year, I had a book collection worthy of a large metal shelf and a small metal file filled with treasured articles. I felt very professional!

As the years went by, I kept up the habit of collecting information and filing it. They must have told my husband to set up a rsource file and save textobooks, because he did the same thing, even as an engineer. Now four decades later we are inundated with old books, magazines, and files of interesting articles.

My personal major contribution was to save Travel and Lesiure magazine from the first issue. Now they are taking over my bookshelves. I need to see if the early issues are worth anything on E-bay before I take them to the dump.

You see, I have reached a major realization. I don't need to collect information anymore. Some reference books, and even magazines, have value in the marketplace. Others have sentimental value. There are a few with very specialized, hard-to-find information. For the most part, however, whatever information I need, I can easily find using Google. I even was able to buy all of National Geographic on a set of CD-roms. And that's the point!

I have developed the habit of clinging to information because I might need it later. I grew up with that mindset, and my education nurtured it. Soon it became a habit, more than a need. Now, it is just silly!

Within about 30 seconds, using my Treo phone, I can find out almost anything I want to know. It makes sense to save my bookshelves for the books I truly love and want to read again and again, as well as those valuable treasures that make sense to pass down through the generations. But the is time to part company!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Playing with Clay

The other night FacetsWoman held an event at the Baltimore Clayworks. We had a great time, making tiles and pots. Yes, we got our hands (and our clothes) very dirty and enjoyed every minute of it.

As I poked a plastic fork at my tile, creating an effect similar to chicken footprints, I felt like a kid in camp. In those days we made ashtrays. Of course, today that would a politically incorrect thing to make. That’s OK, as those little ashtrays we all made we ugly and never really that suited to actually be used as ashtrays.

I don’t normally make anything with my hands. My hands type; they stir, the pick-up things; and they clean. Of course, there is the occasional hamburger patty, but that is hardly what one would call creative. Let’s face it; the link between the creative side of my brain and my hands is barely functional.

I must confess to an annual diversion with Silly Putty. Each November I attend a meeting in Chicago. The meeting is held at a fancy conference center. At each seat there is always an egg filled with silly putty. The first year I played with the silly putty the entire four hours. I rolled it; I cut it; I shaped it. The next year, I restrained myself and didn’t take it out of its egg until about two hours into the meeting. This year, I only played with it during the last hour. The reason we have the Silly Putty at the meeting is to open up our creativity. I figure if I use the Silly Putty I give the impression of being bored. Does it make you more creative to play with Silly Putty during a meeting? I don’t know, but it makes a good theory and a great gift for the grandchildren. They have come to expect Silly Putty as a Thanksgiving present.

Any seven year old could have made a tile at least as creative and pretty as the one I made at the Clayworks. I poked and prodded at it with various things lying around the table and I painted it with a glaze. Unlike my colleagues, I did not make any kind of additional clay attachment for the tile. Despite my abstract design in yellow, green and blue, my traditional and driven side took over and I concluded that I wanted to make a flat tile and get on with the pot.

So while my colleagues were still laboring with their tiles, I was off to the pottery wheel. My first attempt at a pot was OK until the thing fell completely apart. I am amazed at the amount of pressure required to shape the clay on the wheel. My second attempt, with much help from the instructor and a potter friend, actually came out looking like a small vase. I decided to quit while I was ahead. No doubt had I kept fussing with it, the thing would have collapsed just like its predecessor. In that respect, I am getting smarter in my old age.

This little experience has taught me that we really don’t change that much. I am no more artistic or patient than I was when I was a kid. I was the kid who wanted to make both the painted match holder and the clay ashtray. And at the Clayworks, as in life, I was not content to do one thing; I had to experience both the pot and the tile. Yes, I am a Gemini!