Winter Rules


As we march toward spring, take a look at these Winter Rules, as published in the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner, February 5, 1881.

  • Never begin a journey until the breakfast has been eaten.
  • Never take warm drinks and then immediately go out in the cold air.
  • Keep the back – especially between the shoulder blades – well-covered, also the chest well-protected.
  • In sleeping in a cold room, establish the habit of breathing through the nose, and never with the mouth open.
  • Never go to bed with cold or damp feet; always toast them by the fire 10 or 15 minutes before going to bed.
  • Never omit regular bathing, for unless the skin is in an active condition, the cold will close the pores and favor congestion or other diseases.
  • After exercise of any kind, never ride in an open carriage nor near the window of a car for a moment. It is dangerous to health, and even to life.
  • When hoarse, speak as little as possible until it is recovered from, else the voice may be permanently lost, or difficulties of the throat be produced.
  • Merely warm the back by a fire, and never continue keeping the back exposed to heat after it has become comfortably warm. To do otherwise is debilitating.
  • When going from a warm atmosphere into a colder one, keep the mouth closed, so that the air may be warmed by its passage through the nose, ere it reaches the lungs.
  • Never stand still in cold weather, especially after having taken a slight degree of exercise; and always avoid standing upon ice or snow, or where the person is exposed to a cold wind.

So, are you a rule follower?!

March Blues

330px-4-leaf_cloverI never really cared for the month of March. There are no holidays in March, and here in New England it’s still cold, even though spring starts on the 21st. Blustery, muddy March. Rainy days led to historic flooding in Rhode Island at the end of March 2010.

We’re all just so weary from this past winter, the never-ending snow, mountains of it taller than the average person. My husband calls it an unlucky month – I guess he has cause. He lost two family members on the same date in March. I quit my job in March four years ago, a job that likely would have given me a heart attack or stroke.

And yet…..and yet. I can’t write this post without trying to turn it around somehow. There are patches of grass visible. Even crocus in some spots. We had a 50-plus degree day this past week, a sweet promise of weather to come. So celebrate the feast of St. Patrick this Tuesday, and smile!

Irish blessing


37 Years Between Historic Blizzards

We’re supposed to get a blizzard of “historic proportions” starting tomorrow. I was a sophomore at Providence College when, not even two months after a tragic dorm fire that eventually claimed the lives of ten young women, the Blizzard of ’78 hit us hard. Two and a half feet of snow stopped traffic, stranded hundreds, and made for an extra, unexpected vacation for us.

But I’m not 20 years old anymore, and now I think about what we have on hand for an emergency: batteries, candles, food that doesn’t need to be cooked. An elderly father-in-law, a sister living alone. Weather like this can be treacherous! So be safe and stay home if possible. Read a book. Drink wine and tea. Eat chocolate. Play a game with your kids (or, as I’m learning is more the case with my peers, grandkids). Make love. Then eat again!


I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Fleece

It will come to an end, and likely soon. After all, we’re nearly at April in southern New England, and even though early April has been wintry in the past (remember the April Fool’s Day blizzard?), we march out of March and straight into spring.

Since October, I’ve been wearing fleece. Every day. Every blasted freezing day. Better than a sweater, in my opinion, and it’s great for layering. Like when you need to wear two tee shirts and a shirt under that fleece. I’m going to have withdrawal symptoms.

There will be a day, soon, when the temperature rises, to the mid-60’s, perhaps, and I’ll see folks in shorts and tees, unable to wait any longer for spring and summer. Yeah, they rush the season, but they’re young (mostly) and should be forgiven. When I was a college freshman in Providence, I made a trip home at the end of April and relinquished all my winter clothes. There were only a few weeks left to the semester and I wouldn’t need them.

And then it snowed. Yep, in May. In Providence. Seven inches of snow! I had sandals, and jeans, and one cardigan sweater. Nothing more. Certainly no fleece. But the snow melted and the daffodils sprang back to life.

Onto warmer weather. And fleece? Time to pack it away! I’ll leave one within reach, though.

Life is Hard. Life is Beautiful.

This past Friday, I attended the funeral service for a 58-year-old man who had lived with a brain tumor for ten years. And now I know yet another widow who will not have the chance to grow old with her best friend.

We may have more snow on Wednesday. As if this winter hasn’t beaten us down enough. March will not slip into spring, not without one last roar, apparently. Cities and towns have run out of salt, have depleted their snow budgets long ago. We’re going broke paying for heat. Our roads are falling apart. School may last until July at this point, with so many cancelled days. I’ve ingested too many carbs this winter, trying to find comfort in a bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Depression is all around. Whether it’s because of aging, menopause, winter, unemployment, lost love, or the feeling that time is slipping through our fingers, it can be a struggle to get up each morning and just live. I get it. I see it in my friends, I listen to it. People I love are suffering.

Locarno - photo by M. Reynolds
Locarno – photo by M. Reynolds

The snow will melt. It will feed the rivers. Life will burst forth – not yet, but soon. New life means hope. Hope brings light to darkness. It covers cold with warmth. It vanquishes dread and despair. Hope is joy. Joy is laughter. Life is beautiful.

The Cost of Cold

Perhaps I should have titled it “The Cost of Getting Warm.”


Here we are in March, that long, dreary month. Yes, spring arrives, but it’s still a tough month – my least favorite. And this year especially, so many of us are weary of the never-ending, hard-hitting, spirit-sapping winter. Today I’m considering the high cost of cold.

I realize not everyone lives where I do (Rhode Island). But so much of this country has experienced a dreadful time this winter. So I ask:

  • Where do you set your thermostat? We live in a two-story one-zone condo, about 1,400sf or so. We like it cool. No, really, we do. But still, heating costs have been brutal. We keep the temperature around 60-62 and just wear fleece. How about you? 68? 70?
  • How do you heat your home? We use natural gas, which used to be a lot cheaper than oil, but a few weeks ago, natural gas prices hit a five-year high. My first apartment was a cozy studio, and heat was included in my rent. My second apartment was a second-floor walkup, heat also included, but the landlord locked the thermostat at 68. No worries for me, that was plenty warm enough. My third apartment was the entire first floor of an old, drafty house, and it was never warm.

There are so many other costs associated with the cold. Plowing. Salting. Car washes. Damage from snow and ice. Our roads are filled with potholes. Everywhere. It feels like driving in a third-world country. So there are the necessary repairs to cars. Who can’t wait for spring?


Snow Fatigue

Another 5-8″ this afternoon into tonight. And we’re only halfway through February! Now, if you know me, you know I prefer cold weather to the heat and humidity of summer. But cold, dry weather is one thing. The trifecta of snow, ice, and freezing rain is a completely different nightmare.

We’re all tired of it. I see it on the faces of moms in the supermarket, preparing for another day of no school. I see it in the face of my little dog, who does not like squatting on ice! I see it on my car, splattered with salt and sand, even after a thorough washing.

And then I pause, remembering our ancestors, who did not have electric blankets, Thinsulate, Ugg boots, clothes dryers, or TheraFlu. They made it through harsh winters, and never complained on social media! But isn’t that part of the fun? We post photos and videos as a way of coping.

And we know that this never-ending season, this winter filled with discontent, will melt away under the sun. Eventually.


In the Bleak Midwinter

photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds

Give me one word to describe how you’re feeling. Cold? Disgusted? Tired? Apathetic?

Oh, sorry, that’s just me. We’re heading out of January next week, but the cold isn’t going anywhere. And I am usually the last person to complain about it. Cold is better than sticky, sweaty humidity. I stand pretty much alone on that one, I know.

But I’ve noticed, in speaking and writing with friends lately, that the midwinter blues is all around me. It’s partly seasonal – we’re months away from spring here in New England, and even though there’s more daylight in the afternoon than there was a month ago, February and March can be very difficult months for weather and mood. It’s partly physical – we hibernate when the temperature is in the twenties. Or teens. Or single digits and even negative for much of the country. We wear lots of layers. And, of course, there are the telltale signs that all that festive eating weeks ago has finally caught up. For some people, the bills from the holidays have arrived and yikes! Even if you didn’t overspend in December, your heating bill is going to be high.

So. Bleak. We can wallow, and some days I’m all for wallowing. Or we can seek out the light, find a reason to wake up joyful. Here’s my list:

  • Coffee in the morning. Dark roast. Hot. Warm mug in hands.
  • Flannel – soft and worn in. Can’t wear that in the summer!
  • Soups and stews. On the stove, in the crockpot. A meal in a bowl.
  • Root vegetables. Turnips, carrots, onions, parsnips, leeks. Still trying to learn to like beets. Give me time.
  • Meeting up with friends (as long as we’re not snowed in).
  • Writing! Because I don’t want to be outside anyway.

I want to hear yours – come on, you can find one positive thing about this time of year. Double-dog dare you (and no licking the metal flagpole).

Two Blizzards


Traffic snarls around Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, R.I., on the afternoon of February 6, 1978, the first day of the 1978 blizzard. The 24-hour storm that pounded the Northeast crippled Rhode Island for more than a week, cutting off power, closing the airport and straining state resources. (AP Photo/The Providence Journal, Richard Benjamin)

I was a sophomore at Providence College, and this blizzard came just two months after a devastating fire on campus that eventually claimed the lives of ten young women. We were rehearsing the musical “Candide,” and it was the first year I was an active participant in behind-the-scenes action. By the time rehearsal had ended and we stepped outside, we knew this was no ordinary snowstorm. Fortunately, the liquor store around the corner accepted personal checks (no ATMs). Two of my friends and I walked up Smith Street to the Stop and Shop supermarket, because we’d learned that they, too, accepted checks. After buying as much junk food as we could, we then had to carry two brown bags each, full of chips, cookies, and M&Ms, two miles back down Smith Street to the college. Oh, and the elevators were out. We lived on the fifth floor of McVinney Hall. But as was the case so many times that year, I lived in my own little world and was oblivious to what was going on around me.

These days we’re connected all the time. The meteorologists started talking about a potential blizzard last Monday, so there was plenty of time to prepare. And we’re adults now, so our focus is different. Snow began falling Friday morning – a fine, light snow that didn’t look threatening at all.  The snow continued, getting heavier and denser by afternoon. By the time it ended on Saturday, my little town had two feet of snow. No power outages here, thankfully, but we may have lost a few shrubs and I don’t like so much snow on the roof. High winds (up to 60mph gusts) Friday night brought down a lot of branches. Other communities weren’t so lucky, and the loss of power in such cold weather means a hardship we’re not accustomed to experiencing. These are things we think about as adults, I suppose. Still, walking around the neighborhood yesterday felt ethereal: peaceful, white, pristine.

stop sign  photo by Martha Reynolds
stop sign photo by Martha Reynolds

It’s what we expect in winter. We’re New Englanders!

A Cold, A Movie, A Neanderthal

WJAR 10 forecast
WJAR 10 forecast

It’s cold here in Rhode Island! I know, we’re not alone in this, and I’m not complaining (really) – winters in New England aren’t supposed to be balmy; that’s why the snowbirds head south.

So yesterday my husband and I took his father to the movies. Not a small feat. He’s 81 and tethered to an oxygen tank, and he moves v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y. They boys wanted to see Zero Dark Thirty, and while I know it’s a good film, I didn’t want to see the violence. I opted for Silver Linings Playbook, loving Katniss, I mean Jennifer Lawrence, and the very gifted Bradley Cooper. The timing worked well, so off I went in a different direction while the boys made their way to the theatre at the opposite end of the complex.

I’d packed my purse with a bottle of Vitamin Water Zero and a pile of tissues. I’ve been dealing with a cold for the past week, and let me tell you, once you’re on the third box of Puffs Plus With Lotion, it still hurts to blow your nose. But I was prepared. I settled in my seat, way up and on the end, and watched the theatre fill with a lot of older people who may or may not have known what the movie was about. I heard one elderly woman tell her friend how much she liked DeNiro. Okay.

One row in front of me, at the other end, two men found seats. One of them was very loud (until the movie began, thankfully). He said to his friend, “Let’s sit here. No, leave a seat between us. We’re guys, we don’t have to sit so close.” A few minutes later, but still before the feature started, I heard the familiar sound of cellophane tearing, and he shouted said, “You know, there are a lot of nut cases in this movie.” Then, “Hey, did you just take three Twizzlers? Because I only took two, and we’re sharing these snacks.”

Anyway, the movie is terrific. See it if you haven’t. And the boys said they thought ZDT was excellent, so see that one if you want.

By the time we were all back in the lobby, it was after six, and my father-in-law offered to take us out for a bite. We chose the Texas Roadhouse, because it was close (it was about 9 degrees last night, with wind). The Texas Roadhouse is a lively, spirited place where everyone really seems to enjoy themselves. I’ve never seen a waiter or waitress who didn’t appear to be happy, and management can’t force that stuff. We had a great waiter and more than enough to eat. As I set my fork on my plate and vowed not to have even one more bite, I glanced to my right, just as the very large man at the next table picked up his black linen napkin and used it to blow his nose. I tried not to gape, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME? His very pretty wife (or date) appeared to be unfazed. I turned to my husband, who had missed the spectacle, and whispered. He shook his head with disappointment. My father-in-law looked up and asked, “What’s going on? What did I miss?” and we dismissed it, as we often do.  The guy actually did it again, and I expected him to stuff the napkin in his pocket or something. I mean, he wouldn’t leave it on the table, would he? Oh, yes he would. I looked at the woman again and thought about two characters for one of my stories. Inspiration is everywhere.