Flaked Out

I hope this will be my last snow-related post for a while, but the forecast remains iffy enough that it may prove nothing but a beautiful dream.

After we had fun sledding on Sunday and building a snowman on Monday, the novelty finally started wearing off.

School remains closed today, Thursday, for the seventh day out of the last nine school days. Even Benji has started saying he wants things to get back to normal, including school. He’s not going to get his wish any time soon, though, because he and Mom fly to LA on Saturday morning for midwinter break. Between snow and planned breaks, he will have had most of three weeks off by the end of the month. Good thing it’s only kindergarten.

Our neighborhood retained its 18″ of snow, slowly converting to slush as temperatures soared into the mid-30s, until yesterday afternoon. At that point we rejoiced to see a rainbow unicorn in the form of a city snow plow clearing our streets. After that, the melting actually made a difference.

Ian and I both worked from home Monday through Wednesday this week, as well as Monday, Tuesday, and Friday last week. I never thought I’d feel so keen to go into the office. Turns out that I started wanting human interaction after all.

I will miss wearing PJ pants all day and listening to music without headphones, and I still don’t love the commute. Nor does it love me. But I’m happy to have the opportunity to slog though the commute anyway.

In short: we’ll gladly welcome our usual winter weather back any time. And if the forecast is any indication, we’ve got a solid couple days of high 30s and rain coming. Delightful!

Snow Day Pictures

We got even more snow, and there’s lots more days of snow in the forecast. I’m trying to embrace and enjoy it, rather than worry about it, since — let’s be honest — what will worrying do? It certainly won’t clear the roads, ensure school’s in session, or guarantee that I can get to work next week. So here’s a few pictures from today’s snow adventures.

Before:

Friday Back Porch

After:

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Before:

Friday Before Road

After:

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Some other pictures:

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After spending an hour clearing our driveway, I went for a snowshoe walk with Dad.

Well, actually, I started to snowshoe to Mom and Dad’s house, but when I got to our neighbors’ house, we chatted and they offered to taxi me in their snow tire-clad SUV. The dad drove me and then his teenage son drove them home after dropping me off, giving him a chance to drive home.

So that was awfully nice of them! Dad got ready and we left for our snowshoe walks.

Well, actually, we first dealt with a couple of the snowshoe binding straps that broke. They’re old, old, old rubber that became brittle, cracked, and broke. Each shoe has four bindings, three on top and one around the heel. The heel binding is crucial, but you can get by with two of the three top bindings. But two heel bindings broke, as did two top bindings on one shoe.

We thought we’d have to scrub the whole plan, but then realized we could cobble together one shoe’s-worth of working bindings. I wore those while Dad wore a pair of rubber boots, and we cut our walk down to a visit to Edith Moulton.

My snowshoe straps held up, so I walked Dad most of the way back to his house and then took the long way home.

Here are some pictures from the walk.

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Enough Snowmageddon Scoffing

Okay, Midwest, Northeast, and anywhere that gets more snow than Seattle. We know you get more snow than we do, and you handle it with panache rivaled only once in history, by the socialites aboard the Titanic.

But I’m sick of taking your scoffing and your snide, superior remarks about how inept we are at dealing with snow. It seems that, during our snowstorms, all that people from other places can talk about is how stupid and hopeless we all are to freak out over a “little” snow.

Winter Wonderland?
This picture was taken 24 hours after it snowed last week. Notice the road conditions: Completely untreated and still quite snowy, but now mixed with refrozen slush and packed-down ice. It’s approximately an 8% grade; local kids sledded down the middle of the street the following day.

I lived in central Massachusetts for nigh on eight years, long enough to experience some legitimately wintry winters — and I bike commuted through three of those years. So I think I can speak to some regional differences here. When we lived back East, it would snow; cities and anyone with a pickup truck would clear it; and then it would get sunny and surprisingly nice. Bundle up and you could head out as normal. Cold, yes, but clear skies and dry, clear, mostly flat roads.

Maybe it lets everyone else who has to freeze their buns off all winter feel a little glow of warmth at how much more capable their cities are than ours at handling snow. I don’t begrudge you that little warmth, but before you start mocking us, you try driving 20 miles on our streets (so to speak).

If you really did try to drive 20 miles when it’s snowed here, you might have to let some of that smug superiority slip away. Because:

  1. We have hills. Real hills, with grades exceeding 15%, and they’re everywhere. You can’t go from Point A to Point B without going over quite a few of them. I know; plenty of cities in the Rockies have hills, much bigger than ours. But consider point #2:
  2. Our cities don’t invest in lots of snow-clearing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense financially, when some years we don’t get any snow at all, or just a day or two. Our usual “wait until it melts” plan works because it rarely stays below freezing for more than a few days at a time. Typically snow goes away within two or three days here, even in the middle of winter. The whole city of Seattle has 35 snow plows; Denver has 70.
  3. Because we don’t have a lot of snow-clearing infrastructure, people drive on the snow, packing it into ice. Then melts a bit during the day and refreezes overnight into an even more exciting untreated skating rink. Try driving on that up and down hills, and then come back and scoff at our caution.
  4. People here have no practice driving in the snow, and therefore stink at it. Most Washingtonians don’t know to drive steadily and carefully, with no sudden stops or turns. Instead, everyone seems to be under the impression that their four-wheel-drive Escalades mean they can drive at the speed limit regardless of conditions. Plus, Washington has recently received a massive influx of people from California, India, and other warm climates — none of whom come with snow driving chops.

Even if none of these factors convince you, remember that every place is different.

You may take snow and subfreezing temperatures with equanimity, but how would you like 145 days of rain? Plus, we live at the 49th parallel, farther north than Portland, Maine. We get less daylight in the winter than anywhere besides Alaska. How would you like to have the sun rise at 8:00 am and set at 4:00 pm in the winter, and in between have mostly cloudy gloom and 40-degree drizzle?

We don’t make fun of people for hiding from rain or feeling gloomy when it’s gray outside. You don’t need make fun of us for our response to snow, whether or not you think it’s reasonable.

How about if, instead of posting smugly about the inferiority of other people’s ability to deal with conditions we handle as as a matter of course, we empathize with each other over shared experiences? Or maybe we could share some tips with how to cope, or even just provide a little encouragement.

It’s an idea.

‘Snow Fun

I remember the first time I thought, “Oh no, it’s snowing!” That’s when I realized I had truly grown up.

Today, Wednesday, is the first day I’ve gone to work this week. Monday and Tuesday I worked from home, thanks to copious amounts of snow. School has been cancelled all week, too, including today. Monday Benji spent at home with us; Tuesday he spent with my mom; and today he’s going over to my in-laws. I can only hope school’s back in on Thursday, or we’ve got a childcare problem!

Friday they forecast more snow. I’m not going to worry about that yet.

It’s been so cold – 14 when I left this morning – that everything that melted during the day when it warmed up to almost 32 refreezes overnight. This cold is supposed to linger, and that means that daily freeze/thaw cycle continues. That’s what I worry about the most. But I got out the studded tires bike and I’m going to be careful, but try to commute home the next couple days.

Here are some pictures from Monday, when the snow was still fresh.

And here’s me waiting for the bus this morning. I’m planning on riding home. I trust the studded tires will protect me from any surprise icy patches.

A Very Kindergarten Week

It started with Benji laughing hysterically. He wanted to tell me a story about something that had happened at school, but it cracked him up so much he could hardly get the words out.

Finally, he managed to calm down enough to gasp out the facts: When they got their turn with a school iPad, he and a friend took a picture (or pictures?) of Benji’s bottom with the camera app. I laughed, too — and then suddenly a sobering thought struck me.

“You had your pants on, right?”

“Yeah, like this –” …and he proceeds to drop his drawers and give me a full moon.

So, yes… for definitions of “wearing pants” that don’t strictly include covering your bare buns.

The next morning the seriousness had sunk in, and I realized I had to call the teacher. We couldn’t have other kids using that iPad and getting an eyeful! I called the teacher and she expressed the level of horror, shock, and astonishment I probably should’ve felt the previous evening when I honestly had just laughed with incredulity.

Needless to say, after wiping all the iPads, the teacher had a special consequence for Benji and his friend. They stayed in from recess for a private lesson on, well, keeping privates private. When I talked with him that evening, Benji told me he wished he hadn’t done it, so I figure we’re probably safe from that exact thing happening again.

Goodness only knows what’s coming next.

Well, actually, I know, because it came already. Every Monday and Friday we have dessert with dinner — literally with, contemporaneous, simultaneously to eating our pasta, etc. Well, Benji and mom had this brilliant idea of having ice cream sundaes for dessert.

Oh, it was a glorious sight: A real sundae dish, filled with three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream, topped with banana, strawberries, canned cherry pie filling, and crushed pineapple, and the whole thing liberally drizzled with chocolate sauce.

Benji slayed it. Took no prisoners. Licked that dish clean. There was nary a sundae molecule left to be seen when he finished. After which he asked to be excused, and we figured — well, occasionally you get dessert for dinner.

When we got home, though, he started complaining about his stomach hurting. He kept complaining, and curled up on the floor instead of changing out of his clothes, taking a bath, getting on pajamas, or brushing teeth.

Which made a whole lot more sense when, after finishing his quick bath, he vomited right into the toilet. Chocolate-colored vomit came out his mouth and his nose, a real double whammy. I won’t describe any more, but suffice it to say that after two very thorough rounds of throwing up, I seriously doubt much sundae remained in his stomach.

“I don’t ever want to eat ice cream ever again,” he told me, midway through this ordeal. Then, giving me a window into his mind, he said, “I’m sticking with Tillamookies. They’ve never steered me wrong.” I refrained from pointing out that they, too, contain ice cream.

Finally I got him into bed and calmed down (vomiting like that really is enough to ruffle anyone’s feathers), and he went to sleep very quickly.

So, I guess we’ve all learned something:

  1. Don’t take pictures of your bare ass, especially on public computers.
  2. Don’t eat excessive amounts of sugar.

Truly, everything you need to know, you learn in kindergarten.

Reflecting on Two Years

Yesterday marked my two-year “Tamaversary,” as they call the start date anniversary at work. My boss celebrated by ordering chocolate-covered strawberries, which I did appreciate.

Two years doesn’t sound like much to me, but compared with the tenure of most developers, I’m practically ancient. And somehow this two years has gone both very quickly and very slowly. The real question, however, is whether I’ve grown or learned anything in this time.

Writing Growth

Over this time, I’ve certainly learned a great deal about technical writing for software, and I think my writing quality has substantially improved — albeit with room for continued improvement, of course. I’ve gotten much better at using fewer words, clearer descriptions, and more consistent terminology. I’ve also learned to think about how users will find and consume content, to make answers more readily available.

Before joining Tamarac, I’d never read, let alone written, release notes. Achieving the right tone, the perfect mix of marketing and technical communication, is something I keep working at. I’ve gotten much better, ah some stories I really nailed, which feels good. Now I get to work on hitting the sweet spot for every story.

Cultural Growth

My boss describes me as a leader. I find this odd and a little improbable; I’m a mere Tech Writer II, just doing my job. But I have made real connections over the last two years — nobody who’s going to be my best friend decades from now, probably, but definitely solid, even friendly, working relationships.

I naturally have reached out to the other people on my team and I get along with them well. But I also have formed good relationships with PMs, developers, QA, and marketing, all really valuable connections. This year I want to start getting to know the support folks upstairs, because they use Help Center at least as much as external clients. I want to find ways to make Help Center more useful for them.

It’s not all work, of course. I also run the Bike to Work team in May, and I organize fun little things for our team, like bringing in pies on Pi Day or Indian food for Diwali. It makes us all happier, and my boss doesn’t stop me, so why not?

Why We Keep Teeth

Benji has lost four teeth so far, the front two in the top and bottom. Before he lost his first tooth, which came out at the end of June last year, we prepped him with the hard reality that there is no Tooth Fairy. We are the Tooth Fairy, I told him. This didn’t faze him, as long as a prize appears overnight in place of his tooth.

We also skipped the tooth-under-the-pillow shenanigans, and instead have a special jar to contain the tooth. The jar sits outside Benji’s bedroom door, making it nice and easy for the “Tooth Fairy” (he still wants to pretend, even though he knows it’s us) to make the swap.

So: Today Benji lost his fourth tooth, the final front top one.

Benji with top and bottom front teeth missing.

This means my human tooth collection now expands to four. Yep; I’ve kept all Benji’s baby teeth so far.

Not that long ago, my mother gave me a baggie of my own baby teeth that she’d kept for nearly 30 years. She’s not alone: I have anecdotally heard of lots of parents who keep their kids’ teeth.

Which got me thinking: Why do I keep these nasty relics?

It’s bizarre and rather gross. These aren’t exactly the crown jewels here, y’know?

But today I think I figured out why I, at least, feel irrationally reluctant to just toss those teeth in the garbage (compost? I guess they’re probably compostable… eventually; they are organic, but like shells probably don’t decompose much, hence teeth in skulls thousands of years later… Maybe if you crushed them up…. Hmmm)

Sorry, back from my tangent! It was interesting, but as I was saying, I think I feel reluctant to get rid of Benji’s baby teeth because they represent, at a very visceral level, his childhood — and losing them emphasizes both his maturing and how quickly it’s happening. A baby getting his first tooth is exciting, and often much celebrated, but not nostalgic. It happens in that 18 months of insanity that all parents survive with only vague, hazy memories.

A kid losing his baby teeth, on the other hand, is leaving babyhood behind. He’s growing up, maturing, and becoming increasingly independent. He’s had those baby teeth for five, six, seven years — long enough that they feel like part of who he is. Losing them is an exciting and healthy but somewhat heart-wrenching step towards becoming a new person.

So! No wonder it’s hard to chuck those baby teeth without a qualm: They’re all tied up with all the fraught emotions of memories of a child as a baby, and anticipation of the future and a child growing up. We’re great at celebrating this step for kids, but I wonder if there would be some way for parents to celebrate this, too, a way that acknowledges the more complex feelings potentially tied up in these little teeth… but that also gets rid of them in the end, too.