We Don’t Have to Go Back to the Way Things Used to Be

Would I lie to you?
Would I lie to you honey?
Now would I say something that wasn't true?
I'm asking you sugar
Would I lie to you?
— "Lie to You," Eurythmics

The world lies to us. 

We accept these lies as truth, even when evidence points to the contrary.

This point was driven home over and over when our family moved into our little house.

  • You don’t need “as large of a house as you can afford.” 
  • You don’t always have to have a car payment.
  • Family members don’t all need their own rooms and their own bathrooms.
  • Master suites, family rooms, and spare bedrooms are nice, but they are not essential trappings of a happy life.
  • The things your neighbors and friends have aren’t necessarily things you need to have, too.

During the pandemic, more lies were exposed:

  • You don’t have to put in long hours at the office to be productive at your job.
  • Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.
  • Being productive isn’t the same as being happy.
  • Your job doesn’t define you.

Slate’s podcast, What Next, explored the changing landscape of workplaces in a post-COVID world. In the episode, So, what happens to WFH now? workers and employees are rethinking what the work week should look like after being disrupted by the pandemic. Should we all go back to the way it was? Or is it maybe time to try something different?

The financial strain my husband and I felt when we were paying for a house we could barely afford, exacerbated by a 4 year salary freeze at his job that seemed to keep us even further away from ever getting our feet planted firmly on the ground forced us to take a step back: Is this right? Does it really have to be this way? Does this make sense?

Ask yourself those questions every day. Don’t take someone else’s word for how you should be doing things. It’s okay to stop, let your brain settle, and reassess. We don’t have to go back to the way things used to be.

Originally published July 26, 2021 on My Huntley News

And So It Begins

The smell of school supplies intoxicates me.

Not the old school supplies I find at the bottom of my kids’ backpacks in June. Those are just sad-looking pencils with their eraser heads worn down to gummy shadows of their former selves, old dried-up glue sticks, and crayons that are pitifully short and stubby.

August school supplies are the ones I like. Fresh notebooks, folders with all four corners intact. Glue sticks banded together in shrink wrap, ready for sticky battle.

This year, school supply shopping for my two high school-age teenagers was pretty low-key. The mile-long school supply lists of elementary school days are a thing of the past. The kids are living in a digital world—and a nearly paperless world. Their Chromebooks have replaced the Trapper Keeper from my youth in the ‘80s. (I had one with a striped kitten on the cover, and the velcro closure gave a satisfying riiiiiip when I opened it to file away my beloved xeroxed copies of sentence diagram worksheets—thanks for asking.)

After the second day of high school this week, my daughter casually mentioned that she needed a handful of notebooks. My son requested a binder. I grabbed my purse and sprang into action. 

School supplies stir something inside me. Even though my school days are long behind me, the muscle memory kicks in: as soon as late August hits, the sunlight slants differently; the air feels heavy with anticipation. It becomes imperative to buy armloads of notebooks and pens. The urge cannot be ignored.

First things first: I toss into my cart some notebooks for my daughter. A binder for my son. Now, it’s my turn. Some of the shelves are picked over, as if a pack of hungry wolves feasted on the loose leaf. I run my hands along the colorful boxes of markers, and consider buying a brightly colored lunch tote before regretfully placing it back on the shelf. 

Forget Jan. 1st. The first day of school is New Year’s Day. Everything begins again. It’s all about the tangy scent of a freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencil poised over a blank page. It’s the time of year to gather your supplies, speak your goals out loud, then write them down. It’s time to claim the year by scrawling your name across it in thick block letters. Set your agenda. Make it your own. 

Originally published Aug. 23, 2021 on My Huntley News

Don’t Bail on Beach Party Barbie

This piece was originally written July 12, 2009, just after my daughter’s second birthday.

I just know that if Beach Party Barbie were alive, she wouldn’t be my friend. Even before I took her out of her pink-bedecked box with the plastic window in front, I admit I detested her perfect body, her long, silken blonde hair, her unrealistically shaped body. If you ask me, every woman secretly hates Barbie, at least a little bit. Doesn’t she represent an unattainable goal, born of an era when women were judged by their looks rather than their brains and hearts.

Today, I attempted to make a Barbie cake. I remember seeing these cakes in bakery windows, Barbie’s arms reaching out, as if to greet her adoring fans, as she stood on a paper doily, cloaked in rich buttercream frosting, a strapless gown artfully piped onto her body by the baker’s steady hand. I wanted one so badly, but birthday cakes in my childhood home tended toward the practical rectangle or round variety, decorated with homemade frosting and candles.

For my daughter’s second birthday, I knew I was destined to make her a Barbie cake. But like I said, Barbie and I don’t get along. I think she may have been sneering at me behind those thick, glossy lips of hers. The cake baking was a near disaster, with the batter nearly spilling out over the edge of the cake pans: then, the cakes came out the wrong size, and when I inserted Barbie through the middle of the cakes, her chocolate “skirt” only reached mid-thigh. Then there was the frosting, which I carefully whipped and cooked in my double boiler, meticulously setting my kitchen timer so that my “seven minute frosting” was authentically cooked for seven minutes. I tried to do everything right, but it came out all wrong. As I was globbing on the lumpy frosting, watching it drip sadly down the side of Barbie’s bundt skirt, I had to bite my lip from bursting into tears. My Barbie Princess cake was more like a Barbie-Floating-in-a-Toxic-Cloud-of-Misshaped-Pink-Asbestos cake. This would never do.

I think my husband’s exact words were, “Don’t bail on Barbie!” He knew I was ready to give up. I had given it my best shot, but Barbie won. Her glassy eyes stared at me in a victorious glare, and I knew she had defeated me. Even inside the clump of chocolate mess I had attempted to create, she still looked magnificent, long blonde hair billowing defiantly over my asymmetrical mess of a cake. I started thinking things like, “There’s always next year. Next year, I’ll get a better Barbie.”

My husband can do many things. He knows how to build things, how to fix things, and how to deconstruct and rebuild things. But watching him work magic with pink whipped frosting positively makes my heart go pitter-pat. Like a sculpture, he took Barbie, set her straight, fashioned a bedazzling stage for her out of a cardboard box and some foil, and he made all my Barbie cake dreams come true. And as I watched him, I realized that in some ridiculous way, this Barbie cake represents all my shortcomings, and why, for some unexplicable reason, I was lucky enough to have married the one person in the world who knows just when to step in, smooth out my imperfections and add a few sprinkles on top, just to add sweetness.

My daughter’s birthday cake was not a disaster after all. She loved it. She shouted, “PRETTY!!!” when she saw it. But you and I know that the Barbie cake wasn’t for her; it was for me. I had my childhood dream fulfilled today. I thought I could do it myself, but I needed some help from my very own Prince Charming.

Happy birthday, sweet daughter. Next year’s cake can be just for you.

Putting Down Roots: Not for the Timid

My husband and I both enjoy gardening, but we typically don’t garden at the same time. Our styles and techniques couldn’t be more polar opposite. I’m a timid gardener: I don’t often trust my own intuition about what plants need, and I usually have an uneasy feeling that a neighbor or passerby will see me in the garden and click their tongue at the inept way I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. The only time I really hit my stride is when attacking a sworn weed-enemy (I’m looking at you, creeping Charlie!). Once I get going, I love removing weeds. Maybe it’s because weeding is a lot like my day job as an editor—there’s something satisfying about taking the excess (words or weeds) and removing their chokehold on the beautiful, colorful bouquet in the center, whether that bouquet is made of flowers or paragraphs.

By comparison, my husband is a confident gardener. When he looks at our garden, he sees a better version of it in his head, then he somehow knows how to make it happen. His laser focus identifies hostas and grasses that have expanded to thick clumps so that he can divide them up into more manageable plant babies. He digs deep beneath the roots, pulls them out, sticks them in a wheelbarrow, then plants them in their new home in a different corner of the garden. 

His physical, visceral attack on the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers comes across as almost violent to me. How can you take a shovel, disrupt the earth beneath these delicate flowers, and rip them from their home? How do they tolerate the shock of leaving the cool, damp earth, only to have their roots exposed to the unforgiving sun? Then, after a bumpy wheelbarrow ride, how can they possibly endure having their roots squashed back into a gaping hole before being assaulted by frigid water rushing from the garden hose? I shudder to think of it. I rarely stay to watch. I, the timid gardener, can’t take the spectacle.

Is it much different when we humans pack up our belongings and move to a new home, a new city, a new job? We feel exposed and tender and a little bruised, and there are moments when we may feel the shift is too much to bear. But slowly, gradually, our roots repair themselves and start reaching down deep toward the center of the earth, while simultaneously spreading our arms out, to embrace our new environment. We discover that the corner of the world where we were planted might have been good for a while, but there are so many other beautiful places to establish new roots. We discover we’re hardier than we think: delicate in appearance, but strong and sinewy where it matters.

It never fails. My husband, the violent gardener, knows what he’s doing. He knows that sometimes the most delicate beings are oftentimes the strongest; who are we to underestimate them? Before long, the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers are dancing whimsically in the breeze in their new spot. They stand tall, rising to the occasion of being dressed in sweet-smelling mulch contained by crisp, sharp edging. Heads are faced upwards. Faces are open and smiling. Ready to face this new world.

Originally published July 1, 2021 on My Huntley News

Small House Exhaling

During the cold months, our little house holds its breath. When the wind starts gusting and the chilly rain chases the last few leaves off the trees, we close its doors and windows and it stands firm, boldly bracing its wood and brick frame against the elements. For the long midwestern winters, our house wraps its arms tightly around our family, pulling us close to the core of the house where the warmth is unwavering.

When we bought this house a few years ago, we knew it would be a tight fit. Our previous home was lovely and large, but it was stretching our bank account to the point where we couldn’t keep up. This newer house is half the size of our old one; there is no “family room” or “dining room.” We basically have one large room that, besides the kitchen, serves as our primary living space. But instead of tight, it began to feel cozy. Instead of us all escaping to our own corners in the evenings, we were drawn to our living area where games, puzzles, and movie nights kept us close to each other. The shared space provided more shared experiences, which led to more conversations, more inside jokes.

When the cold begins to be chased out by crystal-blue skies and warm breezes carry the scent of damp earth, we are ready. We’ve been holding our breath and waiting, to the point of feeling restless.

This is when our house, holding its breath along with us, begins to exhale. The curtains are pushed aside to open the windows. The little porch in back, affectionately known as the “reading porch” is open for business once again after being closed off for the coldest days. Beyond the reading porch through French doors awaits our screen porch (yes, a porch off a porch—one can never have too many!), where I spend most Sunday afternoons sipping an iced tea and delving into whichever novel I’m reading; beyond that are the beloved flowers and plants in our yard. There are a couple of cardinals that frequent our back yard; I suspect they have a nest nearby.

Everything is breathing out, releasing pent-up energy and endless waiting. We are ready to fling open the doors, hop over to the other side of the welcome mat and explore past our front steps. Our garage yawns and sets the bikes free, the skateboards, the kites, and other things that “go.” Now is when we exhale, when we stretch our tired limbs. Now is when we take in all the good things that lie beyond our doorstep.

Originally published May 4, 2021 on My Huntley News

York Album Project: The Road Home

Facing the pandemic’s isolation, high school songwriters join forces to release collection of original music.

by Carol Pavlik

York Album Project: The Road Home

ELMHURST, IL—Anthony Poli knows firsthand what a demanding schedule is like at a high school like York High School in Elmhurst, Ill. But when school was disrupted by COVID-19 at the end of his junior year in 2020, Anthony found a new rhythm in his days; one that allowed more time for creating something of his own. 

Poli’s original song, “Dream,” is the second track on 2021’s York Album Project, entitled The Road Home. This marks the 7th album that musicians from York have released since 2015, made up entirely of original songs, under the guidance of Music Production teacher Chris Gemkow.

“Personally, I’m glad quarantine happened,” says Anthony, who says he shares a friendly creative rivalry with his sister, Alyssa. “I think I’m specifically lucky being a musician because I can lock myself away in my room and play for hours. I can record and perfect my craft.”

Alyssa agrees. Her song, “Take Me Back,” is the 4th track on the album. Featuring her warm vocals accompanied by piano, she sings, Your image stuck in these four walls / so I started writing these old song / you can see right through my words / I was singing at you.

“I wrote this song one day when I was just feeling confused and like my head was all clouded,” says Alyssa. “Writing this song was really therapeutic in the way that it helped me understand my emotions better. Songwriting is a really productive and effective outlet for me.”

‘Just you in the studio’

Chris Gemkow, who runs a popular Musicians Club at York, knew that with social distancing measures in place and the uncertainty of whether school would be held in-person or remotely, he couldn’t rely on recording in the school’s recording space like he’d done in the past.

“We were going to have to have something to work on independently then come together as one,” says Gemkow.

Instead of recording each song in the school’s recording space, Gemkow reached out to Grant Mitchell, a York grad who now works as a professional music producer and performer.

After 26 students submitted tunes to be considered for the project, a panel of peers narrowed it down: ultimately 13 students accepted the invitation to be part of the project. Each musician recorded at Boulevard Studios in Oak Park, with Mitchell heading up the recording process.

For Mitchell, working with the York students brought back memories of his own high school days at York.

“My social group was mostly the musicians at York,” he remembers.

Not only was it nostalgic, but Mitchell enjoyed working with artists that didn’t have previous experience in a studio. “There is a lot of talent and amazing songs,” he says. “I think part of my goal for this project was that I wanted each mix to represent what the artist wanted.”

Gemkow knew the recording experience could be an eye-opening process for the students. “It had to open up their perspectives on what the recording experience can be like when you get the support of a professional.”

“[Mr. Gemkow] told me to write what I wanted to write — not what I thought other people would want to hear.”

~ Kathryn King

Kathryn King, who recorded her song, “Seventeen,” said the thought of going into the studio scared her. “I was actually really nervous because I’ve never recorded anything in a professional studio or anything like that,” she said. “But Grant was super helpful and supportive when it came to recording in the studio and mixing the final drafts of my song.”

Anthony says Mitchell created an environment in the studio that fostered creativity. “It’s pretty rare to come across someone who really cares about the production of music that much, yet is also willing to let you just let loose in the studio,” he says. “We had a phone call beforehand to get on the same page and it was a really easy and simple process from then on.”

While King was still in the process of writing, she says Mr. Gemkow gave her advice that she took to heart: “He told me to write what I wanted to write — not what I thought other people would want to hear. I think it made the song more enjoyable.”

Gemkow says keeping the York Album Project extracurricular is key for putting out an authentic album. “It isn’t part of a class,” he says. “We’re not held to any curricular standards—we have the freedom to be creative and have the freedom to change. Those that do it are the ones who want to be part of it, committed to it without the framework of, ‘I wonder what I have to do to get an A?’” 

“Those who do [the Album Project] are the ones who want to be part of it, committed to it, without the framework of, I wonder what I have to do to get an A?

~ Chris Gemkow

Reflecting back on the years he participated in the project as a York student, Mitchell says he arrived at college with a lot of experience and knowledge that most of his peers didn’t have. “It was not only the fact that [York] allowed me to explore that side of music production, but just the community there—the ease of finding similar-minded musicians—that was great. Mr. Gemkow was huge in fostering that.”

Over the past year, Gemkow has missed the usual activity of the York Fine Arts department, curtailed by a year disrupted by the pandemic. “We get daily inspiration from everyone in our immediate circles,” he says. “There’s a palpable energy that exists every day. Whether you want it to be there or not, it’s there. It can’t help but affect you.”

“So much has been lost from our normal lives,” he says. “Having this creative project provides something to motivate you to keep going forward with something. Maybe it makes everybody realize that creative energy still exists. It’s a reminder that we can’t wait to be back in the same space together. It’s still there.”


The Road Home is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming platforms under the artist name York Album Project. Since its release in January 2021, the album has already reached listeners in Australia, the UK, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines.

On May 18, 2021, York Album Project’s 8th album, Finally Can Breathe will be available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming platforms under the artist name York Album Project (cover art by sophomore Alyssa Poli). Stream or download the album from Bandcamp at yorkalbumproject.bandcamp.com.

I’ve Heard How This Story Ends

Recently, I was listening to an episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” in which book reviewer Maureen Corrigan proclaimed a recent book by the British author Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun, to be a “masterpiece.” My ears perked up, because I recognized the author’s name: in fact, I had just picked up one of his previous books and was about four chapters deep.

Without warning, the reviewer compared the new novel to a previous work by the same author—the very book that I had on my nightstand! And then, without warning, the reviewer blurted out a spoiler!

Nooooooooooo.

I mean, the novel, Never Let Me Go, was written in 2005, so maybe it’s my own fault for taking so long to read it.

But.

My initial instinct was to throw up my hands: what was the use? Now I knew the mystery that I had been trying to figure out throughout the first four chapters. I would have to abandon the book. The ending was ruined.

But the more I thought about it, the more curious I became: I already knew what happened at the beginning of the story. Now I knew something about the ending, too. But how did the story get from point A to point B? What happened in the middle?

Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor from University of California San Diego researched this very phenomenon: If people read a story, but the ending was “accidentally” revealed to them, they actually enjoyed the story more. So in a way, spoilers don’t ruin the story; they actually enhance them. Christenfeld likened it to driving on the scenic Highway 1 along the coast of California: if you’re already familiar with the road and know what it feels like to drive it, you will actually be able to appreciate the scenery more. I can say that about certain famous paintings like Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” or Monet’s Water Lily paintings, too: each time I see them, my familiarity grows; I seem to notice more details each time I look at them.

That night, I picked up Ishiguro’s book again. I read and read and read until my eyes grew heavy and I began dozing off. When I awoke the next morning, I voraciously read more chapters before I even had my coffee. 

Now I am working toward the end, the dangling carrot the book reviewer had so tantalizingly set before me. I can’t wait to unravel the story.

Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

Originally published April 5, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

Sip Slowly

Don’t make sudden moves. Be kind to yourself and others. 

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience.

But I’m raring to go. It’s officially spring. We have a vaccine. (Several vaccines, which is nothing short of miraculous.) Stores and restaurants are opening up, loosening restrictions. The latest question folks ask each other is, “Did you get the vaccine yet?”

This week, my kids headed back to in-person school. It felt like a momentous occasion, a celebrated return to normalcy from the “before times.” Even though I’ve loved having the kids home during remote learning, it’s been an entire year of barely going anywhere. We were all starting to get a little stir crazy. The kids missed their friends. They missed seeing their teachers face to face.

But even on their first day back, it was clear that we weren’t going to just snap back to the way things were before. Behind their excitement, I could see worry in the kids’ eyes. They’re old enough to know the virus isn’t gone. But I gently reminded them that the teachers at our schools have all had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. It was time, I told them, to start venturing back into the world, albeit slowly and carefully. With a mask.

The kids are required to do saliva testing once a week. They don’t use lockers, and they wait until they get home at 1:30 p.m. to have their lunch. Even with a shortened day, they return home exhausted, but smiling. There’s not a lot of hanging out in the hallways or clubs after school. Once school is over, the students are encouraged to leave the building and go home. I join the throng of Moms, a virtual fleet of minivans and SUVs, picking up and dropping off—indicating that few of us seem ready to allow the kids to use a school bus yet.

It’s going to take a while. This year has been a collective trauma for all of us. We’ve all lost something or someone. We want to jump back into our old life, wash away the past year with a power washer and antimicrobial soap. 

First there were the “before times.” Then there was complete chaos until we got into the groove of the “new normal.” Now, we’re headed back, and it’s going to take some adjustment. We’re just now dipping our toes into the water. I want to dive in! But it’ll be a while to get back to hugging people or cheering on our favorite team from the bleachers or singing the lyrics along with our favorite band.  

It’s going to take all my self restraint not to burst out the door and hug everyone in sight! I never want to greet another person with an elbow bump again!

I’m going to have to take it slow. Lower my expectations. Accept that although it’s been a year, we require even more time to adjust. I’m going to stock up on soothing chamomile tea. I’m going to remind myself to take deep breaths. Sip slowly. Don’t make sudden moves. Be kind to yourself and others. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Originally published March 22, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

Take Me Away!

Photo by Ricardo Dominguez on Unsplash

This week I was gifted with bath bombs, pretty little circles in springlike colors, smelling of citrus and lavender. It made me wonder about the last time I took a bath rather than a shower, and judging by the fact that I can’t remember, I can deduce it’s been a good long time. In the coming week, I’ll schedule time for a bath, filling the tub with water as hot as I can stand it, and let the aroma of orange and lemon hang on the steamy air in my tiny bathroom. I’ll savor a little respite, perhaps on a weekday, and warn the kids ahead of time not to knock on the door — no questions allowed about whether their hoodie got thrown in the wash, or what’s for dinner.

That old classic advertising campaign for Calgon bubble bath must’ve played countless times throughout my childhood, between episodes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” because I still remember them. In the popular commercials from the 70s and 80s, there was always a mother who needed a break from all her obligations: the crying kids, the demanding boss, the piercing phone. She’d hold her hands to her temples, brow furrowed, and plead, “Calgon, take me away!” Just like that, she’d be transported to a huge bathtub practically overflowing with luxurious bubbles. Her spacious bathroom boasted Corinthian marble columns with large, sunny windows offering a breathtaking view of what — confusingly to me — appeared to be the Italian countryside.

Judging by the “kvetch sesh” I’ve had with several friends this week, I’m not alone in feeling at the end of my rope. Something’s gotta give. We’re all tired, stressed out, and quickly approaching our breaking point.

Americans are known for their stress levels, but the American Psychological Association found, unsurprisingly, that 2020 was a banner year for stressed-out Americans. In addition to the trauma of so many lives lost as a result of the COVID-19 virus, the laundry list of disruptions to our daily lives just compounds the worry and tension we feel. The APA reports that half the adults in their survey reported increased tension in their bodies, “snapping” or getting angry very quickly, unexpected mood swings, or screaming or yelling at a loved one.

Guilty as charged, on all counts.

Even better than a bubble bath, my idea of “Take Me Away” would involve a hot air balloon. Out of the indigo sky, the wicker basket would just appear gently in front of me. I’d climb into the basket and already it would be gently lifting off, up, up, up. A warm breeze would tousle my hair and I’d look down at all my problems, shrinking in the distance. Eventually they’d be so tiny that I’d have to squint to see them, and even then, they’d be barely distinguishable from one another. No matter; I’d look out over the beautiful landscape around me. Maybe I’d try to touch a cloud. I could yell out into the void and my shout would be carried off in the wind.

I’ve never been in an actual hot air balloon. My only reference is the hot air balloon that landed in Oz to take Dorothy back to Kansas. But then it occurs to me that Dorothy never got her hot air balloon ride, either; her escape from Oz eluded her when she had to run after Toto and the Wizard accidentally launched the balloon without her.

It turns out Dorothy had what she needed the whole time: the ruby slippers. A few clicks of her heels, and she got back to where she needed to be: home.

I’m going to have to find my own way of getting back to where I need to be. With no colorful balloon and no glitzy red shoes, the thing I do have is a bathtub and a handful of sweet-smelling bath bombs, made by a friend who wanted to share a little cheer. I guess I’ll start there.

Originally published March 9, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

A Man and His Snowblower: A Love Story

I believe it was the hottest day in July when my husband brought the snowblower home. He’d seen it, gleaming in the hot sun beside a sign that said, “Garage Sale.” While he made a beeline to the glorious red machine of pure snow-eating power, others seemed not to notice it, more interested in the kiddie pool and the bicycles for sale in the back. My husband kept his eye on the prize. He circled it slowly, apprising its beauty. No scratches. No dents. Hardly used. He approached the seller warily, no doubt to haggle on price a bit.

I tried to match his excitement as he rolled it into our garage (“Carol!” he told me, “This is a Toro 621 QZE! It’s got a 21-inch wide 4-cycle engine. The quick-shoot blower even has an ergonomically designed handle! And—” he points down dramatically —”electric start! I only paid $100! It’s worth way more than that!”)

I weakly gave him a thumbs up. It was sweltering in the garage, and the cubes in my iced tea were shrinking by the second, threatening to disappear completely. 

As soon as he pressed start (electric start!), the motor popped right off. He didn’t have to say it: I heard his inner voice saying, “I knew it! I knew I got a deal!” His eyes sparkled.

My husband has a visceral connection to snow and snow removal that I don’t have and clearly don’t understand. But I appreciate hearing him talk about his days growing up in a small Midwestern town, where he would go up and down his block after a snowfall and offer to shovel sidewalks and driveways. 

I think it’s safe to assume that a few of those neighbors probably called him to the front door, gently pressing some cash into his gloved hands for a job well done. But it isn’t the cash that my husband remembers with fondness. No—it was the cookies. The neighborhood ladies who would invite him in for warm cookies—straight out of the oven!—with a glass of cold milk. That reward of the sweet home baked sustenance after all that hard work of shoveling was the ultimate payment. I can only imagine because even now, this grown man has never met a homemade cookie he doesn’t like.

Now that he’s a little older, apparently with 100 bucks in his pocket to burn on a July day, my husband is ready to trade in his shovel and upgrade his thrill of snow removal with all the unbridled horsepower of a 4-cycle engine that runs on gasoline and dreams.

The night before the forecast called for snow, he ran out to make sure the gas can was full and ready to go. He shined her up, and wheeled her right to the front of the garage: there she sat, poised and waiting for the shot to go off at the starting gate.

Morning light was barely peeking over the horizon the next morning. Without even stopping for a cup of coffee, he was off to the races. I could hear the hungry growl of the snowblower eating up snow and spitting it out again.

Our short driveway and sidewalk were quickly done, so he continued to the next house. And the next house. He went on and on, careful not to plow the sidewalk of any fellow snowblower owner. (He wouldn’t want to deprive anyone!)

He returned more than an hour later, his cheeks rosy, snow crusted on his hat and at the rims of his boots. I had started the kettle for some coffee—it was the least I could do, since I was still in my robe and jammies while he had been out carving straight, icy pathways in the cold.

As we sipped our coffee, he looked tired, but happy. It was a job well done. Just for good measure, he checked the weather forecast to see if he’d have to be going out again soon. The smile on his face told me we were likely in for more snow.

Our contented silence was interrupted by the doorbell. It was our neighbor, Helen. “Thank you for clearing our sidewalk,” she said gratefully. “I brought you something.”

She presented to him, in a blue-lidded tupperware container like the ones in kitchens everywhere, bringing my husband—you guessed it—chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven. I half expected to see a single tear fall slowly down his cheek.

You can’t put a price on that.

Originally published Feb. 9, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.