When it catches you

The cardinals stayed busy even in the snow, York County, February 2016. This is a view from our kitchen window as one perches on the deck railing.

The cardinals stayed busy even in the snow, York County, February 2016.
Here’s a view from our kitchen window as one of them perches on the deck railing.

“The earth is covered…..and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up.” — Frederick Buechner

This is the rest of the quote that I featured in a post that published more than three years ago, in December 2012, when this blog was very new.  It describes how I felt one recent morning as I looked out on the snow that was still coming down.  I had been up late the previous night, and peeping outside just before I retired, was startled to notice that a few flakes had started to fall and were accumulating quickly on the frozen ground.

Somehow, I didn’t expect it to amount to much more; we were in York County, where snow falls much less often than it does in the DC area.  When I awakened the next morning to the news that it was still falling, I raced for my camera, enthusiastic as a child.  In the back of my mind, all the usual nagging thoughts were hovering; would we be able to drive back to Alexandria, as planned?  What appointments would I need to cancel?  How much shoveling would we have to do this time?  But mostly, I felt excited.

I think many of us still have a good bit of child alive inside us.  What objects or events make you aware of this part of yourself that may lie buried beneath the responsibilities of everyday life? When are you most likely to feel the energy of a much younger person recharging your mood?  Are there any aspects of life that enchant you even though they may complicate life a little, or a lot?

I hope that today– or sometime very soon– you will find yourself caught by surprise in the most delightful way.


  1. There is nothing like a good snowfall to bring out the child in all of us. I remember my own stoic mother getting us out of bed one night in Germany to come outside and play in the new fresh snow. I was as delighted at her playfulness as with the snow. We are teetering on spring here. I think our last days of freezing temps are here and then gone. Wishing you a wonderfilled week, Julia.

    • Marlene, I love that story, especially since I have the typical stereotyped ideas of the no-nonsense German Frau playing into it. Wow, spring on the way! It’s a lovely thought…I will do my very best to have a wonderfilled week. I love that expression!

      • Yes, my mother was the stereotypical German Frau. Never a smile or playfulness with us. That’s why it stuck in my head. So out of character for her. Wonderfilled is my favorite word now. I’ve made it up and want it to stick. Our nights are cold right now but the days are green and filled with blooming. Early spring this year. πŸ™‚

        • Marlene, that seems to be one more thing we have in common. My mother is a Southern matriarch rather than a German frau, but she too was mostly a no-nonsense type, who could be quite critical and demanding. The plus side of that is that she set the bar of expectations very high for all of us, and that was a benefit in some ways (though a drawback in others). The down side of it, at least for her, is that all four of us were much closer to our fun and friendly Daddy, which has always been obvious to her and everyone else. As in the incident you describe with your mother, there were (and still are) occasional times when some fun or loving part of her character that seems mostly buried worry and responsibility, somehow breaks through and shines. Needless to say, those are among my favorite memories of her. Thanks for sharing this glimpse of your childhood. It’s always fun to see beneath the surface to the deeper history we all carry around with us.

          Maybe you should think about trademarking the term “wonderfilled.” It would make a great theme for a blog or other endeavors. Come to think of it, it makes a great theme for life! Giant hugs to you, along with wishes for a glorious early spring. ❀ ❀ ❀

          • Thanks for the kind words, Julia. I wondered how to trademark the word wonderfilled but never figured it out. Didn’t spend much time on it as I’m too busy looking at life with those eyes. I got lucky. Both my parents were task masters and hard as nails. No favorites there. I’m grateful though as the world was not ready to cozy me and I was ready to handle almost anything. I’m content with my life and how it turned out in spite of all the rough spots. There have been wonderful gifts along the way. Have a wonderfilled weekend, Julia. πŸ™‚ Big hugs.

            • Thank you Marlene! Like you, I am happy for those experiences that made me a bit more independent and willing to press on through tough times. The gifts along the way really do make it a lovely journey. Hope you have a great week!

  2. Amy

    Stephen and I were commenting at this last snow fall that it still leaves a little thrill in our bones when the snow comes down. I love to be at home warm and safe while the snow flies. Of course in January we got to be home quite a lot. HAHAHA. I still get a little thrill at new crayons, piles of leaves and rootbeer floats. Can’t think of much that is inconvenient that thrills me but I am sure there is something. Thanks for the post. Love ya.

    • I love the new crayons and piles of leaves too. Not so much the root beer floats, but you know how I feel about ice cream in a cone or bowl! As for inconvenient but fun or wonderful things, I would say house guests, dinner guests, noisy children, noisy planes and trains, noisy dogs, messy dogs, shedding dogs, pathologically friendly dogs, piles of unread magazines or library books, colorful annual seedlings needing to be planted, squirrels that eat tomatoes, birds that poop on decorate the mailbox post with stunning precision and regularity, and people who are too polite to tell me ENOUGH ALREADY! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

      • Amy

        TOO true my friend. I love it.

        • πŸ˜€

  3. blseibel

    Ahh, I do love a fresh snow, so serene. It does bring out the child in me.

    • It’s so gorgeous when it’s fresh. That’s why I like for it to melt quickly, so it doesn’t have a chance to get dirty. Well, that and not having to shovel it…

  4. Julia,
    The picture you chose of a Cardinal validates that we are at times on the same wavelength.
    When you have an opportunity, please read my post titled: “The Cardinal: A Saint Valentine’s Day Story.”

    • Alan, thank you for sharing that beautiful story! I enjoyed it so much. The cardinal is the state bird of Virginia. In the past few years we’ve been delighted to be seeing more of them; almost more than the robins that are also quite fond of our back yard shrubs. Cardinals are easy to spot even from a distance. I love seeing that bright red amid the drab of winter. But they look almost as pretty against the bright greens of spring and summer.

      I’m also glad that the cardinal is a special reminder of your Mother. It’s a curious fact that in the weeks immediately following my Daddy’s death, Jeff and I saw deer at least three times at mid day, which is very unusual in my experience (we usually see them in the early evening, just as it begins to get dark). Each time I would see one, I would feel something similar as you describe seeing the cardinal, since the deer is the animal I most associate with Daddy (although he loved all sorts of animals).

      I am so thankful for the joy our animal friends bring when they visit! I am glad your mother had them to brighten her last days here on earth.

      • Thanks Julia. Enjoyed your comment very much. Our experiences are most valued when shared.

        • Alan, sharing such stories is one of my favorite things about online connections. I’ve never been to Sicily or India or New Zealand or Nigeria or even Connecticut πŸ™‚ but thanks to this blog I have connected with people who have given me a much more vivid mental picture of these places. What a great blessing for our generation!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, I’m so glad that you were able to enjoy the snowfall, the surprise element! ❄️❄️ I would be overly excited with snow here, but it’s such a rarity, I’ll have to anticipate something else. Our winter sunsets have been so beautiful that I have enjoyed them in a different way. I have taken time to enjoy recently, the colors so exquisite! Surprises for me often come in the form of grandchildren appearing unannounced.Five of the six are driving now so I’m delighted they still want to come to “428”! πŸ˜‰

    • Sheila, your grandchildren are very lucky to be able to visit their grandparents and the beach at the same time! That’s the sort of surprise that is way better than a snowstorm. I can imagine that your sunsets have been fabulous. I have always wondered what it is about sun setting over water that is so dramatic and colorful; is is merely the absence of trees or other obstacles, or is there something about the water that makes the colors more vivid? Either way, I am enjoying them vicariously through you. πŸ˜€ BTW I hope it’s less nerve-wracking to have grandchildren driving than it is to have one’s own teenagers driving. Luckily I will have quite a few years to get used to the idea, but I’m such a worrier I’ll have to just distract myself if I’m still around when Grady or his brother the Fire Monkey start to drive…

  6. Beautiful snow, Julia. It’s nice to hear your voice.

    • Thank you Alys. I sound a bit like I just got up in that clip — it’s a voice only a friend could enjoy. ❀

      • Voices are so much a part of who we are. Hearing a familiar voice brings a lot of comfort.

        • So true! And each time I hear the voice of someone dear to me, I marvel at that all over again. As perhaps I will in early March! πŸ˜‰

  7. bobmielke

    Interesting how the Winter weather has moved throughout the country this year. New England has had a mild year compared to last year. We Had a 71 degree swing in a 48 hours span of time, from -16 to around 56 F. We’re in for an identical sort of swing in the next 48 hours. Bizarre weather for sure.

    • Bob, that definitely sounds bizarre for New England — but in a nice way. πŸ˜€ Today I told Jeff I had my own version of the cliche “too cool for school” — for me it’s “too old for cold!” BUT, something tells me our winter may not be over. It seems as if we had snows last year in March and even April. So stay warm– and stay tuned! And enjoy the legendary beauty of winter in New England. Thanks for being here.

  8. Good morning, Julia! I love to create! To me, I guess that seems a like childish: building sandcastles or drawing or making / repairing jewelry (although thank heavens for creative people that design our clothing and footwear).
    Yesterday a delightful sunrise photo shoot (I love sunrises) turned even more fun, when the owners of the dairy farm where I’d stopped said, “don’t forget to stop and take pictures of the calves!” and directed me to the newest wobbly creatures, which I hadn’t noticed (drove right past them, when it was still dark). So now, I totally “get” some people’s love of cows! Such irresistible cuteness!

    • Susan, you seem to enjoy a lot of the same things I do. I suppose creativity is a childlike thing, in that most of us have that instinct when we are very young, though many of us might be distracted or discouraged from spending much time developing it. A shame, really, because at the very least it’s enormously therapeutic.

      Did you get any photos of the calf? I so love to see baby animals of any kind, but something about the bovines goes straight to my heart; their big eyes are full of gentle contemplation (or so it seems to me) and despite their enormous size, they seem so helpless. And yes, in the babies, irresistible cuteness! I know I have been drowning in my inbox lately, but if you have time to send me a calf photo or too, I’d love to see them! I did get your address and will try to get a letter posted to you soon. This past week was taken up with assembling a scrapbook I had planned for many years to make for Jeff’s retirement; in typical fashion, it took a hard deadline for me to get it done, but I did manage it. The ceremony yesterday was lovely and impressive, but now I have two weeks worth of “stuff” piled up to do! Ah, well, “busy and happy” as our college president used to remind us in chapel every day. Happy weekend!

      • Congratulations to Jeff! And also to you! (I understand the extra “motivation” of a deadline. Scary even in name: “dead”line. Yikes!)
        Well, off to ready myself for church – although I often arrive late, and am too – often using the term “better late than never” for things with a softer deadline, like the start of church, or zumba class ….
        Blessings on your day!

        • Susan, I too am a “better late than never” person. Jeff is just the opposite, but I always tell him “Beware of all-or-nothing thinking!” πŸ˜€ I always appreciate seeing folks come into church a bit late because I think it means they wanted to be there enough to show up even if it meant not being PERFECTLY on time! And when they are with young children, or people who need extra help, or other potential obstacles to timely arrival, they get extra points from me. Here’s to deadlines and schedules, even if we can’t totally live up to them. Like all other laudable goals, they worth aspiring to. Hope you are having some photo-worthy moments this week.

  9. You’re yard is enormous Julia! Thank you for taking the time make a video and uploading it, because I miss you and hearing your voice was nice. xo
    Snow is pretty when it comes so softly. But more often, we find ourselves in a grip of nasty weather along with the accumulation of snow. I don’t know if it’s because we’re so much further north? The arctic winds that blow from the north are just so harsh. Lately though, the wind has been kind and I have actually enjoyed watching snow fall like feathers from the sky. It’s especially peaceful, since even the birds seem quiet on those days.
    I have moments when I can shriek like a little girl. It usually involves a four legged friend of some sort. A pile of kittens, a puppy, a friendly squirrel. Holding a kitten will make my heart beat like a lottery winner. Have you seen a Meme that says, “A girl who thinks diamonds are her best friend has never had a dog”. I totally agree! I Jim gave me a puppy, I’d lose my mind, fall down with joy, laugh, cry and laugh some more. I’d be so happy. If he gave me jewellery, I’d wonder why, HA! See, not the same AT all xoox K PS, love your photo. We don’t get cardinals here but I have a piece of art with a girl holding one πŸ˜€

    • Thanks, K – We do have a nice back yard, even with the new addition and shed taking up a good bit of it. We bought this place in large part because of the back yard, and only months after we bought it did we find out our lot actually was almost twice the size we thought it was, because the part behind the picket fence all the way to the creek is also ours. That part is mostly protected wetlands, which means we can’t do a lot with it other than work with the natural landscape, but that’s a nice bonus really, because I enjoy the critters that live there (especially the deer who apparently come to drink from the stream sometimes in the evenings).

      One of the ways I connect most with you is your love of animals. One of my all-time favorite memories will be of how that little squirrel in front of the White House gave you such a close-range greeting. It was a scream to see him crawling all over your lap (once I got over my fear of it being rabid) while the very unusual young man who strolled by with his Mom kept declaring “This is never seen before, a squirrel interacting with a human! This is never seen!” He seemed almost as disturbed by it as delighted. What a riot. Even funnier when you took the video of it I made and turned our voices into Alvin and the Chipmunks. I am grinning ear to ear just thinking of it.

      Re: the jewelry; same here! I think Jeff gets a bit hurt at how nonplussed I am about his gifts of gold and gems. He seems to enjoy buying them but has learned that I get way more excited about chocolate, tea and craft supplies! Perhaps we have a puppy on the way eventually, though we’ve pretty much decided we want another Schipperke, and they are quite scarce around here; Jeff has been looking for one locally for some time. I’d try a rescue, but the Schip is so strong-minded that I feel as if I’d need to start with a tiny puppy in order to have even a slim chance of keeping it from taking over the household. We lucked out with Pasha because he was, from birth (according to his breeder) unusually laid back compared to the typical hyper Schipperke.

      I never remember seeing any cardinals in Georgia while I was growing up, so having so many of them here has been almost magical. In fact, we had almost all robins until recent years. The cardinals seem to be taking over the neighborhood of our yard, but I hope they can achieve some sort of cooperative coexistence with the robins, as I’d love to have both as steady companions.

      • That guy from Georgia was almost as entertaining as Mr Squirrel wasn’t he? I can still hear his repetitiveness in my head because he said that at least a dozen times, LOL. I can’t believe it was almost a year ago that I arrived to your smiling face. What a good time we had.
        If Jim’s buying me a gift, he always asks for a list. Like at Christmas or Birthdays. He did buy me a couple of jewellery things when we very first started to date but soon realized I was more of a ‘garden tool’ kind of girl. HA! It’s fun to get an ‘experience’ as a gift. When I turned 50, we drove to Portland to see Mary Poppin’s on stage. I cried walking back to the car because it was so wonderful. A cyclist looked all concerned at a crosswalk and all I could blubber was, “it’s ok, I just saw Mary Poppins”, LOL. She probably thought, “okey-doe-key, crazy Canadian on the loose”. This Christmas he gave me tickets to The Wizard Of Oz. We just went this weekend, it was wonderful. The singing, the costumes and the staging was all magical. If (when) we get to NYC, we’ll have to take in some theatre xo ❀

        • K, I just read this to Jeff and he said “did the cyclist think she saw the production of Mary Poppins, or did it sound as if she saw Mary Poppins in person?” It cracked me up because I didn’t even think of it that way. As our friend from Georgia might have said, “This is never seen! Mary Poppins appearing in real life? This is never seen before!” BTW I always cry at Mary Poppins too, whether movie or stage version. We had tickets we had bought months earlier to go see the stage production, and as it turned out, the date was less than 10 days after Jeff got his stage IV diagnosis. I wondered whether I could get through it without breaking down, but it was a wonderful experience for us and I am so glad we already had the tickets because I certainly wouldn’t have bought them if I had known what was coming.

          I totally love the Wizard of Oz movie; it’s tied with A Man for All Seasons as my favorite movie of all time. I haven’t seen the stage version. I did see The Wiz on Broadway back in 1974, and it was fun, but not the same as the original movie which is totally enchanting.

          Next time you come eastward we will have to look for some cheap fares to NYC. They have them pretty often from DC, a remnant from the old Eastern shuttle days, I guess. You can go to the booth on Time Square and get same-day half price tickets to Broadway shows, although you have to pick from whatever is left. We got some good seats to Phantom of the Opera that way, though, at the Majestic.

          • LOL, I see what Jeff is thinking. If she didn’t know the stage performance of Mary Poppin’s was in town, that cyclist might have thought I REALLY was a basket case. Jim entirely expects public emotional breakdowns and just gave me a hug. We went to see Life of Pi at a Cinema and I left bawling, 10 minutes in. I couldn’t watch the shipwreck scene and hear animals crying out. Left Blood Diamond too. Also left before the end of King Kong…ha, there’s probably others. Poor Jim. Once I get emotional, it’s hard for me to compose.
            I’m sure it was hard to know how to go forward when you were given Jeff’s diagnosis. Your brain must have been going a million miles an hour so I’m glad you were able to make it to the performance. Now you have that memory together. I need to plan a longer holiday to the east coast. Time for DC and all the interesting destinations within a short drive. You’re in the most amazing part of America. I love all the history there. NYC could be a 2 or 3 day thing. Just long enough to feel grown-up, up-town, cosmopolitan, do shows, dine, shop a bit and of course site see. It looks so big and intimidating. We could REALLY get lost, LOL. XO K

            • K, you really do need to plan a longer East Coast trip. There are wonderful things to see all up and down the coast. Of course that’s true everywhere, but out here everything is so close together that you see a different city each day without too much of a drive between. New York is fabulous and really once you get the hang of it, not too hard to figure out how to get around. Most all the streets are in a numbered grid and you can walk to a lot of what you want to see. Plus the cabbies and local pedestrians are full of helpful advice (whether or not you want it, hee-hee), or at least they used to be in the old days. I think the Statue of Liberty is even more gorgeous in person than in the photos, and you can get some great views of it from the Staten Island Ferry, which is the best transportation deal in America (free, runs 24/7, and is on time 96% of the time).

  10. HarryS

    Imagine my pleasant surprise when a southern lady narrated the video of a surprise snowfall.Proving once again that you can take the girl out of the country but it’s awfully hard to take the country out of the girl.
    Thank God for this.
    Harry, Georgia USA.

    • Thank you, Harry. I’ve always been proud of my Southern accent, though I’m never aware of it much until I hear it on a recording such as this one, when I am sort of embarrassed at what a drawl I have. Though I have annoyed people for years with my tendency to unconsciously mimic the tones and even accents of people I’m talking to, I have never lost that girlhood Georgia sound despite having lived all over the country. Georgians have told me, however, that the many years in proximity to a Tennessean have left me with a bit of a different sound. πŸ˜€

  11. Oh a good snowfall! How delightful ~ I enjoy a childlike exuberance when it comes to watching the snow even though I’m the one who has to shovel it when it is finished. But there is a magical quiet in the early morning or late evening hours that I adore listening to when it snows. Great post Julia! β™₯ Love the photo and video.

    • Isn’t it amazing that something so seemingly insubstantial and ephemeral as as snowflake can create such a lovely silence? Almost like auditory insulation. Whenever I start dreading having to shovel it, I remind myself that it’s wonderful exercise, when taken in small doses. When I first experienced having to shovel snow, I quickly realized why I had heard so many stories of people getting heart attacks from doing it. The cold can be deceptive. I’m so happy you like the post!

  12. P.S. So nice to hear your voice! β™₯

    • Thank you. πŸ™‚

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