Leave No Child Inside: Half a snow day

Katie Townsend writes: "Snowy hillsides beckon the sledding enthusiast at Byron Forest Preserve, Aldeen Park and Twin Sisters Hill Park. Then you could just get outside and make up your own winter traditions. Don't forget to take a child and the family dog- they know the secret of good fun in the snow."

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, in concert with the national Leave No Child Inside campaign, is committed to ensuring the children of this region will grow up with a strong connection to nature, and, as a result, be healthier and motivated to become its caring stewards. This column is one of a bi-weekly series contributed by Four Rivers Environmental Coalition members to raise public awareness of the importance of access to nature for healthy childhood development, and to encourage families to explore our member organizations’ wondrous places and programs, such as camping, learning projects, and programs for schoolchildren. Visit www.fourriver.org.

By Katie Townsend

My dreams were white last night—snowy white, to be exact. The impending blizzard was enough to have snowflakes falling everywhere in my subconscious. In my arctic bliss were memories of being gloriously “snowed in,” and I not-so-secretly hoped for this experience at dawn’s light. I am unrepentant about my experiential makeup when it comes to the first big snow of the season. I closed my eyes, and longed for a magical tomorrow…a 24-hour time period where normal activity slows down and everything feels clean…so I slept, and winter arrived.

At the sound of my alarm, I shot out of bed like a child on Christmas morning. I lunged for my electronic communication device without turning on the light. The text message from my supervisor could be likened to opening a holiday present. What would it be—a work day or a snow day? The answer came…half a snow day. For the first part of the day (until noon), work would be cancelled to dig out from the winter storm. The last half of the day (the instructions read) “…use your own judgment about going in to work.” Then, a statement about the agency policy on how to make up time from a snow day. It appeared that Dec. 9, 2009, I was the captain of my own ship.

I glanced at my cozy bed…get back in…why not? A tabby cat and two good-sized dogs approached the bedside with wonderfully confused expressions. Like me, they were processing the implications of half a snow day. One of the animals must have sent a signal that was undetectable to human eyes and ears. It resulted in a simultaneous response from my furry family, with the outcome being them joining me under the covers. Reflecting on sharing those initial moments of relaxation with my version of the peaceable kingdom felt like heaven on earth. We could have a kinder, gentler society if we all began our days in this manner. Then, I reminded myself that life is rough and tumble. Use this winter reprieve to the fullest to recharge from the tyranny of the urgent.

I formulated my unwritten to-do list while watching snowflakes from my bedroom window. Wondering how to spend my time turned into an unexpected battle between task and seasonal celebration. The first thought to crash my tranquility was “I have to shovel out,” followed by the second, “Which neighbor did I lend my snow shovel to last year?” “The roof rake needs to be put back together—that snow needs to be scraped so it doesn’t form ice dams.” “I wonder if half a tank of gas in my car is enough.” So on and so forth, the details associated with “big snow” marched forward, revealing a whole new set of responsibilities. Although tempted to yield, I kept my resolve that, first and foremost, this morning would be about enjoying the blessing.

I am slowly learning that a checklist does not always hinder spontaneity, so I grabbed my journal and wrote out a snow day checklist.

Katie’s Snow Day Checklist

1. Keep the family tradition for the first big snowfall of the year (to be performed in snow 5 inches or greater). This revelry involves making a snow angel on your front lawn in your pajamas. Accomplished, 8:05 a.m. New neighbors look scared.

2. Text my nieces and nephews about following the snow angel tradition. Text message reads, “Hi big snow time 4 s angels in pj celebrate life ur never 2 old to revel in the snow.” Accomplished, 8:11 a.m. Immediate reply from nephew Jake at Northwestern University. “Will do!!!” I hope he introduces this to a few other engineering majors, as finals are intense and everyone needs a little “carpe diem.”

3. Take a long bubble bath while drinking hot chocolate. Accomplished, 8:50 a.m.

4. Make homemade vegetable soup. Accomplished, 9:30 a.m.

5. Pull out Christmas CDs and play them one by one. Work in progress.

6. Begin decorating the Christmas tree. Start time, 10 a.m.

7. Read. Selections of the day…topical text about snow, winter and whiteness from the New American Standard Bible and excerpts from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Accomplished, 11:00 a.m.

8. Write something…I have not written a story since my summer vacation last August. Doing it now.

9. Use your own judgment about tasks, returning to work, or, in other words, re-entry to weekday schedule. The time on the computer is 12:11 p.m., and the decision is pending.

End Note: Begin a “half a snow day” restart work mode by accessing work computer from home for the purpose of professional communications. Alternate this activity with tasks surrounding shoveling out and home maintenance. (I jest, thinking that I can easily step away from routine and responsibilities.) However, I did choose the best things in life for four excellent hours on a snowy day…healthy food choices, peace of mind, connection with family, spiritual renewal, and developing a hobby.

End Note II. Repeat items on the Katie’s Snow Day Checklist!!!!

Extend that snow day mindset by enjoying winter activities in the stateline. Friends of Frosty can choose from organized programs in the great white north such as the Ornithological Society Kishwaukee Christmas Bird Count, Winter Solstice Celebration at Severson Dells, and an assortment of cabin fever-themed events as listed in the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition Calendar. Then, for a little “swoosh” of cross country skiing, check out Klehm Arboretum, Welty Environmental Center, Rock Cut State Park, or Rockford Park District’s Sinnissippi Golf Course. Snowy hillsides beckon the sledding enthusiast at Byron Forest Preserve, Aldeen Park and Twin Sisters Hill Park. Then, you could just get outside and make up your own winter traditions. Don’t forget to take a child and the family dog—they know the secret of good fun in the snow.

From the Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue

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