Our youngest daughter and a friend built a snowman yesterday after school. He stands on our point, gazing at the house through pine-cone eyes. His hair-do, a mohawk of twigs, lends a youthful air to his rotund body. Combined with his twiggy arms, I really think that he needs to get to the gym.

It’s often hard to build snowmen around here. The snow is too powdery, and the temperatures and winds aren’t conducive to prolonged outdoor activity. The conditions this week proved to be perfect, and I’m glad that Mr. Skinny-Arms came into being.

When I was a kid growing up in Washington State, the snow, when we got it, was good snowman-making snow, but we rarely received enough snow to actually make one. I do remember one time, though, when my future brother-in-law and I made a giant snowman in the front yard. We named him Arnold, because he rivaled Mr. Schwarzenegger in size and build. No twiggy arms for Arnold; his were sculpted!

Whenever I’d play outside in the snow or the Washington rain, it didn’t take long for my Toughskin jeans to get thoroughly wet. I’d come inside, dump my coat on the entryway floor and enter the kitchen in dire need of hot cocoa. Mom (after first directing me to retrace my steps and hang up my wet gear) would hand me a mug with cocoa powder already in it and tell me to get water from the kettle on the wood stove, which was a constant — albeit hard-water-stained — source of both humidity and hot water.

That wood stove was the only source of heat in our ranch-style house. When I’d wake up on a freezing winter morning, I could see my breath in the air. We had electric baseboard heaters, but to save money, Dad turned it off and instead had multiple cords of wood delivered every fall.

Huge, heavy rounds of tree trunk were dumped in a random pile in the back yard, and we then had the job of cutting them into usable pieces of firewood. Mostly that was Dad’s job, but sometimes my sisters and I helped, too. We didn’t often have to wield axes, though, as Dad bought a hydraulic wood-splitter, so that made the job easier.

They say that when you heat your house with wood, you warm yourself twice. I actually count it more like four times. First there’s the chopping, then there’s the stacking of the split pieces, the hauling of it into the house, and then the actual burning of the wood in that blessed wood stove where the water-filled kettle sat, constantly ready to accommodate any hot-water need, so long as you remembered to fill it every day.

The stove had a little oven on the side. My sisters and I loved to place a heat-proof tray containing crackers topped with slices of cheese into the oven for a few minutes and then, voila! Our favorite after-school snack.

A good time playing outside, topped off with cocoa and cheesy Triscuits hot from the wood stove ... now that was a winter day to enjoy!

I looked for quite a while for the right verse to end with. Proverbs 31:21 seems like the best. “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” Well, red is my favorite color, but whether clothed in scarlet (which implies wealth and warmth) or in Toughskins, the point is, we are to care for our families and provide for them. Even when we kids had to help with chopping wood, that was an important lesson that family works together, for each other.

Though I much preferred the Triscuits.



Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.