Snow sculpting

Some versions of this blog are headed with one of my snow sculptures – a guy on a chaise longue with a beer. Today I went to see how the pros do it. But we’ll start with my first-ever sculpture in 1987.

I was visiting back home from California and it started snowing. The friends I was staying with (my old housemates) were out and I sculpted this little guy on their front steps. They took a picture with their daughter when they got home.

I once sculpted a bike for a contest. Bicycling magazine wanted a picture to know why you needed a new bike. I said I was worried that mine would melt. I didn’t win.

Beach scenes became a favorite, since snow looks like sand if you use your imagination.

I’ve been wanting to do one of a family playing on the beach with the kids making sand castles, but I no longer have any of my kids’ old swimsuits to dress them in. Since I only think of it in the winter, I can’t get to a thrift store to buy them, since they’re not stocked.

I’ve tried a few gargoyles and lions on the newel posts, but I like this guy better.

Now let’s see how the pros do it.

Detail from figure above
Rear view of selfie above
Detail of mouth above (note uvula)

For fine detail, it helps to start with a compressed block of snow. I start from nothing and build up. The pros start from a block and carve.

While digging through an old hard drive to find a couple of pictures, I came across this poem. I don’t know when I wrote it, because I just fixed a typo so it shows today’s date. Since it rose to 9 degrees (-13 C) today, it seemed like a fitting time to stick it in here.

You call this cold?
You must be new here.
Shit, it ain’t been cold here 
in twenty, thirty years.

It stopped bein’ cold ‘bout the time
they invented wind chill.
Ya ever notice they invented wind chill just before
they started talkin’ ‘bout
Global Warming? 
That’s so you wouldn’t notice 
it wasn’t as cold anymore.

Cold is when the diesel 
turns to jelly
and trucks won’t start
so there’s not deliveries until
at least noon when the sun might warm up 
the fuel 
enough to flow.

Cold is when you blow your nose
and the snot freezes 
before it hits the ground.
Cold is when your fingers and toes turn white and
get numb
so numb that if you take off
your mitten
and bite your fingertips
you don’t feel anything.

Cold is when your glasses don’t fog up
they ice up
and you have to scrape off
the ice with your fingernail if you want 
to see.

Cold is when the wind 
makes your eyes water 
and the tears freeze on your eyelashes
so you 
clink when you blink.


As a society we do not value working people or work. One of the most important economic measures is productivity – production per unit of labor. What does that mean? The fewer “units of labor” we invest in a product, the better.

The very idea of hard work is denigrated. My father used to tell me “Work smarter, not harder.” The point (originally) was industrial efficiency. (The phrase was coined by an industrial engineer in the 1930s. Industrial engineers are the guys who stand around with a clipboard watching you work and then tell you how to do a job that they’ve never done.) It was often heard as “You are more valuable if you sit behind a desk than if you get your hands dirty.”

You are not a person, you are a unit of labor and therefore a necessary evil until we can replace you with a robot. The very people who produce the goods are considered a drag on the economy.

But who are the real parasites? Who takes money from the economy without producing anything? High on my list is the insurance industry. There was once something called a “mutual aid society”. People realized that any one of us could be wiped out by a disaster and if we pooled our resources, we could take care of each other in times of trouble. That concept was bastardized by the insurance industry – a group of companies that take our money in good times so they can find ways to avoid giving it back in bad times: you contributed to your own loss; you had a pre-existing condition; we have this loophole that says your loss isn’t covered; maybe your loss should be covered but we’ll make you jump through enough hoops that you’ll give up. Even the hospitals have begun to recognize insurance as a parasite:–how-today-s-prior-authorization-processes-cr.html

Advertising – an entire industry devoted to convincing you that you need something you don’t really need. Check out the movie The Joneses.

Once you buy it, you must of course buy the newer, bigger, better version. And “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is no accident. If a product lasts too long, you won’t buy the newer, bigger, shinier version. The clothes washer I bought used 27 years ago still works fine. If I’d bought a new one a few years ago when the new highly-efficient front loaders were all the rage, I would have learned only later that a load took more than twice as long, so the savings from less water used are offset by using twice as much electricity. Then I’d have found out that they have a tendency to grow mold. And when they fail, it’s often a motherboard failure and requires a new machine, not just a new part. Or that the new part cost almost as much as the machine – and isn’t in stock so I might as well buy the newer, shinier version instead of waiting for the part. Then maybe I’d get one that solved the mold problem – or not.

If The Joneses is not dark enough for you, try the earlier British film How to Get Ahead in Advertising.

Advertising only works if you continue to buy more stuff. And advertising doesn’t make stuff any better – just more expensive, since the stuff has to pay for the advertising. And we don’t call it “advertising” anymore – it’s “marketing” because that sounds more scientific. The”science” is the science of how to manipulate us more effectively. Parasites, all of ’em.

Real estate sales – another parasitic industry. Since we know that producing more land is rare, the entire industry is devoted to driving up the price of the land that already exists. The concept of private ownership of property results in speculative purchase of land – ownership of land specifically for the purpose of selling it to someone else later at a higher price. The epitome of capitalism: Making money by having money. If you can afford to buy land, you can get rich by doing nothing. Work is for suckers.

You can hire a real estate agent to help you buy a house. By state law (in Wisconsin) a real estate agent always represents the seller. It is in the agent’s best interest (and legal obligation) to get the highest possible price for the house. Since they get paid a percentage of the sale price, their income is directly tied to what you pay. So don’t think there is any such thing as a “buyer’s agent.” If you each hire an agent, they are on the same side – not yours, if you are buying.

Human Resources departments. Once upon a time, we found that companies had this unpleasant tendency to exploit their workers. Bosses just might sexually harass their underlings. We came up with the idea of a personnel department – a place to take your grievances and maybe not lose your job for voicing them. Over time this morphed into a “Human Resources” department – a department devoted to exploiting the “resource” represented by your labor, the way Peabody Coal exploits coal deposits. What is a “resource” other than a profit center? Now we lose benefits we used to have, or they find creative accounting and reporting practices so when you look at your pay stub you can’t really tell if you still have the same benefits you used to have. They can change sick leave, vacation, and holidays into “MTO”. You can have the “freedom” to take vacation OR get sick. And maybe that time off will expire if you don’t use it – so if you get really sick, you don’t have a bank of sick leave to draw on. And maybe, when they combine those into one “bank”, the total number of hours will mysteriously shrink – if you can ever figure out what that total is.

Management – talk about parasites. There is actually a service to be performed by management. There is work that needs to be done behind the scenes to support productive work. That’s management. A job in service to and in support of production. Today, the CEO who makes 320 times what the typical worker makes is the real parasite. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO made 21 times as much as the average worker in 1965 (21:1). By 1989 that had gone to 65:1. In 2018, 293:1. And in the single year from 2018 to 2019, that jumped to 320:1. Does the CEO provide 320 times the value of the worker? Does the CEO provide value? Does the CEO produce anything?

So if you are a production worker, you are not a parasite. It is your labor that produces everything we need (as well as everything we don’t but those noted above convince us we do). So, hats off to the parasites of the world – those who suck money and produce nothing. But when you take that hat off, make sure you hold onto it or they will steal it so they can sell you another.

In the interest of disclosure, I have worked as a manager (including management consultant), plumber, maintenance worker, grocery buyer and stocker (including produce manager), cashier, restaurant worker, occupational therapist, temp worker, and others if you count unpaid workand I do – but I won’t enumerate them here. I have served on the Board of Directors of a co-operative, a non-profit day care center, and a non-profit theatre company. I have been a member of two unions. My “careers” have been in co-operative management, plumbing, and health care. Nobody pays me to ride a bike.)


The ride to work started like an ordinary day. Temperature 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) with a light wind. As I turned onto the lakeshore path it turned magical.

There was a thick, low-hanging fog over the lake. I was in it, so I couldn’t see the fog, just the effect of the fog. Visibility out toward the lake was maybe 5o feet. Walk out 100 yards and you would be lost. Those who have read this blog before know what happens when it is cold and foggy.

Light was beginning to creep into the sky from behind me to the east. My headlight striking the hoarfrost on the eye level shrubs reflected back as diamonds. I rode through a moving wall of diamonds. I wanted to shoot video so you could see what I saw. But work beckoned.

I can’t show you the diamonds. You’ll have to trust me as I didn’t have time to get the lighting that I saw. Or you can get up at 5 and wander along this path or some other low-lying land on a cold and foggy day.

As I entered a grove of trees, the entire world lit up around me. I knew what Bing meant when he sang:

I wanted to lie in the meadow, look up at the trees, and make snow angels. Maybe I could shine my light straight up and have those diamonds shining back at me. Alas, work called to me again.

I floated into the hospital. Since the fog only appeared along the lake, I didn’t know if anyone else had seen it. I wondered if I’ll get up at 5 and ride this path after retirement, when I can stop for as long as I want, bring the “real” camera, take pictures and video until the sun comes up, try to light it the way I see it.

I started seeing patients and got to a fifth floor window that looks out over the woods. The fog hung low in the valley and the trees in that valley were coated in rime. The trees on the hillside answered back in evergreen. The fog was visible and there was a sharp demarkation between bejeweled trees and regular trees. I asked my patient if she wanted the shades open. She looked out and could see those trees from her bed. She agreed to get out of bed and sit up in a chair for a better view. My work was done.

More snow is coming tomorrow, heavy and wet, then an arctic cold front. A high of zero F is forecast for Sunday and Monday, with morning lows of -15 (-26 Celsius). Don’t you people down south wish you lived here?

Groundhog Day/That Was the Year That Was

In these parts, they claim that if the groundhog sees his shadow (Feb 2, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox in the northern hemisphere), we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter – which is the amount of astronomical winter remaining (duh). A cloudy day is supposed to mean an early spring. Since winter around here lasts at least six weeks after groundhog day, I figure clouds might just mean winter lasts into April. Two years ago on January 30, the temperature here dropped to -26 degrees Fahrenheit. Wind chill was estimated at -50. (It was colder in the infamous wind tunnel by the pharmacy building.) That morning is when I learned that one’s eyes can be frost-nipped, and I bought goggles for cold weather.

The red eyes, not to mention the ice in the lashes, are from cold. But that was two years ago and today (January 28) was our first time below zero since that cold snap. So the one good thing about 2020 was that it was warm, if that can be called a good thing.

January: CPR renewal, when it could be done face-to-face still. Surgery and a long convalescence. My first trip out in the real world was to go to a funeral. The only live concert of the year (Dwight Yoakum for my birthday).

February: The only live theatre of the year (in Minneapolis); a show stage-managed by my daughter, who was sick as a dog (a phrase that dates at least as far back as the 1700s, but I haven’t found a satisfying explanation) but the show must go on. I came home and promptly got sick. The test said it wasn’t COVID-19, but it was the sickest I’ve been in years.

March: Two weeks of quarantine and return to work in scrubs for the first time ever. Still wearing scrubs and probably will until I retire or they wear out, whichever comes first. And if they wear out first, then I will retire.

April-September: All club rides canceled. Instead of riding every Wednesday night with 100-200 friends and acquaintances, followed by a beer and then dinner with a few friends, I rode alone every Wednesday night, then went home and did the laundry and made dinner. (Pro tip: if you want riding gear to last, hand wash in cold water and dry on a rack after every ride. I just retired my 1991 Death Ride jersey because it lost its elasticity after 29 years.)

July: The Death Ride canceled, along with our trip to California to hang out at a cabin in the mountains, where we stayed during the 1992 Death Ride. While I’ve mentioned it before, I haven’t explained it in a while. 200 km, 15,000 feet of climbing, 5 mountain passes, elevation ~5000-9000 feet. (Oh yeah, and it takes place in one day.) At one point they changed the name to Tour of the California Alps for insurance reasons. I guess no one wants to insure an event with death in the name. Everyone called it the Death Ride anyway, so now they use both names (The Death Ride: Tour of the California Alps) – kinda like a scholarly article with a title, a colon, and a subtitle (“Colonoscopy: An examination of the use of punctuation in the titles of scholarly works”.)

August: Camping trip with family. No swimming (too many people at the beach). No live theatre (the park has a resident theatre troupe that does original musical theatre, but not this year). Our daughter moved back in with us after the trip, in order to go to grad school.

September: Canceled century ride, so I camped and rode alone. A different kind of fun, but no less fun.

November: Thanksgiving dinner for 3, instead of the usual 20+.

December: Christmas like Thanksgiving, with an added large-scale Zoom call, with breakout sessions so it almost seemed like work. Bailey (named after George Bailey from “It’s Wonderful Life”) joins the family. While he likes to spend a lot of his time sleeping, he demonstrated his athletic prowess by jumping over me while I was sitting in a kitchen chair. I caught him before he landed on the table. He was a rescue dog, looks like mostly Viszla but with the coloration of a Chocolate Lab. Maybe a little Weimeraner and some breed with shorter ears than any of those three. When not eating things he shouldn’t or running wild laps, he spends most of his time curled up in a tiny ball or watching out the second floor window to keep tabs on doings in the street.

We got a bit of snow this week. Today we added a few inches of heavy and wet snow so the depth has actually decreased from this measurement. I got out the roof rake to take off a few hundred pounds. The snowplow made four passes down our street, so there was a lot of shoveling. The only thing worse than shoveling out the snow left by the plow is not shoveling out the snow left by the plow. It then hardens into a heavy and icy consistency that makes it a lot like shoveling partially-hardened concrete.

A neighbor had emergency abdominal surgery so I shoveled out from the plow on their side of the street, too; then shoveled out the curb cut and the storm drain. A year ago I couldn’t shovel at all. Now my abdominal wall needs some strengthening. Shoveling makes the perfect workout.

Maybe soon we can be freed of our obsession with the news; wondering what atrocity the president will say or do next. It’s no accident that my roundup of the year is not focused on the political events. I will say that I think all newly-elected members of congress who think the election was stolen are welcome to give up their stolen seats. I thought this song summed up the past four years as well as any:

As for the title: There was once a weekly TV show called “That was the week that was”. It was a satirical look at the news, with topical songs by Tom Lehrer in the US version – the original was a British show. He later assembled some of those songs into the album “That was the year that was”.

Today (Groundhog Day) begins my next tour of duty in the COVID-19 unit. My vaccines should be at full strength and the COVID census on Friday was ⅓ what it was during my last tour there. As for side effects: the first shot made me feel a little odd the next day – slight disequilibrium, but nothing that would have kept me out of work, had it been a work day. (We were required to get the injection when we had the following two days off, so if there were side effects we wouldn’t use sick leave.) My arm ached like from a flu shot. The second one came with no side effects – until after the 72 hours we were supposed to be watching for said effects. Then I had a headache for 10 days. It is gone now. Again, nothing to keep me from normal life; just an annoyance.