Classic Caterpickles: The Bubonic Snowflake & other perils of Snowpocalyse 2013

We’re moving again later this spring. We’re pretty excited about our new place and are full of grand plans to repaint its walls, remodel its bathrooms, and refinish its floors. So while I don’t have to deal with movers quite yet, I am spending totally inappropriate amounts of time with contractors expressing completely appropriate amounts of shock over their bids, and adjusting to the new reality that Life’s Little Pleasures must now all be calculated in terms of rooms which we could otherwise paint, and judged accordingly.

  • Dinner for two at the Rosebud Steakhouse: 14.5% of a bedroom (Not gonna happen)
  • A new dishwasher: 67% of a kitchen (Here’s hoping that old Lady Kenmore’s got a few more months in her)
  • My cousin’s latest book: 2.25% of a laundry room (That one’s clearly worth it. Yay, Michele!)

All of which is a very long-winded way to say, “I’m distracted, here’s a Classic End of Winter Caterpickle to tide you over.”

Originally published February 8, 2013.

The Snowpocalyse is upon us. When The Five-Year-Old and I heard that Governor Patrick had ordered the roads in Boston had closed to all non-emergency travelers, we decided to take a walk. Before you call the Governor to report us, this is what our neighborhood looked like at the time.

FallenBranchSmallerClearly, there wasn’t much going on. The news made it sound like it might be our last chance to get out for a while, so we wanted to make the most of it.

Plus The Five-Year-Old had some work to do.

Daddyo has been openly planning to make snow cream all week. My kitchen counter has been taken over by a small platoon of sweetened condensed milk. If the supplies are any indication, he’s planning to make use of every inch of the two feet of snow we’re expected to get here over the 24 hours.

All the talk of snow cream has made The Five-Year-Old pretty eager for the storm to arrive, as you might imagine. As soon as she saw the first flakes starting to fall, she ran outside with her little blue cup to collect enough snow to get a head start on treat.

The results were suboptimal.

SnowcreamFailFor The Five-Year-Old, anyway. Mommyo was pretty happy about all the running around required to collect those few drops of water.

Fortunately for The Five-Year-Old, Daddyo had better luck. He’s clearly fished for snow before.


Add a little sweetened condensed milk and some vanilla and what have you got?

SnowcreamSNOW CREAM! Ah, sweet nectar of the Snowpocalypse. Totally worth the inner chill that sends you scurrying under the nearest blanket after you’ve eaten it. And that slightly unsettled feeling you get while waiting to find out whether the e. coli that live in the upper atmosphere and form the basis of snowflakes are the sort that will kill you or not.

Daddyo: “Wait. Are you telling me that you can stick out your tongue to catch a snowflake and get the plague?”

Fortunately for us snowflake catchers and snow cream connoisseurs, Georgia Tech microbiologist Kostas Konstantinidis thinks that the vast majority of the bacteria living in snowflakes are harmless.  Of course, he’s not completely done analyzing his sample of snow-encrusted bacteria yet. He could still find some pathogens in there, and if so, he says, that could affect the way disease spreads through the world.

Daddyo: “Bubonic snowflakes. Awesome. How has the human race survived?”


Oh what a difference 24 hours makes. The (then) Five-Year-Old provided for scale. The drift behind her is our Camry.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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