Not Your Typical Frosty: How to Geek-ify Your Snowman!

leprechaun snowmen
Leprechaun snowmen. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Every winter, the kids and I eagerly await a snowstorm big enough to build a snowman or two or three. We live in central North Carolina, and sometimes we are quite disappointed as storms miss us to the north or south or just plain fizzle out on approach. When that right storm finally hits… you know the one! …we can’t wait to get out there and play in the snow. We’re a full-immersion family doing everything from sledding, hiking, and birdwatching to, of course, building a snowman. But they aren’t always your typical snowmen. Here’s a visual tour of some of the typical and not so typical things you can do to build your own snowman.

Even before there were kids, I was out every snowstorm building at least a basic snowman. I know the neighbors thought I was crazy out there in the cold by myself, but my inner child just would not be denied. Lifting that third snowball on top is a heavy job and takes a bit of determination, but it’s worth it.

Bringing out my inner child, 2000. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

After the kids came along, I had help, and snowman building took on a whole new purpose…delighting the kids and passing down the joys of seeing a snowman come to life. I’ll never forget making my son’s first snowman. There was barely enough snow, and I had to work extra hard to pack it together. The snowman ended up dirty with leaves mixed in, but the smile on my son’s face was worth the effort. Tip: When you can’t find a hat, try an oil funnel.

first snowman
Joey’s first snowman, 2005. Photo: Maryann Goldman.
Johnny’s first snowman, 2009. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Like mother, like sons. There’s nothing quite like the pride of building your own snowman and then posing for a picture with your creation.

Typical snowman, 2014. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

But why build a typical snowman when you can geek it up a bit?!? We started raiding the Halloween costume bin for snowman dress-up ideas. There were pirates. Ahoy, matey!

Pirate snowman. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Pirate snowman, 2014. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

And there were clowns. Color rules in the winter landscape.

clown snowman
Clown snowman, 2014. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

There were even leprechauns.

leprechaun snowman
Leprechaun snowman, 2015. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

And the “This one looks like me, Mom” snowman. “See the pine straw hair? Really!”

Does it look like me? Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Don’t forget the M&M guy. Snow makes a great filler!

M&M snowman
M&M snowman. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

GeekMom Sophie shared this snowman, complete with Jayne hat. Did you know a snowman might enjoy cosplay, too?

Snowman with Jayne hat. Photo: GeekMom Sophie
Snowman with Jayne hat. Photo: GeekMom Sophie.

Snow too dry to pack? No worries! Use your mop bucket, 5-gallon bucket, rope bucket, or even a trash can. You might need a little help filling and packing, though!

Fill that bucket! Photo: Maryann Goldman
Fill that bucket! Photo: Maryann Goldman.
Packing assistance. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Packing assistance. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Remember the R2-D2 trash can Halloween costume? Well, you can make your own astromech droid snowmen with your trash can and some colored electrical tape.

trash can snowman builder
Trash can to build astromech droids. Photo: Maryann Goldman.
Astromech droid family. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Astromech droid family. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

For some extra flare, you can even add glow sticks. Getting the tape to stay on your creation can be a bit tricky. I used toothpicks.

glow stick astromech snowman
Glow stick astromech droids. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Inspired to go build your own snowman? Still need more ideas? Raid your costume and dress-up bins. Scrounge around your house for unique-shaped containers that can be packed with snow to create something more than your typical 3-high snowman. Keep an eye out at your local thrift store for extra scarves, hats, vests, and mittens. Dig in your craft closet for buttons, pins, and beads. Your imagination is the only limit.

I have several ideas on my future snowmen list. I’d like to build Uncle Sam, try Wilton cake pans as molds, use plastic food storage containers to make bricks, and experiment with food color water spray.

As Frosty sang, “Don’t you cry. I’ll be back again some day.

snowman gone
Snowman gone. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

How to Survive Snow Shoveling Season

snow shoveling
Photo by Jackie Reeve.

It’s been a wet and snowy winter, and while my heart is plotting spring adventures, my brain reminds me that it is, in fact, only February. We have not seen the last of snow, and I’m starting to wonder if the whole “March goes in like a lion, out like a lamb” thing will be more applicable to April this year.


So, here are some tips for surviving the rest of the snowy season. And I don’t mean the snow angels and snowmen season of kids frolicking and having the time of their lives when school is closed. I mean the “I have to get to work and my driveway looks like an Ice Road Truckers route” kind of snowy season.

Artisanal marshmallows. You’re a grownup, but that doesn’t mean hot chocolate isn’t still the greatest thing about a snowstorm. If you want to tszuj up a cup of cocoa, try some fancy marshmallows. Whimsy & Spice make amazing fluffy squares in flavors like cardamom and maple. Keep a stash in your desk at work or in your cabinets at home for when you need some relief from cleaning off your car or shoveling the white stuff.

Get out the snow paint. Fill some squeeze bottles with water and food coloring, and get the kids to help you decorate your driveway and yard. This will in no way change the fact that the driveway still has to be cleared, but you’ll have a much more festive view when you do get around to it.

Invest in a UE Megaboom. Clearing snow deserves its own anthemic soundtrack. The UE Megaboom ($299.99) is a 360-degree portable speaker with a waterproof and stain-resistant skin. That means it can hold its own against splashes of snow and road salt while spreading sound throughout the neighborhood.

Logitech Megaboom
Screenshot by Jackie Reeve, from

The Megaboom is lightweight and delivers a surprising amount of bass for a Bluetooth speaker. It comes in a bunch of bright colors, and it does not come in white. This is an instant pick-me-up when the latest snowmageddon covers the world like the White Witch from Narnia has paid a visit (winter all the time and never Christmas… sounds like January and February to me!).

The Bluetooth range is 100 feet, so you can keep your phone in your pocket while you work. Park this speaker on your porch or in your garage, and play loud and epic music while you shovel. Like “Eye of the Tiger,” or Pat Benatar, or something. At the very least, get in the Super Mario Bros. theme, and don’t mind those looks from the neighbors. You have got this!

megaboom in a storm
Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Wax your snow shovel. Here’s a tip from This Old House: Put two thick coats of car wax on the business end of your snow shovel, and no more sticking snow when you’re clearing your front walk. Genius.

Build an igloo with the leftover snow. That snow has to go somewhere. Instead of piling it at the curb or on the front lawn, try this igloo tutorial from Your Modern Family. This is also an incentive to get the kids to grab a spare shovel and help.

Bake cookies and bring beer to the neighbor on your street with the biggest snowblower. In my experience, those who buy large, powerful pieces of outdoor equipment are dying to use them. All. Over. The. Neighborhood.

When all else fails and you simply cannot face that driveway one more time, ply this neighbor with sugar and booze… but not right before he (or she!) is set to go out and plow. Drop by the night before a storm with provisions to see them through it, and chances are you’ll have your driveway cleared for you by morning. This strategy works equally well in the summer for the neighbor who has a rider mower. You’ll thank me later.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

What to Do When Winter Storm Juno Hits

All Images: Sarah Pinault

Despite the barrage of news stories about how off track meteorologists were with the weather report for New York last week, up here in Maine they were spot on, if not a little light. We were supposed to get up to 24 inches, and by the time we were done it was more like 34. My husband went out three times to clear the snow, for fear that it would be too much for our snowblower once the storm was done.

We ended up having three snow days this week, for which a rather rambunctious five year old was kept cooped up. As he tends to get a little surly over movies and video games at the moment, we are severely limiting screen time right now. So what do you do for 12 waking hours when you are trapped inside? Turns out, there are a lot of household items easily adaptable to some serious playtime.

1. Masking Tape. We discovered the joys of masking tape last winter. You can play hopscotch, make a “corn” maze, make a city scape for cars, or make a railroad for trains. You can also tape children to support beams so that they can pretend to be The Incredible Hulk and bust out of said tape. You can create a laser security system in the hallway, and either tear through it (because you are still pretending to be The Incredible Hulk), or you can navigate your way through as a jewel thief or secret agent. Be wary of wooden floors, though. We now have a permanent hopscotch field where the masking tape peeled up tiny fibers of our wooden flooring.

2. Cotton Balls. Oh cotton balls, these can be so much fun during a storm. Pile a stack of pillows up between two halves of the room and have a good old fashioned indoor snowball fight. They aren’t cold, they don’t hurt, and you can throw so many of them at one time. You can hold them in front of a fan and make it snow, you can stick them to paper airplanes and see if they fall off mid-flight. You can make snowman with them, you can pretend to roast marshmallows with them. They can also be used in conjunction with…

3. Pool Noodles. Not just for summer days at the pool, these are great indoor tools if you don’t mind cutting a few in half. Did you know that a cotton ball fits perfectly inside the hollow middle of a pool noodle, and that when you blow into that pool noodle the cotton ball shoots across the room at ridiculously high speeds? Entertainment gold right here. And it doesn’t matter if the cotton balls hit anything; nothing is going to break because of a cotton ball. Something might get broken when using the pool noodles as light sabers, for karate practice, or when pretending to be He-Man, though.

4. Food Coloring. I can seriously get away with pulling this out and not using it in cookies or cupcakes, if I will just add a drop or two to a bowl of water and let my kids play with some Tupperware. It is quite ridiculous how long this will entertain them. Adding different colors mid play session ramps it up a notch and keeps them interested for longer. Very little clean up too, just drain the sink and wipe out quickly.

5. Blankets and Pillows. Never underestimate the power of a blanket fort to entertain. Especially a blanket fort with four walls and a roof that allows for the rare privilege of using a flashlight in the house during the day time. Blanket forts are an almost daily occurrence in our house, whether group homes or individual fortresses of solitude.

6. Paper. This may seem like an obvious one, but paper airplanes are often the way to go. I’m not talking an 8.5 by 11 standard plane here. Check out the recycling bucket, and experiment. Which types of paper or cardboard make the best planes, what type of material flies farther or fastest, which one folds best? You can take the simple activity of folding and flying a paper airplane and turn it into an hour long science experiment.

For a more extensive list of things to cure cabin fever check out GeekMom Laura’s list of forty cures. I know that people don’t just suffer with snow at this time of year. These activities will work really well in the mid-summer heat when you are trapped inside by heat waves and air conditioners too.

Beautiful Dendrites: Snowflake Science

Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Photo: Patricia Vollmer

As I’m sitting hunkered down in my Colorado house while the temperatures are expected to remain below 0 degrees F for the next 48 hours, I try to remember that during weather like this, Mother Nature keeps some serious beauty up her sleeves in the form of gorgeous snowflakes. This is one of my favorite parts of meteorology—the fascinating things water can do!

About 20 years ago, in one of my undergraduate meteorology classes, I was taught the temperature ranges at which snowflakes will form their different potential shapes. I remember getting tested on the information, too.

“At what temperature ranges will capped columns form?”

Heck if I know now, but I can find out with the click of a button….this is from Wikipedia’s entry on snow:

The shape of the snowflake is determined broadly by the temperature and humidity at which it is formed. The most common snow particles are visibly irregular. Planar crystals (thin and flat) grow in air between 0 °C (32 °F) and −3 °C (27 °F). Between −3 °C (27 °F) and −8 °C (18 °F), the crystals will form needles or hollow columns or prisms (long thin pencil-like shapes). From −8 °C (18 °F) to −22 °C (−8 °F) the shape reverts back to plate-like, often with branched or dendritic features. At temperatures below −22 °C (−8 °F), the crystal development becomes column-like, although many more complex growth patterns also form such as side-planes, bullet-rosettes and also planar types depending on the conditions and ice nuclei. If a crystal has started forming in a column growth regime, at around −5 °C (23 °F), and then falls into the warmer plate-like regime, then plate or dendritic crystals sprout at the end of the column, producing so called “capped columns.”

I found the description of the specific kind of dendrite I photographed, thanks to Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht of CalTech; it’s called a fernlike stellar dendrite:

Sometimes the branches of stellar crystals have so many side branches they look a bit like ferns, so we call them fernlike stellar dendrites. These are the largest snow crystals, often falling to earth with diameters of 5 mm or more. In spite of their large size, these are single crystals of ice — the water molecules are lined up from one end to the other. Some snowfalls contain almost nothing but stellar dendrites and fernlike stellar dendrites. It can make quite a sight when they collect in vast numbers, covering everything in sight. The best powder snow, where you sink to your knees while skiing, is made of stellar dendrites. These crystals can be extremely thin and light, so they make a low density snowpack.

This morphology diagram seems to sum it up pretty well:

Photo Credit: Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht, Caltech Department of Physics, used with permission.

Here are some fernlike stellar dendrite pictures I took in Bellevue, Nebraska in January 2010 when the temperature was around 0F, and they are the prettiest dendrites I’ve seen with my own eyes (rather than in a book). I used the digital macro setting on my camera, a Canon PowerShot SD1200IS (a camera I no longer have, but it’s one of the best point-and-shoots I’ve ever used). I wish I had the fortitude to take more pictures, but it was so incredibly cold, my hands couldn’t manipulate the camera for very long. Isn’t science beautiful?

Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Photo: Patricia Vollmer
IMG_8629 (1)
Photo: Patricia Vollmer


15 Smarty Pants Ways to Enjoy Snow

Save some coldness for summer. (CC by 2.0  dumbledad)
Explore science, art, and more through snow. Image: CC by 2.0 dumbledad’s flickr photostream.

There’s much more to snow than its seasonal good looks. Enjoy all of those lovely piles of frozen water vapor with some brain-boosting activities.

1. Identify snowflakes. Look carefully at snowflakes that fall on your sleeve or cling to your window. Although no two snowflakes are alike, there are basic shapes. 

snow activities, learn from snow, snow learning activities,
IDing snowflakes. Image:

 2. Stalk snowflakes. Go outside with a sheet of black paper, a good way to see individual shapes. You can even hunt for specific snowflake types. Take along Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes. You can make quick sketches (still quite possible with mittens) in a journal. Enough snowflake stalking and you may I.D. quite a few.

Snow detective work. (Image: Voyageur Press)
Snow detective work. Image: Voyageur Press.

3. Photograph snowflakes. Snowflakes seem to be everywhere, but they’re reluctant to pose for photos. They twirl away in the wind, clump together, or simply melt when you breathe on them. Persistence is the key. Get out there when flakes are falling slowly and there’s little to no wind. If you keep your camera out, you’ll be ready to capture that brief moment when you can see individual flakes on your jacket.

You might want to put a little planning in place to make those shots more likely. We’ve had some success with this method. Take heavy dark blue or black plastic outdoors (we use a garbage can set on its side). Place it in a bright area without shadows and let it chill to air temperature. Then, quickly photograph flakes as they settle on the surface. It’s best if you keep the camera on a tripod and use a telephoto setting. Chances are you’ll get a few good images.

photograph snowflakes,
Snowflakes on jacket. Image: CC by 2.0 jenny mcflint.

4. Make paper snowflakes. Lacy snowflake cut-outs dangling from thread are classic winter decorations. Plus, they have a lot to teach us about symmetry—and patience. For ideas, check out easy paper snowflakes from coffee filters or more exacting snowflake designs.  At my house, we like to skip all design recommendations. Just fold, cut, and unfold. The results are likely to be as unique as, well, a snowflake.

Classic winter decoration. (
Classic winter decoration. Image:

5. Learn snow symbols. There are  100 weather symbols used in meteorology. Snow symbols jump around, starting with number 22, which is pretty much an asterisk followed by a square bracket. Right now out my window, we’re experiencing #72 conditions.

Snow symbols. This is #72. Image:

6. Grow your own snowflakes. This experiment calls for things we don’t usually have around the house like Styrofoam cups, soda bottles, and dry ice. But it’s worth it for the chance to briefly impersonate Boreas, the ancient Greek god of winter. You might also want to grow salt crystals, borax crystals , alum crystals, or the ever-reliable rock candy.

Rock candy. (CC by 2.0 gazeronly)
Rock candy. Image: CC by 2.0 gazeronly.

7. Chill out with some snowflake history. Wilson A. Bentley, a homeschooled Vermont farm boy born in 1865, became an amateur scientist and artist whose work remains a standard in the field.  Younger children will enjoy learning about him in Snowflake Bentley, while teens and adults will get a lot out of The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley. And stop in to see his original photos at the Jericho Historical Society, if you ever find yourself near Bentley’s hometown of Jericho, Vermont.  

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley. (
Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley. Image:

8. Shovel snow. It’s a great workout for the whole family. It’s also a warm act of kindness to surprise a neighbor with a shoveled drive, particularly for folks who are unwell or home with a new baby. For some reason, it’s even more fun to do this sort of favor secretly, so if you know the elderly couple next door won’t be home for a few hours, it’s a great time to dash over there with shovels. (There are plenty of other great ways to volunteer with kids, too.)

Snow workout. (Image:
Snow workout. Image:

9. Build a snow fort. A snowdrift or a nice pile of snow from all of that shoveling is the perfect way to start. If there’s not enough snow, just hollow out a kid-sized space in the snow and anchor a sheet with a few snowballs to make a temporary roof.

Easy snow fort. (CC by 2.9  popofatticus)
Easy snow fort. Image: CC by 2.9

10. Look into flaky science. Do snowflakes always have six branches? Are most snowflakes damaged before they land? What are the chances a similar snowflake has fallen in Earth’s history? Delve into these books to find out. Kids 4 to 7 will enjoy The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s WonderThe Snowflake : A Water Cycle Story, and a glimpse into where wild creatures handle winter in Under the SnowKids 8 to 12 will enjoy The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes.

Cool titles. (
Cool titles. Image:

11. Make snow candy.  It’s unusual, memorable, and very sweet. Try the maple syrup method.

All natural! (CC by 2.0 the seafarer)
All natural! Image: CC by 2.0 the seafarer.

12. Mix up some snow ice cream. Try vanillachocolate peanut butter, or chocolate peppermint. Be sure to mix up all of the ingredients in advance, then go collect clean snow to mix in. Otherwise it’s a melty mess.

Tasty and melty. (
Tasty and melty. Image:

13. Conduct the Clean Snow Experiment. You may want to do this before making maple sugar candy or snow ice cream. All you need is a coffee filter and some melted snow to examine what particulates lurk in that white fluff.  It may deter you from eating snow and snow-related goodies, it may not.

Snowy crystals. (Image:
Snowy crystals. Image:

 14. Read wintry fiction. For the littlest ones, try board books like Winter Friends and Snowflake BabyFor kids 3 to 7, snuggle up to read Snow (by Cynthia Rylant), Snow (by Uri Shulevitz), and an enduring classic, The Big Snow. Wintry YA books include The Left Hand of DarknessThe Boy on the BridgeSnow-walker, and Trapped

Cooperation in the forest. (Image:
wiki Cooperation in the forest. Image:

15. Freeze snowballs. Time to stock up. Get out there and pack lots of nice tight snowballs to save for those long snow-free months. If you have lots of room, let each member of the family freeze and label his or her personal bag of snowballs. Wait patiently. Then on the steamiest, most uncomfortable day of summer, get those snowballs out. You’ll find something to do with them, guaranteed.

Stockpile snow now. (
Stockpile snow now. Image: