LAST WEEK'S ice storm transformed our town into a winter wonderland, changing bare branches into gorgeous crystal creations.
But with power outages and schools closed throughout the county, regular routines were disrupted.
Between closings because of icy weather and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, schoolchildren in Howard County found themselves with an unexpected five-day weekend.
For the youngsters, a snow day is an opportunity to miss school and play outside. But when school is canceled because of ice, it's a different story.
Families cooped up in the house together develop cabin fever.
Dorsey's Search resident MaryJo McBride is the mother of Brent, 7, Austin, 5, and Carly, 2.
On Friday, when everything was frozen, McBride said, "I think it's been great. We've played Nintendo and stayed in our pajamas all day.
"We've had some rough moments, though," she added. "The tough part is not being able to get outside. We feel trapped. I reach a point when the walls start coming in on me."
And, she says, her little daughter sometimes needed to be rescued from her siblings.
"I take Carly upstairs, and we count lipsticks," McBride said. "Between the two of us, I think we have about 10 coats of clear nail polish on."
Wilde Lake resident Betsi Jones relied on art projects and games to keep her children -- Nicole, 9, Elijah, 3, and Stanford-Chase, almost 2 -- occupied.
"I have an art box filled with things like glitter and glue that I pull out in emergencies," she said.
"Normally, I try to go to the grocery store by myself," Jones said Saturday, when things had just started to melt, "but the kids desperately need to get out, so today we're planning a family outing to the grocery."
A different perspective
Noel Richman, teacher for the Gifted and Talented program at Swansfield Elementary School, saw the snow days from a different perspective.
She and her husband, Sam -- a teacher at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County -- use snow days to catch up on schoolwork and take care of business that has been neglected at home.
"This is a gift of time that we normally don't get," Noel Richman said.
In the past, she said, "I've used time on snow days to paint the bathroom and make valances for the windows."
Last week, she was planning to use the days off to calculate grades for her students.
The second grading period ended Friday.
With more than 21,000 Howard County homes still without power Saturday from the ice storm, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Hickory Ridge residents Rick and Mary Patrick were among those out that day trying to cope with the lack of electricity and heat.
They stood in line Saturday morning on the Mall in Columbia parking lot with about 500 others, waiting for dry ice to save the food in their refrigerators and freezers.
The Patricks waited for more than an hour for the dry ice distributed by BGE.
Their house lost power at 4: 45 a.m. Friday, Mary Patrick said.
Her husband added, "The worst part is not knowing how long the power will be out."
The Patrick family -- including sons David, 15, Tim, 13, and Andrew, 9 -- kept warm in sleeping bags near the fireplace.
They used a camping stove to cook some of their meals and a camping lantern to light their home.
Mary Patrick said, "I told the kids that this is what memories are made of. We're working together as a family to see this through and still try to have some fun."
David Patrick was using the time without electricity to catch up on some reading, his mother said.
Tim practiced his flute, and Andrew gave his GameBoy hand-held video game a workout.
Kings Contrivance resident Scott Pruett spent Saturday volunteering for the Red Cross at Florence Bain Senior Center in Harper's Choice village.
The center was designated as an emergency shelter for people whose homes had no power.
Pruett said six people came in on Friday. Three stayed through the night.
The Red Cross provided cots, food and "a warm, safe environment to wait out the storm," Pruett said.
The Clark Kent look-alike added that he enjoys volunteering for the Red Cross because "it gives me the opportunity to play Superman."
River Hill resident Peter McCabe is the Red Cross Disaster Assistance Team coordinator for Howard County.
McCabe said the Red Cross also had a shelter set up Friday at Howard High School.
Volunteers from the Red Cross and members of Explorer Search & Rescue Post 616 helped staff the emergency shelter at Howard High.
Another Red Cross volunteer, Dorsey's Search resident Stephen Day, was staffing the shelter at Florence Bain on Friday night and noticed that one family was concerned about the pets they had to leave behind.
The Red Cross does not allow pets in its emergency shelters.
Day called Petsmart on Snowden River Parkway in Columbia and asked for help.
B J Rogers, a store manager, contacted corporate headquarters in Arizona and got permission to open the store for owners and their pets who needed shelter.