I have been pretty much way into crossword puzzles the past few months.  Late this summer I purchased a book of 300 crossword puzzles and scribbled away every day.  I just completed them all, and that includes going back to the few I skipped and completing those.  I have a few more shorter books of them but I just got introduced to KENKEN.

This was a holiday gift from my wife, who was aware of my puzzle fanaticism and who thought I might enjoy the new challenge.  I have.  I have been somewhat into Sudoku, a craze that most people are aware of by now.  KENKEN is similar to Sudoku (a 9×9 grid with some of the boxes filled with numbers, the goal being to fill in all the boxes without repeating a number in any horizontal row, vertical row or smaller 3×3 grid).    The difference here is that some math is involved.

The book I have starts with easy puzzles.  The grids are 3×3.  I blasted through them but they gave me a sense of how to solve the puzzles.  The book ends with 5×5 puzzles.  These are still relatively easy and I am afraid I will have to advance to more difficult ones.  Here is a fairly easy example (from

Easier KENKEN Puzzle

Easier KENKEN Puzzle

And here is a more difficult example (from Wikipedia):

A Tougher One

A Tougher One

As you can see, the first one has simple addition and subtraction, while the second one also contains multiplication and division.  I am ready to leap fully into those.

So far I have done well but I am still working on the easier puzzles.  I will need to go out and get a more advanced book.  I am hooked.  Sudoku is fine.  I have had some fun with that.  But I never got jazzed on it the way I am with these.  I will not give up on crossword puzzles.  I still have lots of those in the house to work on.  I will, however, be busy with KENKEN for a while.

Second Christmas

We just came back from a trip down south, to Connecticut.  I grew up there and my parents and some siblings and other relatives live there, so we visited for our second Christmas.  Every year my parents host Christmas the weekend after the “real” Christmas.  This has several benefits:

1. Those of us with various family wings can worry less about the conflict of who to see.  In our house we have decided that Christmas Day we do not travel.  We stay at home, share gifts, have a fine dinner and play.  We do not, however, have to worry about a long drive, so Christmas Eve we can see my in-laws.

2. Those of us who work where there are no true holidays (my mother and brother work for a nursing home) can offer to work so someone else can take the day off.  This feels pretty good and is a great gift.

3. We can do things for others.  My sister, for example, volunteered at a homeless shelter on Christmas.

4. If we have procrastinated, and we have enough of a buffer, we can get some steals on post-holiday sales.

I admit that I have not taken advantage of this last one, but still, it could happen.

We had a good long day for our second Christmas.  It felt like a major bonus for our children who got more gifts from Santa and all their various relatives on my side of the family.  We ate together and laughed and had a generally grand time.  Three of my four siblings were there (the other lives on the west coast) so it was a full house.

But wait, there’s more.  On Sunday we made another full day of it.  We took the children to the museums in Springfield, Massachusetts, just over the state line.  Somehow we managed to hit it right and got to wander the science museum just before a puppet show began.  It was put on by a traveling performance group and was targeted at children.  It was a hit.  We had time to check out the Dr. Seuss sculptures (he was born and lived in Springfield) one more time before heading home.

We had some time before heading out to Friendly’s for dinner.  This was a treat for the children, really.  They got to eat french fries AND ice cream sundaes.  What could be better?  It was actually the same establishment where I had my first paycheck job (I had paper routes before that), flipping burgers and manning the frialator.  Ah, the times I remembered.

Then, the finale to the day, we went to the Connecticut Trolley Museum for their winter fest event.  The place was decked out in holiday lights, including lights across all the power poles on the trolley lines.  Four trolleys ran the out and back route, under the lights.  It looked like a tunnel of color in the darkness.  When they switched the power pole on top of the trolley to go from one direction to the other, we were all in the dark.  No one working said anything about this, at least not right away, so everyone was quiet.  It was peaceful, fitting for the season.

My son was a huge fan of the exhibit hall, where two trolleys are indoors and a dozen or so electric train and trolley sets zoom in their loops.  There were trains of all sizes and they were dressed in holiday garb.  One train looped through Santa’s village with elves and snow and workshops and all.  Sure, I was pretty into it as well.  And it was festive.  A woman with a guitar sang carols, lights decked the hall, and several Christmas trees glowed in the corners.  There were kids all about and everyone seemed to be having a blast.

Back home today, after a long drive, we have to settle into post-Christmas.  We have some things to put away, some things to assemble, and some things to recycle.  We have a task list for the rest of our holiday break, and some good friends on the way in a couple of days.  Lots to do, lots to enjoy, lots to think about.  Both Christmases were as good as they get.  And two is enough.


Finger Painting

Finger Painting

It was a chilly one this morning. Frost covered everything. Snug in our house, we realized it was so cold when we looked at the thermometer right before I went out to haul in some firewood. The thermometer had a low number: 3

It was beautiful when the sun rose. Frost covered everything and the low red sun turned the thick ice pink. Milton’s rosy fingers of dawn tickled the landscape.

Frosty Twigs

Frosty Twigs

More Frosty Twigs

More Frosty Twigs

Santa in the House

Evidence of the Fat Man's Presence

Evidence of the Fat Man's Presence

We had a classic Christmas here at our house. Our children were pumped up on treats and gifts. As it should be. Santa came in the night and did his thing. We all benefited from his visit.

The parents were awake (5:30) before the youngsters (6:00 for one, 7:00 for the other) and we got started early. Snow showers fell during the critical morning hours to lend to the air of Christmas, but it was warm enough for some icy outdoor play after lunch. In the afternoon, both my wife and I even managed to fit in a run on this not quite frozen day.

The kids opened gifts all morning. We tried to keep it going slowly. We did not stick to the one-at-a-time everyone-goes-in-turn method employed when I grew up. We will do that in time, but it just feels wrong to keep small children from enjoying the thrill of unwrapping.

By request, we had pizza for lunch. We had out usual dinner of mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, peas and roasted maple butternut squash. That went down just fine. I realized that I did not have any candy until I had a half dozen M&M’s as I was making dinner. I did, however, have a vanilla Coke.

My daughter was so tuckered from going to bed late, rising early, and playing hard all day, that she was asleep by about 5:30. Her brother followed about an hour later. They couldn’t have had a better time. They don’t usually squabble, but had nary a disagreement all day.

Maybe we need to do this every day.

Snow Piled Up

Snow on the Roof

Snow on the Roof

We got lots of snow over the past few days.  Today the sun shines.  I have been noticing how the snow has gathered on roofs.  On many of them, it sits in even layers.  On some it lies deep on one side and shallow on the other, the wind having brushed it off on the east side.  Some sport wavy combinations of both.

I keep watching the forecast.  It looks like rain tomorrow.  After all this snow, that is hard to take.  It is a bother on any winter day, but to get rain on top of all this amazing snow on Christmas Eve, well, that is a straight up bummer.  If we get rain, we will still have a fine holiday.  And if we don’t I will consider it a gift.

Until then, I’ve got some admirin’ to do.

Deep on the Eave

Deep on the Eave

Holiday Cards Again

We got our holiday cards in the mail early this year–so early, in fact, that many people who received them have commented that ours was the first they received.  Huzzah for our gang.  But we have received few.  I have been curious about this so here are my theories why we are not getting those cheery holiday greetings in the numbers we once did:

Theory 1:  Our cards suck as badly as my wife suggested-without-saying-out-loud they do.  She did not get a chance to approve the final version before I ordered them, so maybe my eye for the appropriateness of our photos or layout is truly poor.  Those who received them, even if they had considered sending us one, were offended by the contrast of the red background against the color of the beach foam in photo #2, and opted to put us on their naughty list.  Hence, no card.

Theory 2:  OK our cards don’t suck so badly; I was just reading into my wife’s initial reaction because of my deepest fears of being accepted by her, still, after all these years.  However, red is a color that makes people angry.  So everyone who received a card from us is angry that we got ours out so early and they did not.  “Why do those people have all that time on their hands that they can deal with holiday cards in frikkin November?” they ask and there we are, off their list.

Theory 3:  People hate us.  After all those years of pretending, they finally have had enough.  Obama got elected.  Gas prices are down.  Ben and Jerry’s is offering a peach flavored ice cream in December, for cripes sake.  With all the good news, why keep up the charade any longer?

Theory 4:  People love us.  They love us so much that they understand the turmoil we face when receiving holiday cards.  Should we hang the cards on the wall?  Should we spread them across the desk?  Should be put them in a festive basket to flip through in idle moments?  And what do we do with them after the holidays?  Should we recycle them?  Can we recycle those photo cards?  And what will people think if they find out we kept someone else’s and not theirs?  “They don’t need that extra stress,” our friends think, “so I just won’t send them a card this year.”

Theory 5:  People are finally catching on to our wasteful society.  We print the cards, send them great distances using gads of fossil fuels, then enjoy them for only a short time.  And it isn’t just holiday cards.  In their new-found awareness of our throwaway culture, our family and friends are cancelling magazine subscriptions, calling to get off catalog mailing lists, and threatening the Geico gecko with snakes and dogs if he sends any more unsolicited mail.  It isn’t personal.  It’s just wasteful.

Theory 6:  It’s the economy.  I know gas prices are down but the stock market is, too.  Since most people depend on the value of equities for their daily income, they suddenly have half what they did last year at this time.  With General Motors on the verge of collapse and Toyota facing its first loss in 70 years, who can afford $1.95 for a holiday card to some schmucks they haven’t seen in how long?  Plus there’s that 42 cent stamp to slap on the envelope.  Come on people. Be a little sensitive here.

Theory 7:  While we were not paying attention, all of our friends and family became the top players at Goldman Sachs.  About 50 people each earned $20 million dollars there in 2006.  We sent about 5o holiday cards.  If all of our cards went to those people, then they are not earning those same salaries any longer.  So, duh, they can’t afford to send us cards this year.  I feel bad for them, but I guess I understand.  Only, why don’t you tell somebody when you start making that much dough?  Or when you stop making that much dough?

Theory 8, the Reality Theory:  People are just busy.  I get it that sending cards is easy to put off.  I get it that the holidays sneak up.  I get it that the kids keep asking for another snack when, for gods’ sake, they just had a snack.  Life keeps going, even with people like us demanding those once-a-year updates.  Why do you think I made sure to get them out so early?  If I had waited, the arguments about why you can’t have another candy cane or just one more of those foiled wrapped balls even though that weird chewy christmas tree shaped gummi thing really was kind of small would be too distracting for me to even think about that crap.

At this point I have yet to test any of these theories.  Once I get around to employing the scientific method and figuring out which one, if any, is the right one, I will report back.  But I am guessing I won’t get to that until after the holidays.

Holiday Shopping Zaniness

Yesterday afternoon I had the bright idea to go get some food so we are ready for all our holiday baking and cooking and general whipping-up of foodstuffs, and to pick up some stocking stuffers while I was out.  I could head to Dorset Street and get everything done in one shot since so many stores are so densely packed.  It would a quick and efficient trip.  Good idea.  Didn’t happen.

I crossed the Maginot line of Kennedy Drive and was soon battling traffic.  Cars were packed in every lane, both ways.  I was stuck.  Even if I could turn around, I would be inching along.  So I kept going.  I listened to a variety of odd holiday songs (Hanukkah in Santa Monica, Steven Colbert’s new holiday tribute) and laughed and jotted down some songs to download on i-Tunes.  Eventually I made it to the supermarket.

Of course, I had to navigate the parking lot (I parked far away so I wouldn’t have to jostle for a spot) then walk across the slush, then elbow through the other food shoppers, then wait in line to pay.  It was holiday zaniness at its best.  The young woman at the register told me it was actually kind of calm compared to earlier.  Like I said, zaniness.

Then I had the idea to go to the mall.  The ice cream would stay frozen in the car.  It was about six degrees.  Hopeully the spinach wouldn’t get too cold.  Normally I spurn the mall–too many people, too much commercialism, too much stuff no one needs in there.  So what was I thinking?  I knew what I was seeking so how hard could it be?

The mall, of course, was jammed.  It was, as always this time of year, overwhelming.  I made only two stops, the first a dud, the second a success.  At Vermont Toy and Hobby I found the two small toys I wanted.  OK, I was looking for three, but I thought it was a pretty good success rate anyway.  I had to wait in line, of course, and their credit card machines were down.  I paid with cash.  Overall, it wasn’t difficult, just mentally taxing.

Two stops to go.  I purchased a slew of stocking stuffers at Healthy Living, then went to Barnes and Noble.  I got a couple of books for the kids, ran into some friends, and hightailed it.  I had most certainly had enough.  Spending time at one of the busiest spots in the state was probably not the best idea.  I did manage to make some gift purchases, but whoa.  As I said a few years ago, never again.

I was gone for four hours.  Normally that would have meant about 40 minutes of driving out and back.  Most of my time was spent in traffic or in line.  Nuts.  But hey, now I can stay in and make the lasagna for which I purchased the fontina that was so hard to find.  I bet it tastes pretty dang yummy.

Wretched Driving

I’ve done some driving in bad conditions. More than once I have driven in weather so bad that I stopped driving to spend the night in the middle of wherever. I have seen snow on the road.

Driving from Connecticut to Maine one time the visibility was so poor we couldn’t see the road and had to spend the night at a random hotel. Before I moved to Burlington we spent a day apartment hunting in a snowstorm. The drive back from the queen city was a slow slog on the interstate with swirling snow and cars off the road. A long drive.

Yesterday I drove from Milton to Hinesburg. That was not a speedy drive. I left later than I had planned. Get a little more work in, you’ve been there, no? I was in a windowless room, so I had no cues to how the weather had become so fierce. The snow was heavy on the car when I brushed it off and packed on the roads.

I made two stops before I hit the interstate, so I had time to consider whether I should even take the interstate. Would it be better to travel on roads where others would drive more slowly? Or should I just take the most direct route? Popping in for toilet paper (stocking up for the storm!) then filling the tank with gas (and getting a warm cup of decaf) I decided to go for the big road.

It was some of the most dreadful driving I have encountered, pretty much ever. It is not a drive for which I would have opted if I were leaving home rather than heading toward it. The worst moment of my journey last night was on a bridge, a semi passing me on the left and whooshing a cloud of snow so dense I could just see my hood. When I could see a little more clearly I was way too close to the guardrail.

I moved over soon enough.

When I finally exited that four lane highway, slowly, behind another (or perhaps the same) semi, a car too close behind me, on the icy exit ramp, I was somewhat relieved. Then I had to navigate traffic. To travel about two miles on Dorset Street took me at least an hour. I was passing the mall, along with all that other strip development, and it was the final Friday before Christmas, but still, those traffic lights slowed me down lots. The keystone light on Kennedy Drive must have cycled red and green twenty times before I drove through it.

I did make it home. The car was coated in ice and snow. I was too hot (I had to keep the heater blasting to keep the windshield from icing–it was 7 degrees out there!). I needed to take a leak. I was hungry. It was dark and late after a long work day. But I was home to a warm house and a beautiful wife and some smiling children and pizza hot from the oven.

I ran the gauntlet, and the reward was great. It is enough to make this man happy. Last night, the snow falling heavily through the darkness, I slept well. And in the morning, the snow kept falling.

Snow Still Falling in the Morning

Snow Still Falling in the Morning