Christmas at Home

We celebrate Christmas in our house. And boy do we gear up for it. The weekend after Thanksgiving we get a tree (a fir, cut from the tree farm down the road) shove into the van and set it up. By December 1st we have a trimmed tree, lights up, holiday themed dishware out on the table and more to come.

By Christmas Eve, we are ready to go–gifts wrapped, holiday music playing, a full refrigerator, stockings hung, festive as can be. So by Christmas morning the anticipation is pretty high. We spent the tail end of Christmas Eve at my sister-in-law’s place and so did not get home until later than the usual bedtime. Not that it mattered. Our kids were so excited that they had a hard time falling asleep. My son did not fall asleep until at least 11:00. He woke up around 4:00. He had the crazy idea that 4:00 was the time to get up and head downstairs. We had to put him off until 5:00. It was an early morning.

We had stockings stuffed with small gifts and opened those gifts first. We took a break for a waffle breakfast. We had a fire in the woodstove that heated things up fast–temperatures were in the forties. Some snow stayed on the ground at least. We had a lot of snow but then had two days of rain to wash most of it away. It was patchy Christmas morning but it was there at least. We opened gifts throughout the morning and early afternoon, trying to make it last. It is a pretty special day.

I took a short walk after our afternoon dinner. The breeze felt warm and clouds drifted across the gray sky. The water in the river was high with all the melted snow. Fields were flooded. A crescent moon dangled behind the clouds. The road was muddy. It was quiet. I thought about how this day is about giving and love and it made me want to simplify my life, get to what matters most more often.

The kids were asleep early. My daughter resisted the idea of going to bed earlier than usual, but she conked out pretty much immediately. My wife and I stayed up for a while, enjoying the quiet and the lights. We felt like successful parents, fostering the joy of the day, creating memories and all that. It turned out to be magical for all of us. After we turned out the lights and said goodnight to the tree, we headed to bed. It didn’t take long for us to conk out ourselves.

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Snow Day Follow-Up

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So it turns out we did have a snow day after my last post. The snow fell fast and wet and heavy overnight and it was a slick morning. Schools all over were cancelled. Only Burlington and South Burlington stayed open. They rarely close. Everyone in our house stayed put.

Everything was coated with snow because the snow was so wet when it first fell. And that wet snow was heavy, so it meant lots of dropping trees, then lots of broken branches. I walked out in it as it fell early in the morning. It was beautiful. The river gurgled under the bridge, and a few chickadees whistled. Otherwise it was quiet. Few people were out so even the sound of cars was rare. I like that kind of morning.

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Snow clinging to branches

The town plow came by a few times later in the day and we flopped around out in it for a while. As it got dark, the power went out. We rarely lose power. Green Mountain Power is great about keeping lines clear and the power on. So when we lose power it means power lines are really getting the what for.

We lit candles and stoked the wood stove and cooked pasta on the camp stove. We were cozy and set. Power did not, however, return the next morning. It was not until over 24 hours later that our lights came back on. We were fine, of course, and it made us realize how much we rely on electricity. The real bummer was not having water. Since we need electricity to pump water up from the well, no power means no water. We melted snow on the wood stove to flush toilets and we had filled a few bottles to get us by, but we did need to truly be careful with our water usage.

Many people were without power for many days. We had a second snow day and over the weekend we drove Route 17 over Appalachian Gap, the pass through the Green Mountains. We saw lots of dark houses and lots of power company trucks. We were, as always, lucky. We have nothing to complain about. We got to go skiing that weekend. We have first-world problems.

It looks like rain will wash away the snow by Christmas. We could get a couple inches of rain. That will make things soggy. It is officially winter. I wish that meant we would get only snow when precipitation fell. That, I am afraid, ain’t happening.

Droopy trees on the trail

Droopy trees on the trail

Snow Day on the Way?

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Two days ago I had the privilege to be part of a rare event. I checked the weather and noticed that a winter storm watch had been posted for later in the week. This in itself is not unusual. It is December and a storm watch is to be expected. What was special about it was that my wife had not yet noticed it.

My wife is a weather junky. Some people don’t pay attention to the weather and some people do. She falls in to the latter category. But she goes beyond just wanting to know if we will have rain later in the day. She goes to the NOAA web site and reads the meteorologist discussion page. This is where the National Weather Service meteorologists post their ideas about what they think will happen with the weather. Will the storm stall? Will the front move farther north? Will there be enough moisture to produce more or less snow? That kind of thing.

But I noticed first. That just doesn’t happen. I wish I could say it was because of some effort on my part, but frankly, it was just luck. That made me a little bit happy (well, enough for a fist pump or two) but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we are forecast to get a bunch of snow, regardless of which model is right. We might get a foot, we might get half that. Either way, it will be a snowy wonderland around here.

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Snow just starting to stick this afternoon

It started snowing early this afternoon. Rain mixed in on and off, but now that the sun has dropped, along with the temperature, we have light snow. Tonight it will come down harder. The timing could be just right for a snow day. This, of course, is exciting. I still get the thrill when I hear that school is cancelled. That just doesn’t go away I suppose. I have mixed feelings about it these days, however. Whenever school gets cancelled it is a hassle for me. I work in schools so a snow day means I have to reschedule. In a month like December, which is shortened already by the holiday break, there just aren’t many days to do that.

Whether I like it or not, however, I am still encouraged the idea of getting lots of snow. It means possibly skiing around the field and snow forts and sledding and snowballs. We were planning to go alpine skiing this coming weekend with whatever snow was available. Looks like that will work out for us pretty well.

Cold Day to Look for Birds

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December is well under way, which means I only have a few days left to see how many birds I can find in my home county. Last year my count was 174 so I wanted to best that this year. I reached that goal months ago but kept going. I figured 200 was just a little too far out of reach but as I inched closer I thought it just might be possible. Yesterday I was at 193. Today I got up to 194.

I had heard that snowy owls had been seen on the lake and I wanted to try to see one myself. I have tried to find them, but I have struck out. I headed to Sand Bar State Park early this morning even though it was cold–18 degrees–and it was windy. With ice on the lake, and the wind blowing in right off the water, it was bitterly cold. I started off well by seeing a Rough Legged Hawk. They are not common but head south to our area in the winter. I got a really close look at it so felt the morning was a win already. I also saw ten Northern Pintails, beautiful ducks with a brown face and white neck. Again, I got close enough to see them well, and ten is a lot to see at once. So I was happy enough.

As I was watching the ducks (and there were many other ducks there as well) I missed a Snowy Owl glide in and land on a log nearby. I looked up and couldn’t believe it had landed right there. I watched it through binoculars and through my spotting scope and then figured I might as well try to get closer. I walked toward it and it did not fly away. I got close enough to get the above shot.

I watched it for a while. I had seen one last winter but this was a much better sighting. The sun had come up by then and was low in the sky, so when it peeked out from the clouds, the owl was bathed in golden light. But mostly it was cloudy, and did I mention the wind? I had on lots of warm duds, including snow pants and a down jacket, but the wind managed to creep in. My hands, especially, got cold. I kept warming them and they kept getting cold. Apparently t is time to break out the thicker gloves.

The owl, and the Pintails, were still there when I walked away; I was too cold to observe any longer. I warmed up in the car and headed to the corner store for a cup of hot coffee for the ride home. The owl was still on that log, a white ghost in my rear view mirror as I drove off. All those people driving by on Route 2 couldn’t see it, but there was an unusual and beautiful creature right there if they slowed down and looked. It is easy to miss things of beauty as we race along. It was seriously cold this morning, but I am glad I slowed down to look. Six more species by the end of December? I’ve got a bit more slowing down to do in these next weeks to reach that goal.