Pushing the Season

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I wore gloves because the steering wheel was so cold. My daughter, in the passenger’s seat, covered herself in a blanket as we drove out the driveway. A couple of miles from home I glanced at the car thermometer. It had warmed up to -5ºF. Then I glanced in the rear view mirror. Following us was a guy on a motorcycle.

We were driving about 45 miles per hour at that point. It was hard to tell exactly what the guy was wearing but he was wearing white shoes–running shoes, tennis shoes, something like that. At a stop sign he pulled over to adjust his helmet, right behind us, so I could tell it was a he. At least he was wearing big fat mittens. One hardy guy, ready for spring.

A few more miles up the road I had to swing wide to pass a bicyclist. This person wore a  reflective vest similar to the one on the motorcyclist, so at least he was going for high visibility. In warm weather along that stretch I feel a sense of bafflement at why so many people on bicycles do not ride on the bike path, which is right next to the road. Why skirt auto traffic when there is a smooth and safer path right there? But today that bike path was covered in snow and ice. It was not smooth or safer. So I passed widely and offered a Godspeed. That dude was just as hardy.

I am looking forward to spring as well (although I have enjoyed skiing the field lately) but below-zero biking? Imagine standing out in below zero temperatures facing a sustained 45 mile per hour wind. That was the motorcycle dude. And a bicycle isn’t much warmer, despite the self-propulsion factor, when the temperature is so low.

Hats off to those two hardy fellows, but I have news for you. Wanting spring does not make it arrive. Acting like it is warm does not make it so. Still, I have to admire them. Even if I had extra time to bike, or was crazy enough about fuel efficiency to choose a motorcycle, I don’t think I would push the season quite so. For activities such as that, I will wait for spring to actually arrive.

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Cold Weather and Hot Cocoa

Time for Sunbathing?

The warmest temperature I saw today was 1 degree. That ain’t summer. Last night the temperature dropped below zero; at its lowest point, just before sunrise, it was -16. Like I said, that ain’t summer. Winter–full on. It was the kind of day where those thin pants are like wearing no pants, the kind of day when your breath freezes in the air. I left the house this morning, driving on the squeaking snow, and all was well. As my car warmed, the moisture inside the car unfroze, evaporated, clung to the windows, and then froze again. I couldn’t see doodly squat. I had to wait for it to thaw inside the vehicle. Cold.

I was chilly enough this evening that I craved something warm. I craved dessert, I admit, but I thought I might combine the two. So I whipped up some hot cocoa. And I’m not talking that instant add hot water junk. I’m talking genuine rich and creamy chocolate deliciousness. Here is the recipe for two servings (or one, if you use a mug as large as mine):

Hot Cocoa

Mix 2 Tablespoons cocoa and 2 Tablespoons sugar with a dash of salt.

Add 2/3 cup water and stir well.

Heat over medium heat, whisking, until mixture boils, then stir for 2 minutes.

Add 2/3 cup cream or half and half and 2/3 cup skim milk.

Heat until hot but do not boil.

Drink up, baby.

Below zero tonight and then we are back to normal winter temperatures tomorrow. Earlier in the week we were aiming to get a storm, but that will miss us. I suppose we can’t have all the extremes at once. That would be a blizzard and schools might be closed. Although, schools were closed today. Busses wouldn’t start. I wonder who got reprimanded for forgetting to plug in the engines. Or maybe it really was just too damn cold for real.

Good Day for Baking Bread

Yesterday I baked up a loaf of bread as one element of our dinner. We had a bit of a pot luck–fresh bread, soup thawed from the freezer (potato leek), black bean burritos, reheated homemade pizza, fruit. Hot from the oven, the bread was good. It was quite tasty in fact. But it wasn’t the “Oh my hot yeast-risen delights this is inspirational” good. So I thought I might try again today.

At sunrise the thermometer read zero degrees. That is cold. I was hoping for colder, but one gets what one gets. An hour after sunrise, in opposition of the typical, the temperature had dropped two degrees. Now, mid-day, we are one degree above that. The sun is out now, but the air was filled with ice crystals earlier. Sublimation, that’s what we had. So it is cold–a good day for baking bread.

The dough rises now, in a big yellow bowl that works well for just such a project. Yesterday it rose less that expected. Perhaps I added too much wheat flour, or too many oats. So I added less of both of those today. Plus more honey. I find it difficult to have enough honey in my bread. It’s not like I follow a recipe. I just start with measured amounts of water and flour and mix until it has the right consistency. In a few hours we shall see what comes of it. It will rise and we will eat it hot from the oven, in any case. On a day like today, that really can’t be beat.

Serious Cold on the Way

Sunny Winter Day, For Now

In the wee hours this morning the temperature at our house dropped to 3 degrees. We stayed above zero. The high today has been 16 degrees. Pretty standard winter situation happening. Tonight we will have some colder weather, maybe 10 below. The temperature will barely top zero tomorrow. Monday will be even colder, with 20 below predicted for Sunday night and a daytime high of -2. Plus some wind. It will be chilly.

When I moved to Burlington years ago we had a cold snap. The temperature dropped to 39 below zero. I was disappointed. The record low was 40 below. If it is going to be that cold, why not break the record? We have a warm house. The woodstove warms us right now. It will tomorrow as well.

I find this serious cold exciting. Weather extremes in general are exciting. They give us something to share with our neighbors. They give us stories to tell. They remind me of my humanity. They make me feel alive. Digging out from a snowstorm, or getting stuck at home for a while, humble me. I feel small and part of the larger world. Our artificial human constraints let us forget that we are not in control. We cannot rule the weather. Given that we tend to be so self-serving as a species, that is for the best.

We will have some clear nights coming up. Good for watching stars. And for curling up on the couch with a book. I will try to do some of both.

Mercury Falling and Mercury Rising

So my extended break from entering anything on this blog is broken as of today. I woke early this morning, not really intentionally, but I did, I looked at the clock and realized I was in time to get outside and perhaps see Mercury rising just before the sun. It has been rising early enough the past week or so but the skies have not been clear enough to see anything. So I slipped from the warm blankets and grabbed a thick sweater before heading downstairs. I checked the thermometer–5 below zero. I would have to suit up.

With snowpants over my pajama pants, thick socks and a couple of layers on top, I slipped on a hat and gloves and grabbed my binoculars. The snow squeaked on the porch, loudly enough that I thought it might wake the children asleep upstairs. I stepped through the knee-deep snow out to the field. I perched myself next to a birdhouse on a post and scanned the horizon. This time of year the sun rises north of Camel’s Hump, so I looked there, but I saw nothing. I was not sure what time Mercury might rise over the hills, so I waited.

In the meantime I checked the star chart on the Planets app on my iPod Touch. This app shows the rise and set times for all the planets, based on your location. It also shows what constellations are visible. Venus glowed brightly next to Scorpio. I wanted to learn a new constellation, as the ones I know are few. I found Virgo and spent some time trying to burn it into my memory. I had a hard time visualizing that set of stars as a reclining woman, but I got a good look at it.

I was warm enough in all my layers so I kept waiting. I finally did see something in the general area I was looking, but it seemed too far south, and it seemed to blink. I watched in the binoculars, resting them on the birdhouse. It wasn’t exactly a high powered telescope on a tri-pod but it worked well enough. It kept rising and heading further south so after a bit I knew I had my planet. After about 45 minutes in the same spot I headed in. The stars were faded and I could hardly see Mercury. Since Mercury won’t be visible until December, it was well worth rising in the cold and dark. I even managed to stay warm.

Once inside, before the sun rose over the Mountains, the temperature dropped to 7 below zero. Not a warm morning. I cranked the fire and fired up a cafe latte. I sat back with a book and waited for the children to rise. Now, the sun up, the mercury is rising a little higher. It won’t get hot today, but it will be warm enough to play outside for a while. I plan to take several laps around the field on my skis. We have enough snow this year for a great nordic track and we–adults and children–have taken advantage of it every day we have been able to do that.  I won’t be getting up quite so early tomorrow, unless I decide to get a ski in before I head to work. Even if it isn’t as cold as this morning, however, that ski just may have to wait until late afternoon.