December Days

On Christmas Eve it started to snow. A light snow, but it was not long before it started to gather on the ground. It was not setting up to be a white Christmas so it was nice to get at least that. And it kept falling. We readied ourselves for the big elf in the red suit and, when we finally went to bed, the snow still came down.

Christmas morning we had snow. Maybe three inches on the ground. And it stuck the trees as well. The world was clean and white. My son said it was a Christmas miracle, perhaps half joking. I just thought we were lucky.

My wife and I walked out in it for a bit that morning. It was cold but sunny. The sky was blue. We were pretty content, our children riding the high of gifts and surprises. We did not get up until close to 6:00 AM, so we even had some decent sleep. Snow squeaked as we walked.

That night the cold rose up. All the moisture in the air settled and froze. Every twig and stone and blade of dry milkweed was covered in ice. You know those cheesy holiday decorations that are covered in fake frost, exaggerated versions of reality? It looked like that.

The low sun, before it climbed up to hide behind low clouds, splashed the world with brightness. All that ice glittered and sparkled. Winter wonderland and all that. Spectacular. Then it became another frosty morning.

Today, rain. And fog. Sleet last night. It seems we are getting all the winter weather. Christmas is over, which is always a bit of a letdown in our house. But I still feel the spirit. The new year is just around the corner. An arbitrary beginning and ending, for sure, but still, a time to reassess and to set some goals. I will get outside again to take some time to reflect on that.

New Year Birding Goal

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Last year I had a goal to see 175 birds in my home county. My goal for 2013 was to see 150 and I got up to 174. The 175 goal was simply to surpass that 174. By December 31 I had encountered 194. At one point in October I thought I might be able to get to 200, a lofty goal for one county in Vermont. I had seen three new birds for the year in one day and thought I only needed to find a few more to reach the 200 mark. In the last two months of the year, however, I found only one new one–a snowy owl by Lake Champlain, just inside the county line. Still, 194 ain’t bad.

I could have simply increased my goal to 200 for the county. That would, perhaps, seem logical. I wanted, however, to try something new, something broader. Staying in the county is fairly easy, as I live year and it means I do not travel far. But I will travel a few times in any case. In 2014 I encountered 177 different birds. I traveled to Florida and to California, plus looked on the Connecticut and Maine coasts. I was happy with that. I have no California trip planned but I do have a trip to Wyoming planned. Wyoming does not have quite the diversity that California offers but will offer some great birding I am sure.

My birding goal for 2015 is simply to find 250 birds, anywhere. I know this is less than 2014 but I will not be in California. I saw 88 species there. Half of those I saw nowhere else. It can be tempting to just up the ante and go for more, but attempting to find 250 unique bird species is a reasonable goal for me. If I could take all the time I wanted and travel all over I could try to find twice that number but that is not in the cards, not this year.

Noah Strycker is one man trying to find as many birds as he can in one year by traveling all over the world. He is now in Antarctica, where he started two days ago. There are about 10,000 bird species in the world and he is hoping to see half that many. That is a lofty goal. You can check out his progress on his blog, Birding Without Borders, on the Audubon website. If you want to follow my progress you will have to check back here. It won’t be nearly as exciting, but I hope to get a few interesting species and maybe some photos. So far I am at 28 species for the year, including the Snow Goose that eluded me all last year. Not a bad way to start a new year, goal or no.

Holiday Cards

The holiday cards are starting to trickle. We get lots of them and, to tell you the truth, I love them. Whether they say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Happy New Year or some other greeting, they offer a good window into the lives of friends and family. It is an annual catch-up of sorts.

We get mail in our white mailbox at the end of the driveway six days a week. Every day it is a gift to get something that is not unsolicited, not a bill, not asking for money, not addressed to “resident.” I love getting the mail in general. Could be something fun on any day. I love surprises. When the end of the year nears it means getting fun mail.

Most of the cards we get these days are photo cards–they have some greeting, tailored to the likes or tastes or whims of the sender, along with one to a whole lot of photos. The photos do make it fun. They give me a sense of what matters to the sender, and I love to ponder just why our friends chose those particular photos.

Here is the thing: I think it is a holiday card faux pas to include only photos of one’s children. I mean, why sign it from four people and then have photos of only two people? At least half the cards we get are from friends who do not include pictures of themselves but do include photos of their children. I do want to see pics of your offspring. I really do. But I also want to see pics of you.

My theories why people do not include photos of themselves, only of their children:

1. They mistakenly think that more people in the photo will cost more. Let’s lay that to rest right now–photos cost the same regardless of the subject.

2. They are old enough that they think they look “bad” and so use this as an excuse to omit themselves. To that I say c’mon, you look fine, and once you are a parent do you really care that much what other people think of how you look?

3. They think receivers want to see photos only of their children. Um, no.

4. They never take photos of themselves, only their children. In this age of digital photography, this isn’t really an excuse anymore. Someone has pictures of you.

5. They forget. OK maybe this has some merit. I can’t remember crap these days. But still, you look at the thing before mailing it out don’t you?

6. They are blinded by love for their children to the extent that they cannot think of themselves. They are selfless, caring parents and have devoted their short lives to maximizing their contribution to the next generation who happens to be their own flesh and blood

I’m not sure about that last one. In any case, none of these are really good excuses. I would love to hear a good one. Maybe that will reduce my curmudgeonness.

Any way, keep sending the cards, friends. Just give me some pics of you. I love your kids, but I love you, too.

Quiet Day

Not much snow today. It fluffed down a little this morning but then it was dry. We got over 30 inches, close to three feet, of snow over the past few days. Yeah, baby. My wife was hoping for a snow day today but I was skeptical. School was held as previously scheduled. The roads were slick but not slick enough to keep learning from happening. My daughter wanted a snow day more because she was nervous about going back to school after a long break. She was fine of course.

We did get some crust. Freezing rain is about the worst possible thing after such a tremendous snowfall. Ice on top off all that amazing snow? Ouch! At least it was a thin crust, just enough to slice your cheek if you fell wrong. Yesterday we were falling with straight backs into a wall of fluff. Not today. After a big storm it seemed quiet today–no precipitation, hardly a breath of wind. It was gray, but not much happened weather wise. We were all back to work and school.

It is sad to see the holidays go. They offer such joy and such hope. A new year has begun and we are back at it. Will we discover new things about ourselves? About each other? Will we come around to the realities around us or will we still be too afraid? Will we keep joy? Will we play? I hope we will do all these things. I will try myself, as that is all I can do. It was a good day to start back. It truly felt like a renewal, like the real first day of the new year.

And we will be back at it again tomorrow.

Snow for the New Year

The forecast has been like a wobbly top lately. A little snow. A big storm. No storm. Some snow. Lots of snow. A big storm. Right now it is snowing. It has been snowing pretty much all day and on and off yesterday as well. It is likely to keep falling all day tomorrow and tomorrow night. Beautiful stuff.

We had a family ski afternoon. I got cold, but I got to try out my new skis, at least a little. Mostly I skied with my kids. This meant slow but steady for one and slow for the other. It wasn’t mad aggressive skiing as an adult. I truly enjoyed watching my children ski, however. They both have it down at this point. They can ski without physical aids (no holding them, no leash, no nothin’) and have fun doing it. They both raved about how fun it is. My daughter even said “One day I’ll be a famous skier.” Could happen.

And I enjoyed my skis. I have had the same pair for over a decade. They still work fine but it sure is nice to take advantage of new style and technology. These should suit me for all kinds of conditions. I skied without goggles today, which was not the most comfortable situation for the old face, but I just don’t have any that fit. I have purchased my share of goggles over the years but I have never had a pair that simply fits without lots of fussing when no fussing is appropriate. I plan to get a pair soon. And maybe some new gloves. I am kind of a miser when it comes to gear. But I am ready to make some investments.

And the snow falls. This was our first skiing adventure this year and it reminded me just how much fun it is. It won’t be long before our children are bombing down the mountain and my wife and I can ski together again. I hope she can still stand me by the time that happens. She is out there now, cross country skiing as the light fades. Actually, the light is pretty much gone now, but she is still out there. Let’s hope the bobcat doesn’t get her. It has been back several times now, as evidenced by its tracks. Hopefully it isn’t too hungry yet.

Half a foot of snow on the ground. More tonight. I love this stuff. Too bad it isn’t falling on the eve of a school day so we can have a snow day. Although, bad weather leading to bad driving isn’t necessarily a recipe for a snow day these days. Too many complaining parents. Safety first, unless the timing isn’t right. So I guess this snow falling today and tomorrow is about right after all. We will hole up at home tomorrow, play outside, probably not ski again, but who knows? We will look for bobcat tracks, build the snow fort higher, sled down the hill. Happy new year with snow. That ain’t bad.

Chilly End of the Year

Midday and it is only 12 degrees. I wait at home for the “sanitation” truck to arrive. After lots of moisture in our basement and lots of ruined stuff, we are ready to dispose of things. I hate to just pitch all this stuff, even if it is mildewed and too soggy to salvage, but here we are–the American Way, baby. The truck was supposed to arrive some time before 1:00. I’m still waiting. It was 0 degrees when we rose. The sun warmed things a little but now that is hiding.

Yesterday our high temperature was 8 degrees. I blew off running. The wind was, I don’t exaggerate, howling. It was blowing snow around and generally cooling things off in a frigid like manner. It was dangerous weather. I have run in weather like that, but I was warm inside, reading a good book. I had tasks to do. I didn’t go anywhere. I was going to run by now, but the trash pick up is still pending. Once that happens I will suit up and head out. Maybe it will be 15 degrees by the time I go.

We had snow a couple of days ago. See:

Falling Thick

Things have calmed down a bit. We may get some more snow. I was hoping the Nor’easter that has been shaping up would slam us with snow, but that looks unlikely now. We are considering skiing tomorrow. Squeeze in some runs on my new skis before the year turns. We’ll see. Friends are coming to ring in the new decade (or the last year of this one, depending on how particular you want to be). I am hoping that they will get a fresh blanket of white. That would good of us as hosts. Their arrival time will determine whether we have time to ski.

In the meantime I wait for the truck to haul away our American waste. And wait. At some point I will run. At the moment I am going to toss another log on the fire and pick up a magazine. Once I am comfortable I am sure I will have to get up.

Resolutions?

I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  I have thought about the idea of them.  As in, “Now would be as good a time as any to set some goals for myself so maybe I should.”  But that idea has never really panned out, turned into action.  So here we are again at the turn of the year.  Good old 2009 has begun.  Should I make some resolutions this year?

So here goes with a brainstorming session on what I might resolve to do.  We’ll start with the classics and see if any of them fit me.  One of the most common resolutions, or so it seems to me, is to lose weight.  I guess I could lose a few pounds but I feel pretty solid, so to speak,  in that area.  I suppose I could cut down on candy but that will happen with the natural cycle of saying goodbye to the holidays.  And other foods to cut out?  Well, I did make a cheesecake yesterday, but once that’s gone I probably won’t make another for a year.  So much for food.

Another typical resolution is to quit smoking.  I wish my brother and sister would quit smoking, those addicts, but I can’t change them.  I don’t smoke, so that one is out.  Exercise more?  I have been getting the runs in and I plan to do a lot more but I don’t need to resolve to do that.  Join a gym?  Waste of money if you ask me.  So healthwise I think I am OK.

How about feeding the brain?  We get only one channel on television so I can’t really cut down much on the boob tube.  I read a lot of news.  I listen to all kinds of books when I am in the car.  I could read more books, the paper kind I mean.  How about I go with that one?

Resolution one:  Read more books, especially in view of my children.  No, that’s too vague.  How about:  Read at least one good book every month so my children can see that I am doing so.

I like my job so I don’t need to find a new one.  I already am in the process of doing a better job.  I am not too concerned with making a lot more money.  I spend a lot of time with my children.  I like to hike and I could do more of that, I suppose.  Dang, this is tough.  I make goals, but those are more fluid, arising with whatever situation I might encounter and wherever I find myself.  This seems a little forced.

So maybe this is why I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in the past.  I don’t feel that I need to and if I am going to make goals I don’t tend to do it at an arbitrary time like January first.  Or maybe it is because I have too much champagne and then my mind is too fuzzy to think about that.

But I’ve got one resolution.  I will start right now, the first day of the new year.  Once I am done here I will grab the book I just got from the library and get started on a good story.  I guess I could narrow it down a bit further and just say that I resolve to this day read at least a few pages in a good book.  Since the high temperature today was nine degrees, it is a good day to make that happen.

Happy New Year from this freezing town in northern Vermont.  And happy reading to you, too.