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December 2013

Mapping Home

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The lights are easily one of my favorite things  in the days leading up to Christmas.  Before the Thanksgiving turkey carcas has been made into soup, the first lit up house will appear.  Within 24 hours there are a few more; parents taking advanatge of kids home from college to reach those highest spots.  By the second weekend in December every street has something to show, whether its the classic candles in window or an inflatable Snoopy snow globe.  

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In the evenings, light spotting makes even the most boring of outings a bit more fun.  There's the giant peace sign that appears among a stand of trees on my commute home, or the stone sculptures that have been wrapped in twinkling white on the Lincoln green.  The trees of Burlington are a crazy riot of primary colors, like a giant splashed glowing acryllic paint across the park.  Then the restrained joy of Lexington's wreaths, greens and star-like lights.  One one side of the street a neighbor has made grand loops across her bushes, reminding me of a string of cursive "e's".  Just around the block there's a house where every eave has been traced in glowing icicles, like a giant gingerbread dripping icing.  

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This year I considered making a photo-map of my neighborhood's Christmas lights.  I got the idea from a story I heard on This American Life about Denis Wood.   Mr. Wood has been mapping his neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina since the 70s, but not in the usual ways.  He's made maps of what you would see underground (pipes etc), of who appears in the newspaper, pools of light  cast by the street lamps and my favorite, jack-o-lanterns.  Wood then layers these maps to see what connections he can discern (he shares some of them in the This American Life story).  It got me wondering about the houses I pass each day.  Are the people who decorate with lights the same ones who make jack-o-lanterns?  Do people without kids (at least outdoor evidence of kids)  decorate for the holidays?  Have more people been planting vegetable gardens lately?

I've decided I probably shouldn't do a photo-map.  To shoot in the dark would require setting up a tripod and that simply calls too much attention to myself.  If you saw someone with a tripod in front of your house, wouldn't you wonder what she was up to?  Yeah, that doesn't sound like a fun conversation.  But I do love the lights, and as they start going dark over the next couple weeks, I'll miss them.  Why is it that just as winter gets its nastiest and the dark feels the most foul, we take down our amulets against its depressive influence?   There are always a few folks who don't care ab0ut the expense and keep them lit throughout the deepest winter.  And to them I say a silent "thank you", each time I pass. 

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Photos in this post were taken in York ME, Portsmouth NH, Cambridge MA and Lexington MA.


Cold Walking

I read several blogs written by people who live on small farms.  There are many parts of their lives that I'm more than a wee bit envious of, but caring for animals in the winter is not one of them.  Jenna Woginrich carries huge buckets of water across the icy side of a mountain,  over and over again each day.  Ben Hewitt and Jon Katz  are often breaking ice with an ax, boot or whatever else will do the job, to ensure animals have water to drink.  The Soules were recently out in the snow (OK in a barn) at 4 am to check on a sick cow.  And then there's lambing...in the snow! (See Jon Katz, Kristin Nichols). 

It's enough to make a person feel like a bit of a wimp for thinking "It's too cold.  I'll talk a walk tomorrow".  In fact, Katz' recently had a mini blog post that stated

It is very cold here, we took the dogs out for a walk at a nearby park, Red pays no attention to the weather, he runs out ahead and sits down and waits for us. I love walking, even in the cold.

He lives in upstate New York, so I'm sure it was freezing, and not the "very cold" of someone living in South Carolina. 

That's when I started pulling jumbo, sealed, plastic bags out of the extra room we call "the attic".  In these bags I found a bounty of knit wear (including some leg warmers I knit this summer), some socks originally bought for snow boarding, and an assortment of long johns.  Even surrounded by all this gear (and a reflective safety vest), I still didn't have any urge to go out in the 16 degree air to check the mail, much less go for a walk.  And that's when I thought of the bees. 

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I don't know what made me think of bees, unless it was the reflective vest's coloring, but I remembered something I'd read about how bees survive the winter.  Bees cannot fly, heck they can barely move when the weather turns cold.  In the autumn these symbols of productivity become docile and lethargic as the temperatures dip.  However back in the hive (hopped up on honey), they can achieve summer-like temperatures by vigorously vibrating their bodies  

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If I wanted to be warm, I needed to get moving.  Those first five minutes or so were going to sting, but soon enough I'd be unzipping my jacket, stuffing my mittens in my pockets, and laughing at all those folks trapped inside the confines of their homes on this sparkling day.

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"Motion is the lotion" as they say at Kripalu


The Sounds of Christmas

Our little town had its Christmas tree lighting last week.  As I walked along main street, listening to brave carolers striving to sound joyful as the mist turned to freezing rain, and later hail, the sight of the lights instantly filled my mind with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.   There wasn't anything particularly Victorian about the scene, and it's not as if there were any ghosts or street urchins.  No, last year I'd walked under these very same lights, face frozen but smiling as I listening to Dickens' words on my iPod.  I love it when that happens.  I'll see a curve in a road and instantly know what I was listening to the last time I walked there, or hear a bit of a story and know where I was when I first heard it.   This doesn't happen when I'm driving; it's something particular to walking and the way it makes me engage with the world around me.

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When I hear the first notes of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", I'm instantly transported to the tree lined streets I grew up on.  When my friends had been called in for supper, I would go out walking.  My mother worked, so my brother and I made our own dinner, on our own schedule most nights.  I liked to wander as the sun set, watching the lights come on in neighbors' windows and the sun's last rays stretch over frozen fields.  As I walked I sang aloud; there weren't a lot of people around.  There was one year that I loved "Winter Wonderland" and joyfully sang all the verses as an endless loop.  Another year I loved "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" with its alto friendly notes, but the one that stands out the most is the year of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  When I hear that song I can feel the acrylic yarn of long outgrown mittens, hear the crunch of ice and snow underfoot and smell distant wood smoke.  I sang that song like a prayer, full of longing and wonder.

"Still through the cloven skies they come/ With peaceful wings unfurled/ And still their heavenly music floats/O'er all the weary world" 

The bare trees once again sway with the wind overhead and the stars shine painfully bright.   

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Today I rarely sing as I walk; there are just too many people around.  Instead this December I'll be listening to Christmas instead. 

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Do you have any Christmas favorites?  Leave a recommendation in the comments.

 


Thanksgiving Miles

Ever since getting a pedometer, I've had the urge to measure how many steps (or even better miles) go into everyday events.  Last week, as I eagerly anticipated a marathon night of Thanksgiving baking, I wondered just how many steps it takes to make challah, two pies, a cake and braised cabbage.  A tiny part of me wondered if the distance would be enough to counteract all the pie dough and chocolate I was sure to sample in the process. 

It seemed unlikely that the math would come out in my favor, but I liked the idea.  Now I was conducting an experiment, testing a hypothesis to be exact, not just being nerdy with my pedometer. No, no, no.  No nerdy number crunching here.  What made it even better is that I won either way.    If my hypothesis was accurate and I would ingest more calories than I burned while baking, then I'd be right.  And that's winning.  Just ask any five year old.  And if my hypothesis was wrong and I burned more calories than I ate, well then my body would win, ergo I win again.  I liked my odds.

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The Data

Walk to store for ingredients.  Wander store looking for candied yams = 770 steps, 0.25 mile, 90 calories

Walk back and forth from refrigerator, to cutting board on counter, to stove, to cook book and back again for several hours = 1510 steps, 0.58 miles, 738 calories

That's 2,280 steps, 0.83 miles, and 828 calories burned. 

Now to compare that to the tasty nibbles I enjoyed along the way. 

What?  I didn't keep track? 

I guess it's a good thing I'm not a scientist. 

 If you would like to conduct this experiment at home, you can replicate it using the recipes listed below.  All have been thoroughly taste tested and approved.

Braised Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds from Spilled Milk podcast

G√Ęteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie,or, Kate's Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake from the Orangette blog

Fig Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah from the Smitten Kitchen blog

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie from the Smitten Kitchen blog

Apple Pie from The Joy of Cooking