Winter Is Here for a While

Suddenly, we have winter again. That’s what it seems like. It began Wednesday night, and the next day we were shoveling snow made heavy by rain and freezing rain. Friday, I had to sand the driveway because of what happened overnight. Light snow was a constant yesterday. We’ll be shoveling for sure today when it’s a bit warmer. It’s 17 degrees F now. The cat, who likes to go outside, sits on the back of the couch, staring at the snow. Actually, this has not been a hard season, and naturally, I think of the ones before it that were. 

I survived tough winters when we lived in the boonies of Western Massachusetts. Snow storms. Ice storms — the absolute worst. Storms that lasted days. Lingering cold. One month it didn’t get above the 20s so road salt didn’t work.

When I was a reporter and worked from home, covering winter weather in the hilltowns of Western Mass. was part of my beat. I would check in with road bosses about conditions, and interview residents, store owners, and in those days, a loyal weather watcher who was the custodian in our kids’ school. People loved to talk about the weather.

Our former home in Worthington, Mass.

Then, I became an editor, which required me to commute from our home in Worthington to the newsroom in the nearest city, Northampton. My route was through three small towns, up and down steep hills. Each time I reached a border I hoped the highway crew had been there before me, and it was extremely rare they hadn’t. I knew their schedules. I left at 6:10 a.m. for work because a plow truck would make a sweep of the steep hill outside our home at 6 a.m. The crews in the towns I traveled were out early, too. 

We had to have our steep driveway plowed, and sometimes I just parked at the top, knowing we weren’t among the first on her list. (Yes, the person who did that was a woman.)

By the way, our middle son plowed state roads during the winter for a contractor. He has his own stories to tell.

If a bad storm came while I was at work, I left at 1 p.m. It wasn’t worth going at noon, because the guys always broke then for lunch no matter the weather. If necessary, I found places to stay overnight — with one of the kids, when they went to school, or with a co-worker.

I stored three buckets of sand in the back of my Subaru for ballast.

I watched the weather constantly.

I waited for spring.

Then, we moved to Taos, New Mexico. We were at the same latitude as South Carolina but at 7,200 feet elevation or higher. Temps had 30-degree differentials between night and day. We got snow, dry stuff, mostly in the mountains where it belonged. 

When we moved there, I swore I would never have a long commute to work again. I was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper there and had a doable 11-minute drive. We had snow-covered roads. But people tend to stay off them so the traffic was light. The crews there used salt and ground pumice to treat the roads. When we first lived there, they used ground glass from the recycling center, which made for a colorful display in the intersections.

View from our front porch.

We returned to Western Mass. six years ago, this time to Shelburne Falls, more northern than where we lived before but at a lower elevation and near a river. Being away eleven years, I see the change in the area’s climate. Winter comes later. Spring comes earlier. This winter hasn’t been very cold, except for brief spells, and not a whole lot of snow. We have a snowblower, but haven’t used it yet this winter because it couldn’t handle the icy kind of snow we’ve gotten. 

Anyway shoveling is great exercise, a mindless one I will add, which means I will be working on my new Isabel Long mystery, Missing the Deadline in my brain. I’m immersed in a great scene. And at 38,000 words, I have officially passed the halfway point. Now that’s exciting.

PHOTO ABOVE: The view from our front porch.

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: Looking for a good book to read? I have six in my Isabel Long Mystery Series and then there’s my new fast-paced thriller, The Sacred Dog, all set in rural New England. Here’s the link to Amazon:

New Year

Smoke and a Derailed Train for a New Year

Ours was a quiet, stay-at-home end of 2022 although I was charmed to be awakened at midnight, I presume, when somebody in the neighborhood shot off some kind of fireworks. Awoken, Hank and I wished each other, “Happy New Year.”

Other years, we’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve at friends’ parties, First Nights, and bars.

I recall one New Year’s Eve in a small town’s only bar when it seemed everyone in the joint was planning to quit smoking at the stroke of midnight. So naturally, they were all smoking their brains out that night. 

That was before Massachusetts officially banned smoking in bars and nightclubs. But that night the cigarette smoke hung in a thick cloud over our heads. The man in the next table chain-smoked. “Quitting for the new year?” I asked. Yup, he said, although he ended up sticking with the habit.

Here’s another memorable New Year’s Eve: getting stuck on a train from Boston to Philly to meet my future in-laws because another train had derailed. Most of the passengers were headed to Times Square in New York and keenly disappointed they weren’t going to make it. People got drunk. A fight broke out and the cops had to come on board.

Resolutions? I make them year round so why bother tonight? I do hope Hank and I are able to travel.

Reflections? It was a productive year. I retired from journalism for good. I published three novels, thanks to darkstroke books, and started another. (I am a third of the way into no. 7 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.) I’m glad to see our children and grandchildren doing well. We live in an interesting house, well maintained thanks to Hank, in an interesting village. There have, of course, been challenges, but I will spare you those.

For the past few days, I’ve been saying “Happy New Year” to strangers such as grocery store cashiers and post office clerks. Everyone has been receptive. I wish the same for you. To a Happy New Year. I like the sound of it myself.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Our cat, Stella, sits on the front porch table, telling me it’s time for her to come inside.


Revisiting the Ghosts of Christmas Past

I wrote this post in 2013 when we were living in Taos, New Mexico. It’s still a good read and I’ve added a new ending.

Ah, Christmas: one holiday, so many emotions and circumstances. Happy Christmas. Sad Christmas. Rich Christmas. Poor Christmas. Stressful. Carefree. Lonely. Crowded. Weird Christmas.

I liked the ones we spend with our large family. Great food and laughs, gifts, and even one year, fireworks one daughter bought along the way from her home in the South.

We had a freshly cut tree with ornaments, many of them made by the kids. Why was one son’s Santa wearing gray and yellow? Because the red felt was already taken. Why did another son’s wooden Santa have a black, bandit’s mask? Just because.

I remember the Christmas after Hank was hurt on a  job site a few months before. He fell 18 feet onto his shoulder because someone didn’t nail a board in place. He couldn’t work. The people who hired him as a subcontractor wouldn’t pay him while he was hurt.

After all those years staying home with six kids, I found a one-year teaching job. We kept things going with a starting teacher’s pay.

It was close to the holiday when we came home with the kids. A large cardboard box was on our doorstep. It contained food and an envelope with $70 in cash.

We were stunned.

We asked around but no one would admit to it. The kind deed has not been forgotten.

So what will we do this year? We live thousands of miles from the people who mean the most to us. (One daughter did visit for a few days — thank you — and we’ve had family come in previous years.) And with early deadlines at work for the holidays, it is too difficult to get away.

But Christmas in Taos is interesting, what with our three cultures. Think luminarias — we call them farolitos in Taos — along the parapets of buildings and in yards.

We have gone to the Pueblo on Christmas Eve to watch the lighting of tall bonfires and the procession for the Virgin Mary, and then to the Taos Inn for holiday cheer. This year we will have Christmas dinner with friends with the usual fixings of del norte — tamales and green chile posole stew. We don’t have a tree but a scene with miniature trees, lights and pine cones I created on the window sills in the great room.

We will call the kids and my parents that day. We will tell them we miss them and wish we were there for Christmas.

That was then and this is now. Our family has changed. My father is no longer with us. We now have two grandchildren. And Hank and I live in Western Massachusetts. To be honest, except for a swag on the front door, I didn’t decorate this year but I made lots and lots of cookies to share.

We will be spending Christmas Eve and Day at our daughter Emily’s house near Boston. Four of our six kids will be there plus our granddaughters. Our son-in-law’s family will join us. We will eat, drink and make merry. Happy holidays.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Hank and I at our son Nate’s house on our first Christmas on the year we returned to Western Massachusetts.


Our Perfectly Imperfect Tree

For the first time in 13 years, we have a Christmas tree standing inside our living room. When we lived in New Mexico, we never got one. It somehow didn’t fit the place where we were living, and besides the guy selling trees had a real shady past. Last year, we were renting an apartment while we renovated the home where we now live. But this year? It’s time to get out the ornaments that have been stored inIMG_6458 boxes all these years.

But first the tree. I really didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for one. Our son, Zack, told us about Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm that grows its trees from stumps instead of replanting them — it is billed as one of the oldest farms that grows this way. It’s located only one town over. And any tree is $30. Sold.

So, on Saturday, after paying our money to co-owner Emmet Van Driesche, we hiked around the sloping hill looking for a tree worth cutting. First, I haIMG_6451d to get over the fact that these trees are on the funky side. But what did I expect? They grow out of the stumps of previously cut trees. Fortunately for us, the tree would back against a wall in our living room, so really we could get a tree that was indeed a bit funky. It took a while, given my spouse’s tendency toward perfection — although I did say for a guy who didn’t want a tree in the first place, he was being awfully fussy.

But we found the tree. The sharp saw the farm provides did the job and it fit easily in our car.

Sunday it took a while for me to get the tree to stand upright in its stand. The trunk’s wood was so tight, it wouldn’t sink into the metal points inside the stand. Brilliant me, I chopped at it with a hammer’s claw until it could.

Then I hung the lights, the wooden beads and dug into the ornaments, many ofwhich date back forty years when we didn’t have a pot to you know what. These are the ones I made from cloth and clay, plus ones I picked up over the years. ThereIMG_6460 are the ones the kids made in school or bought when they grew older.

In anticipation of a visit by our toddler granddaughter, I arranged the tree so the fragile stuff is up high. She can freely touch whatever is low. And Hank wired the tree to the woodwork, so, kid, it ain’t going anywhere.

I like our tree. It fits nicely against the wall. It holds a lot of memories. And I like that it came from a place that makes Christmas trees sustainable.

Want to learn more about Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm? Here’s a link to a news story in the Greenfield Recorder: Recorder story

And happy holidays to family and friends near and very far away.