Christmas *

[* You were expecting, maybe, Guy Fawkes Day?]

[Did You Know:  If Santa partook of milk and two cookies at every stop on Christmas Eve, he would take in over 70 trillion calories.  Uffda, talk about your heartburn!  I hope he knows about the comforts of elastic waistbands!  😉 ]

OK, how could one not like Guy Fawkes – it’s just a funny name?  Guy is infamous because he tried to blow up the English Parliament about 400 years ago –  so, maybe, not the kind of guy (pun lucked into) you’d invite over for Christmas dinner.  Of significance, Guy Fawkes Day is “celebrated” on November 5 – the weather we’re having this Christmas is usually the weather we have for Guy Fawkes Day.  You have heard me (and the missus) moaning and whining about the absence of snow this year . . .

Possibly reflecting the long-range climate change models which project that our winters will become like those currently in Central Illinois.  I think we’re already there.  It’s time to start checking those real estate ads in Pickle Lake, Ontario!  It’s Christmas – we have had one 3 1/2″ snowfall this season, and maybe 5 light dustings – in other words, we’re having a Brown Christmas!  And, in other words, we’re about 2 feet below normal snowfall at this time of year.  Our snow shoveling muscles are atrophying – those whose businesses depend on snow, from removal to recreation, are hurting.  Albuquerque has snow, for Pete’s sake!

This is not a trick question.  Of the following 7 photos, some were taken last Christmas, and some were taken today – you win a cookie if you can correctly identify them:

James Lileks addressed it much more eloquently in the StarTribunehttp://www.startribune.com/local/136168038.html

But we celebrate the holiday because it is THE holiday.  We get to (?) decorate the entire house!

[Ruthie’s critters man the stairwell.]

[Presents!  And whom amongst us doesn’t like presents?]

[Sunrise on Christmas morning!]

[The 1st present – from Fran & Ed, Tom’s Indiana grandparents!]

[Thank you, Roy ~ a/k/a, Mr. Hawaii]

[Thank you, Justices – I thought I caught the supervisor tearing up a bit?]

[Once an addict, always an addict.]

[Thank you, Kildows]

[Thank you, Grandson Tom]

[Grandson Tom]

[Thank you, Karnises]

[Thank you, kids]

[These last two are mainly to highlight the very good (and very attractive) Norwegian violinist on the TV behind me.  😉  ]

[Then to Arrowwood for Christmas brunch – and saw some of our all-time heroes, Warren Gibson, at the table right next to us; and the three hockey-playing Toft sisters. 🙂 ]

[On the way home, past the Carlos-Darling channel.]

This was our first Christmas by ourselves – without either mother.  But holiday travel is not always a good thing!  The colorlessness (another word for lack of snow) of this year’s Christmas forces me to harken back to Christmas 2008.  The following was as it was reported at the time:

[December 26, 2008]  Initially, we would like to express our appreciation to those who expressed concern regarding our absence from The ‘Net for the past week or so.  We ventured off, as we are wont to do, for a holiday visit to Ruthie’s family in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Ruthie’s 91-year old mom, Janella, surprisingly, does not have internet access in her senior apartment complex, so we could only check our e-mail when we felt like spending significant time in a McDonald’s.  We will try to respond to the 200+ messages when we can.

Anyway, the plot sickens.  Those of you from this part of the world are aware that venturing anywhere south at this time of year by personal, land-based vehicle is akin, both from a preparation and bodily danger standpoint, to a summit attempt of Mt. Everest.  For the weather outside is frightful.  We left a week ago Wednesday, in the wee small hours of the morning.  Driving conditions in the area had already been iffy for several days.  People who had recently ventured to the Cities returned with horror stories of I-94.  St. Cloud, as usual, had become a car graveyard, littered by many vehicles unable to successfully navigate the interstate through that area.  We found that to be true.

We drove through the dark at about 40 mph on a 70 mph roadway.  We were actually happy to hit a dead stop at St. Michael-Albertville, about 14 miles from the Twin Cities’ “beltway,” so we could do a relaxing stop-and-go driving for a while.  It took us 4 hours to reach Woodbury, on the east side of St. Paul, a trip that usually takes us less than 2 1/2 hours to visit Basketball Dan.  The joy ride continued halfway through Wisconsin as we continued to see trucks and cars in the ditch, often with people still in them trying to peer out over deployed airbags.  We made it to Terre Haute, 720 miles, in 14 1/2 hours, about 2 1/2 hours longer than usual.

Janella already had a new puppy, Trixie; and the Cub Reporter got two cub mooses for Christmas, rescued from the 49th state before its famed ungulate hunter could shoot them.  After a week of frivolity with the family, we prepared for the trip home on Christmas Eve.

We awoke at 3:00 am and decided to make a dash for it then.  Terre Haute had enjoyed freezing rain the day before which had turned the parking lot at Janella’s into an ice rink.  Ruthie, trooper that she is, was eventually able to make it to our car by using a plastic lawn chair for support.  We loaded the car under the front entrance awning and gingerly entered into traffic.

Based on weather reports, we decided, for the 1st time, to come home through Iowa rather than Wisconsin.  I don’t think it made any difference.  After three hours on the road, driving through dark, ice, freezing rain, FOG, with 18-wheelers flying by throwing slush all over our windshield, we pulled off at Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, for breakfast and a change of my oft-soiled under garments.  The parking lot at the Cracker Barrel was not unlike that at Janella’s – we slid into the building determined to stay until it got light and the weather improved.  About an hour later, we ventured out again in a pouring rainstorm.

Shortly past Peoria, the rain turned into a snowstorm – big, white, gloppy flakes that limited visibility even more.  We knew then we weren’t going to make it home on Christmas Eve.  We pulled off at Galesburg for a repast and another change of underwear.  We noticed that Galesburg was the birthplace of Carl Sandburg – since making it home now was out of the question, we decided to make the rest of the trip an adventure.  We stopped at Sandburg’s birthplace, now closed, as are most historic places in this country because of our poverty or stinginess.  We then decided, after reaching the Quad Cities, we were going to avoid interstate highways for the rest of the trip home.

I had oft wanted to visit Galena, Illinois, for I had read somewhere that it was the most Christmas-y city in the country – what better time?  We drove up Highway 84 (a/k/a, the National Route or the Great River Road), a scenic highway along the Mississippi River, the 80-some miles from the Quad Cities to Galena.  It was now bright and sunshiny and everything was beautifully white.  Galena was a quaint, yuppified (as Ruthie said), and, yes, quite attractive river front town of about 4,000 where we stopped for a late lunch.  Then on through Dubuque, Iowa, where unfortunately we didn’t notice until later, we came within a mile of the Field of Dreams movie location.  We eventually limped into Waverly, Iowa, at 5:30, went to the only place in town that was open, a Wal-Mart, for dinner, and logged into a Comfort Inn.  14 1/2 hours on the road, and we had only covered 450 miles.

We left Waverly at 7:30 on Christmas morning, after the obligatory photo-op stop at Wartburg College.  We somehow decided we would pass on visiting “The Little Brown Church in the Vale” in Nashua, Iowa, and headed on to Minnesota where we entered the state at Lyle.  Taking the back, or side, roads offered us the chance to visit several Minnesota towns and cities to which we had never been – Austin, Blooming Prairie, Mankato, Hutchinson – and to return to Waseca, the site, Tink Larson Field (as I recall), where I struck out to end (as I recall) the 1962 state championship VFW baseball game (in my defense, we were losing 12-0 (our pitchers were shot), the called 3rd strike was at least 6 inches outside (!), it was a hot day and the ump just wanted to end it).

We made it back to Alex at 2:00 pm – two days and 21 hours driving time from Terre Haute.  We approached our snow-clogged driveway and decided to chance it.  We put the Expedition in 4-wheel drive, bulldog low and took a run at it.  We made it about 3/4’s of the way.  We later learned Alex had had a couple of snow deposits in our absence – one about a 12- incher and another about a 6-incher.  It was all there for us!  So we shoveled for an hour and eventually got the car to garage, went to Mom’s belatedly for Christmas dinner, and headed back home for a long winter’s nap.  We look forward to several more hours of shoveling today!

[Lake Darling, December 26, 2008]

This just in – Chicago is closed.  Officials there say they have never seen anything like it.  And ice is predicted for us today too!  Happy holidays!

Alexandria mayor, Dan Ness, a/k/a, Your Worship, sent the following in response to our Treacherous Adventure missive.  Amazing.  Oh, and Barry is his son, who now lives in the house in which Kathy Sherry Skadsberg grew up . . . but then this could go on for a while. ~ Me

Tom,  What a great story you had to tell. Sorry you didn’t have time to go to Nashua to the little brown church in the vale. DiAnn and I eloped and were married there in 1961 and Barry and Sue did the same in 2006. Other than the church itself, there isn’t much of a reason to go to Nashua. Trivia, the song, “The Little Brown Church in the Vale” was made famous by the Weatherwax Brothers quartet back in about 1938. The Alexandria Weatherwax families are related to the quartet boys. My sister-in-law is Audrey Weatherwax Froemming.

Glad to have you guys home safe and sound. Come on down to SAWA to night to relax. We expect a good crowd of home for the holidays visitors. ~ Dan

What great stories.  We have THE coolest mayor around.  ~ Patty (local celebrity)

This (2008) was Mom’s last Christmas – we got her her preferred present of choice, a bottle of Ancient Age.  Cam, Karen, Katy, and Michael all came up from Mounds View and had a good time going through boxes of old family photos.

[The Callecod family at Christmas 2008.  Last year was Janella’s last Christmas.]

[As the sun sets over beautiful Lake Darling, we say good-bye to Christmas 2011.  We may not have snow, but we have ice fishermen!]

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