Sleigh ride?

Many families have special traditions for the holiday season, with heart-warming tales that are lovingly passed on from one generation to the next.

This is not one of those tales. (Though it could be considered a humorous anecdote.)

It happened during a Christmas season in the late 1970’s. I don’t remember exactly when, but my brother was still in the first stages of elementary school, which suggests the period of 1976 to 1979. The scene was in my childhood home town of Homer, New York, during one of the heavier winter snowfalls, about a week before Christmas. My family used actual trees at Christmas well into the 1980’s, so each year we would find a suitable pine tree to fill our living room. After the holidays, the remains of the tree would be put along the side of the house where it served as a shelter for birds and other animals until it was broken down for compost in the spring.

We generally tried to acquire a tree one week before Christmas, so that it would still have most of its needles through January 5th (Epiphany, or Twelfth Night). One of our “go to” places for a Christmas tree was a place called Forest Fisheries in Homer. It was a local business that sold gear for hunting and fishing, as well as various other sports that were popular in the region. It’s still in business, and now sells boats and all-terrain vehicles in addition to hunting and fishing equipment. During the Christmas season they sold trees (and may still), mostly from local tree farms. White pine and blue spruce grow in great quantities in upstate New York, so they were always in good supply.

This particular year we had a unique problem: our car was in repair. My father had arranged a carpool to his office at SUNY with a co-worker, my brother and I could both walk or bike to school, and there were some small local grocery stores in Homer at the time. So basic needs were not a problem. But how were we going to get a Christmas tree to the house without a car?

I had a small, wooden sleigh. roughly five feet in length (think of Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud”). Forest Fisheries was only four blocks from our home, so that year we decided to use that sleigh to transport a tree back to the house. So, during the driving snow, the four of us dragged that sleigh over to the place, picked out a nice blue spruce, loaded it up, then dragged it home.

Many people saw this display: a family of four, with the family dog happily marching along side, bringing home a Christmas tree on a wooden sleigh. It probably looked like something from a Currier and Ives print. For a few years after that we had people complement us on our “lovely family tradition.”

The truth is we didn’t enjoy it at all! The tree refused to stay lashed to the sleigh, and had to be re-tied at least twice. My brother ended up riding on the sleigh with the tree, holding it by the trunk to keep it in place. Pine needles fell out of his hair for days afterward. A layer of ice had formed under the snow in the streets of Homer, which made the sleigh hard to control, and footing very difficult. I fell down at least four times. Over the course of the trip, the snowfall went from moderate to heavier-than-usual, even by Central New York standards. Our dog Sparky, who was generally loyal to a fault, got sick of the whole thing and eventually ran ahead home.

We never did that again. After the ordeal, my parents decided that if we were ever in a situation like this again, we would order an artificial tree from the Sear’s catalog, and just hope it arrived in time. As it turned out, we never again were without a functioning car at Christmas, and we didn’t switch to an artificial tree until I was in college.

But even so, for many years after that people would ask us about our perceived family tradition of bringing home a Christmas tree on a sleigh, and how we would disappoint them. I now wonder how many romantic notions we managed to shatter. I now find that when I look at a Currier and Ives painting on a holiday card, and I see people riding in horse-drawn sleighs and what not, I have to ask myself if the people in that scene were really enjoying themselves, or if they were longing to be indoors in front of a warm fire!

Are they really having fun, or just indulging the viewer?

Unexpected Danger

Who knew a new friendship could be so dangerous?

Looking for peace and quiet, Margaret Taylor moves to a small Oxfordshire village to write about the Great War. She believes the idyllic countryside and picturesque hamlet would be the perfect contrast to the noise and distractions of Jazz-age London. Then one afternoon, she receives an unexpected invitation from a mysterious nobleman.

Christopher Tobias, forty-fifth Earl of Yawron, hasn’t left the grounds of his family’s estate since an accident that left him disfigured many years ago. Cloistered behind the protective walls that shield him from the outside world, he speaks to no one but his servants. Everything changes when he notices a young woman standing outside his gates staring curiously at his mansion. Intrigued, he takes a chance he never thought he would.

Margaret and Christopher must face decisions that will change their lives forever. As their relationship grows, Christopher’s past casts a dark shadow. Will Margaret’s future survive the demons of his past?

This is Lisa’s first published novel. The book is available as an ebook, and as a print on demand paperback. It’s a yarn of suspense and intrigue set in what seems to be a sleepy, English country village.

This jazz-age tale also sports an interesting spin on a classic fairy tale. I won’t say which one, though, because that would be a spoiler. I wanted to list my cast suggestions for a film based on this story, just for fun, but I didn’t want to plant preset images in people’s heads. So go to the links on the book’s main page, and check it out for yourself!

First transition

Operation Caracal, Part 7

Day 13, January 2, 2017

For the return trip we tried to schedule things better, and not try to go quite so far in one day. Our target for the day was at the theoretical half-way point. The last time we drove this route the weather was ugly. Sadly, that was the case again this time. There was heavy rain, high wind, and overcast skies almost the entire way. There was one stretch, from upper Alabama to roughly the Tennessee state line, where the sun was able to make a very welcome appearance. As before, the stretch through Mississippi and Alabama was mind numbing.

Our target was Athens, Tennessee. That town is, almost to the mile, half-way between Hammond and our home. If time permitted, this would have been a nice town to explore. It has some nice historical sites, and good examples of Americana architecture. We filed these as possible ideas for a future trip, because we are likely to travel this route again.

It took over nine hours to get from Hammond to Athens, which wasn’t bad, but still longer than we had hoped. I suspect the weather, heavy traffic around Birmingham, and a lot of construction near Chattanooga contributed to the delay.

We also discovered that when you rent a hotel room, you get what you pay for. We saved a little money and went with a less-expensive hotel chain. Our room was acceptable, with firm beds and a bath that did what they were supposed to do. But, the building wasn’t in the best of shape, and there were signs of water damage. Even so, after the long drive, we were too tired to care.

Well, most of us were. Michael refused to settle down to sleep, and kept turning on the lights. He also tried turning on the television and clock radio. Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the rest of us. But even after being scolded multiple times, Michael would not stop.

However, I had what might be called a revelation. After turning off the lights for the umpteenth time, I soon saw Michael’s silhouette rise from his bed and make a bee-line for the light switch. I watched in the dark, ready to scold him the instant he turned on the light. But I didn’t, and here’s why. For a split-second after hitting the switch, I caught a glimpse of his face. He looked upset, stressed and afraid. When the light came on, his face quickly returned to normal.

At this point I need to include some exposition. Michael has agenesis of the corpus callosum. This could explain his difficulty with language, and hyper-sensitivity to touch. We still aren’t sure of the severity of his case, but regardless, his mind doesn’t work exactly the same as ours.

Michael has never been a good hotel guest. Whenever we travel, and we know we’ll be staying at a hotel, we expect Michael to be difficult. People with ACC often have difficulty in strange places, some more so than others. Michael generally isn’t afraid of the dark, at least not at home. But we weren’t at home.

Consider that Michael was in a strange, new place that he had never seen before, with few or no familiar points of reference. He hadn’t had enough time to catalog his surroundings, which from his perspective, was unrecognizable. When the lights went out, those few things he had been able to process were no longer visible. I think that’s when his imagination starts running, and fills the dark space with all matter of new and confusing stuff. I later did some reading on this, and my guess has support. There have been cases of ACC patients needing constant audio, visual, and sometimes olfactory input. If their input streams are not being filled by external stimuli, their brain starts to create artificial input.

Anyway, back at the hotel, I explained my theory to Lisa and Caitlin. To restore order to his sensory input streams, Michael needs the lights on. And when I say that, I don’t mean he prefers the lights on, he needs the lights on.

We left one of the small lights running as a night light. Michael still kept turning on the other lights, after which one of us would turn them off. This game continued for a while until eventually, in the dim light, Michael succumbed to fatigue and fell asleep. We don’t know if the night light helped or not.

Day 14, January 3, 2017

We had hoped that the second half of the trip would be easier, given that it is collectively downhill. Actually it did go easier in most ways. Traffic was bad in certain areas, but that was the worst of it.

The real problem this day was, apparently, me. Lisa said that for the entire day I had a rather scary glaze over my face, and just didn’t look right. I also had to make several very sudden and urgent bathroom stops over the course of the day. We got home around 6:30pm.

I turns out that my blood sugar had been dangerously high that day, with numbers that are usually used to describe car payments. Stress from the driving could account for some of it, as could the starch-heavy food that travelers are often forced to live on. It’s even possible that my slow metabolism was still processing the red beans and rice from two days earlier. Whatever the case, those blood tests were shocking, and these are things that a type-2 diabetic can not ignore. I started planning some diet changes that very night.

This brought home the fact that 2017, and the drastic life changes it was going to bring, had begun.

The caracal had gone to sleep. We were home.

Stock image found on Pintertest

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Dems good eats

Operation Caracal, Part 6

Day 12, January 1, 2017

If this day would be summed up in one word, that word would be food. All regional members of the Vedeckis extended family gathered at Ms. Mary and Mr. Wayne’s home, and spent the afternoon mingling, burning sparklers, and eating.

Unlike the structured Christmas dinner of the previous week, this was a free-form, buffet-style affair. I found Mr. Wayne’s red beans and rice to be one of the best versions of that dish I had ever had, so I asked him if there was secret ingredient involved. There was no secret ingredient, but there was a hard to find one. He used a rue mix as the base for the sauce, and this mix is made by the Blue Runner Foods company. Near as I can tell, this brand isn’t available in upper Virginia, though I’m keeping my eyes open. If I can’t find it, then I may have to have some shipped in, or, the next time we visit Louisiana I’ll have to stock up on it!

This recipe, from the Blue Runner Foods web site, is very close to the one Mr. Wayne used.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 2 cups ham or pickled pork, diced into1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups Andouille smoked sausage, sliced into half-rounds, 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 2 cups finely diced celery
  • 3 cups finely diced yellow onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely diced canned tomato
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 lb. red kidney beans, washed
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the ham or pickled pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat begins to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage begins to brown, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the beans. Cook, covered, for 1 hour.
  7. Remove the lid and stir in the parsley. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the broth has a gravy-like consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and serve with cooked rice.

This recipe can easily be customized. For example, to make this more diabetic-friendly, serve over brown rice instead white rice. Brown rice has fewer of the “bad carbs” that cause diabetics so much angst.

The gathering had broken up by late afternoon. That was when the Culpeper clan reluctantly started packing their bags for the return trip to Virginia.

To be concluded.


Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition