Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Missives

In our ever-increasingly high-tech world, I tend to be on the low-tech end of many things. I don’t Instagram or Snapchat or Tweet. When I called a friend the other day to get directions en route, his response was an incredulous, “Don’t you have Google Maps?” I still write appointments into a paper daytimer, which sits on my kitchen counter and is in no way synced to my phone and laptop.

This low-tech-ness extends to my method of sending Christmas cards. You won’t find me mail merging from a fancy Excel spreadsheet or printing tidy labels from an organized list. Nope. I still use my trusty spiral-bound address book. Judging by some of the names scribbled within, I’ve had the book a good 20 years. Probably longer.

Sorting out the Christmas card list is always a trip down Memory Lane anyway, a journey enhanced by the physical act of turning the pages of my slightly tattered address book. With an electronic list, updates are made with a few keystrokes as friends move or fall out of touch. My little book, which sits idly by the phone for the rest of the year, reveals names of Christmases past – and many other adventures.

I can see clearly which friends have moved several times, because their old locales are scratched off and rewritten wherever there was room. Sticky notes with other address changes poke out in a multi-colored array from the worn pages. Married friends with changed last names often have two entries – with their original names and their newer ones – and I have to take care not to send multiple cards to these twice-entered pals.

I pause, at least inwardly, often as I address the envelopes, wondering what old friends in Colorado or Massachusetts or across the Atlantic have been up to in the months since we last exchanged Christmas cards, trying to figure out how old children I once babysat are now. (I am always surprised when their family cards arrive and reveal these children I hold in my mind as toddlers or grade schoolers are now driving or attending college.)

Many times I can picture the places where I am sending the cards – the view of Paradise Divide from Crested Butte, the happily cluttered house of my one-time soccer coach in Old Harlow, the craggy shoreline and green-gray sea of the Renvyle Peninsula. As my pen puts numbers and street names onto paper, I recall times spent in these places.

If I were to print labels from an electronic address list, I’d lose that conjuring up of the past, which is the best part of sending cards. My method takes longer and can certainly be a bit disorderly, but I like it anyway.

Some of the names in my address book I’ve not written onto an envelope in many years. There are college buddies with whom I exchanged summer letters long ago, before the dawn of email, when notes were sent from mailbox to mailbox year-round, not only at Christmastime. Their names are still in the book, but their addresses have likely changed many times since we last corresponded.

For years I sent a card to the nervous Irish couple I lodged with during the summer I studied at university in Galway. I no longer send the annual missive to their address on Carbry Road, nor have I received one from them in several Christmases. But that entry in my address book evokes memories of my first journey to Ireland, which I spent seeking some insight into my Irish heritage, struggling to learn an ancient language, and embracing legends and fairytales I’d never heard as a child.

There are other names from that summer, too, mostly people I’ve fallen out of touch with in the 20 years since, but a few who still receive a Christmas card from me each year. There are high school friends within those pages, too, and old soccer teammates, former co-workers and longtime family friends. A few of the names in my book belong to people who have died; as I turn the pages, I remember them, too, and our shared stories. It seems right to have their names still written there.

For many of the people on my Christmas card list, this annual exchange by so-called snail mail is our only correspondence. Others I see often or occasionally. Many pop up on my Facebook feed, so I feel as if I have some sense of the goings-on in their lives, even if we haven’t spoken in years.

Some of their cards come with newsy letters of recent events, both happy and challenging. Others are store-bought cards, hastily signed. Many include photos of growing children, beloved pets, and adventures from the past year. Before I open each envelope, I try to discern the sender from the handwriting or the postmark. I am happy to receive each card, each glimpse into the world of the sender, whether casual acquaintance, favorite cousin, or dear old friend.

Sometimes I receive a card from someone who has moved since their last holiday missive. I tear the return address from the envelope and tuck it into my address book where it joins other similar scraps, old notes and letters I’ve saved, and many treasured memories. All stowed away until next year’s Christmas mailing.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 24, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Frightful Weather

Oh, the weather outside is … hardly frightful. Unless you’re trying to operate a cold weather-dependent business, or you actually like snow in winter. In that case, the spring-like weather this December is downright scary. We had a short-lived snowfall last week, which set my kids scrambling to get outside. But the first snowmen of the season have melted into crusty lumps of dirty snow, soggy hats, and wilted carrots. It’s safe to say Jack Frost isn’t nipping any noses lately.

Poor Frosty.
I know there are plenty of people enjoying the balminess, but it’s a major headache for ski areas and other businesses – and their employees – who rely on cold and snow to function. Springtime weather in December means fewer people are skiing, which means fewer ski area employees are receiving paychecks. And if you’re a Nordic ski area or snowmobile-related business, well, you’re plain out of luck.

I know I’m not the only one suffering the no-snow December blues. We East Coast skiers are a hardy bunch. We are eager to ski a strip of manmade snow in the early season, if that’s what our option is. We add as many layers as it takes to combat well-below-zero temperatures, and we learn young to lean into icy gusts of wind, lest we lose our grip on the snow. We are not put off by the hard stuff – blue ice, boiler plate, death cookies; call it what you will, we’ll ski it. Many of us have even resorted to donning refurbished Hefty bags to make skiing in the rain of a January thaw less, well, wet.

But when it’s 34 degrees and pouring rain the first week of December, or when the forecast calls for temperatures pushing 50 two weeks before Christmas, or when all that hard-earned snow-making effort is melting right back into the snow making lake – well, it’s hard on a skier’s psyche.

Each morning, as I sit down with my first cup of coffee and my keyboard, I peer out the window, seeking the distant lights of groomers shining through the darkness of pre-dawn: tiny beacons of hope. When the morning sky brightens, I look for the upward plumes of white along the ski trails at Cannon Mountain, signs that it is cold enough, at least, to make snow.

Most Decembers those manmade snow clouds rise in a steady march up the mountain, as the white stuff is pumped skyward to sift down onto the trails, the lifeblood of early season skiing in the Northeast. This year the snow guns have been shutting down by mid-morning most days, if they are fired up at all. It has been too warm to do much beyond laying down a narrow ribbon of white, building it up on cold nights so that it can survive the persistent onslaught of too-warm weather.

Still, my kids were beyond excited to get on the hill last weekend for their first ski outing of the season. They went to bed with visions of snowflakes pirouetting through their little skier dreams and woke Saturday morning raring to hit the slopes, limited as those slopes are at the moment. Instead of worrying about frozen toes and frostbitten noses, we shed layers as the temperatures climbed, and got a preposterously early start on our goggle tans.

It felt good to be skiing again after a long hiatus, and we’re ready for more: more snow, more skiing, more winter. Alas, the forecast remains more suited to April than December. The snow guns are idle until cooler weather returns. And I might have to dig out a Hefty bag for skiing before I don the down jacket.

Yes, the weather outside is frightful, indeed. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 11, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.