Spring comes early …

but it won’t stay.

If you have been watching the news, or if you live in the East and have gone outside, you’re already aware of how warm this December has been. My brother visited us Sunday and pointed out that our daffodils are starting to grow, at the time that most gardeners recommend planting bulbs.

early daffodils

It’s no surprise. Our nightly low temperatures have been higher than the normal highs for days this month.

My brother said that forsythias, which are also spring bloomers, are blooming now in Chattanooga, where he lives. I heard a radio story last week that had reports from a lot of places around the country of blooming plants and even new baby birds.

Unfortunately, the lows here are expected to be below freezing later this week. Neither the early plant growth nor the early birds are likely to survive through the winter, and winter will come, even if it’s late.

I have not seen much about a connection between this warm weather and global warming. Most meteorologists or weather people have talked about a strong El Niño. That usually is associated with wetter weather and cooler than normal winter temperatures here in Georgia. We are getting wet weather, but not cooler temperatures.

Climatologists almost always warn against associating a specific weather event with global warming (or climate change as it has become known, mainly because of conservative opposition to science). However, there are certain mathematical and statistical properties that measurements of many physical quantities follow. Such measurements include things like the height of 20-year-old males or the weight of full-term babies at one year. They also apply to things like measurements of high temperatures on a given day of the year at a given location. Such measurements almost always have what is called a normal distribution. In a normal distribution, measurements tend to group around the average, and have fewer measurements either higher or lower than average. A normal distribution will also have the same number of measurements below and above the average.

Accurate, reliable temperature measurements have been made for a limited time in most locations, so the number of measurements on any given day of the year will be fairly small, probably under 200. As a result, new record lows and highs will be recorded occasionally, although probably decreasing over time as more and more data accumulate. Since temperatures almost certainly follow a normal distribution, there should be a roughly equal number of new record lows and highs over a reasonably long period. If you start seeing more record highs than record lows, it probably means that something is changing. That’s what we have been seeing that in recent years.

Global warming won’t mean that we don’t have cold winters, and it won’t mean that we don’t have new record low temperatures. But it will mean that we will see events like the warm December of 2015 more and more often in the future.

Post-Christmas roundup

Christmas day was quiet up on the mountain. I’m not sure we have done less on any given day in the recent past. We mostly sat around and listened to the rain. The only time I went outside was a quick trip up the road to let Zeke take care of his business, and a couple of even quicker trips around the house to let both dogs do their business. The rest of the time we stayed inside, and did nothing and saw no one.

We had been having egg nog every evening since Thanksgiving, so Thursday night when we realized we had run out of egg nog before we ran out of Southern Comfort, I went back down to the grocery store for more. They were sold out. I checked a couple of liquor stores, and they had run out, too. I stopped at a convenience store and they didn’t know what egg nog was. So we didn’t have egg nog for Christmas night.

We had another foiled Christmas tradition. Leah has made it a custom to give the guy who makes our eyeglasses a spiked fruitcake every Christmas. We prepared the fruitcake and took it by his office on Tuesday, only to find out that they had closed their office until the Monday after Christmas. I think it will be okay to deliver on Monday; I’m pretty sure it has been properly preserved.

Late in the day Leah started preparing Christmas dinner. We had deep-fried turkey (store bought) and cornbread dressing (home made, and very good) with turkey gravy (let’s say half store bought and half home made). It was good, so I ate a lot. Leah says she ate a lot, but she really didn’t.

A few days before Christmas we had given in and put a couple of decorations in the living room, but we didn’t put up a tree. That was OK, since we had each bought our own presents weeks earlier.

All in all, we both thought it was a pretty decent Christmas. We hope everyone had at least as good Christmas as we did.

The most memorable features of Christmas here, as well as most of the East Coast, were rain and extraordinarily high temperatures. A lot of places west and south of us had much more rain and much worse weather than we did, but we had a lot of rain. When I went outside Saturday morning, I could hear the dull road from the rush of water in all the streams flowing down the mountain. The rivers and most of the larger streams around Rome were at or over flood stage, although there was no severe flooding. We don’t know exactly how much rain we had on the mountain, because our rain gauge is broken.

Saturday morning we saw sunlight for the first time in days.


A little later it looked like the clouds would disappear.


And then a little later than that, it looked like it would rain again.


It did rain, but only a light mist that didn’t even get me and the dogs wet when we went up to look at the house. The house weather tight now, but someone left a window open before it started raining, so the floor sheathing was wet in some places. I wanted to see if a particular place was wetter. It wasn’t, but it also wasn’t dry. I don’t know whether it’s a leak, or maybe someone just dropped a water bottle.

We had a rough inspection on December 23. It covered plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning, and framing. The inspector left me with a list of eight things that need to be addressed before he will sign off. Two are fairly serious framing issues. The ridge beam needs more support for one thing. That should be straightforward. The other issue is a butchered i-joist where the plumber cut away some of the upper part of the joist to get the master bath shower drain in. When I saw that a few days earlier I knew it was going to be a problem; I just don’t know why the plumbers didn’t know that. I have to call the framer to see what we can do about those two issues.

The plumber also missed a few places that need metal plates to protect pipes from drywall screws and nails. I also don’t know why they missed those, but at least all those will require is a metal plate and a few nails.

The inspector found no problems with the electrical or heating/cooling system. That’s good. He also said we can proceed with insulation, since that won’t cover any of the required fixes.

So insulation is the next big project, and I intend to do this one myself.

‘Twas the night before Christmas …

… and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a …

Hey, Zeke, come on, you know Santa will never come if you stay up looking for him.

Zeke, get away from the door

Go on, Zeke, go to bed and go to sleep.

zeke in bedGood dog. Hey, Chloe, you heard what I told Zeke!

chloe looking outEveryone go to bed, right now!

That’s right, Lucy, good dog.

lucy asleep You, too, Sylvester, good kitty.

sylvester asleeep

Come on, now, Smokey, you  aren’t fooling anyone.

smokey faking it

That’s good, Smokey, but you’re going to have to move if your mother is ever going to get to bed.

smokey asleep

There, Smokey, that’s better.

smokey asleep

Look, even Chloe is finally asleep.

chloe asleep

Sam! You’re going to scare Santa away if you look at him like that.

sam wide awake

There, that’s better.

sam asleep

But Sam, I’m afraid you’re going to have to sleep in your doghouse tonight. I’m sure Santa will visit you there, too.

OK, I think everyone is in bed.

And soon, we’ll be visited by that right jolly old elf …

st dogolas

St. Dogolas!

And so, from Leah, Mark, Zeke, Lucy, Chloe, Sylvester, Smokey and Sam,

happy christmas

and to all a good night!

In memoriam: Zoe the cat, gone since Fall 2014.

goodbye zoe

Shadows of things that have been

Every good feeling I have about Christmas today is a remnant of the excitement and joy I felt as a child at Christmas.

When we were kids, there always seemed to be a huge pile of presents around the tree for my brother and me. It was hard to wait till Christmas to open them. Putting all those presents around the tree and making us wait to open them was like putting a bowl of food in front of a dog and not letting him eat. When I was old enough to go to school, my mother took a job in the office of a textile mill in Rome. We always called her when we got home from school. When Christmas was near, we called and begged her to let us open just one present early. It must have been pretty annoying, because sometimes she gave in.

This is one of my earliest Christmases. It must have been around 1952. I would have been two years old and my brother would have been five.


I’m holding a toy truck, possibly a garbage truck, and my brother is torn between the train set and the Motorcade service station and car wash. I remember the metal Motorcade, with the elevator to take the cars up to parking on the roof and the ramp that let them scoot back down to the floor. It looks like we also got a ten-pin bowling set and a toy telephone. My brother got a cap pistol. The picture was taken in our living room, and what you can see here is the entire room.

This was a different Christmas. We got Lincoln Logs.

henry and mark at xmas

The bike is my brother’s first. It was green.

Here is my father and my brother Henry at yet another Christmas. This might have been before I was born. The sofa and chair are the same but without slip covers.

bd and henry

Here’s Leah with her familys’ tree.

leah at christmas

When I look back at my family Christmases, I have no idea how my parents managed. In those days, my mother kept a budget down to the penny. Here are two pages from her spending record from 1949, before I was born. My parents and Henry lived in Akron, Ohio, at that time.

budget_1 1

Some of the expenses look amazingly small today. Car insurance was $4.00. The house payment was $14.00. The electric bill was $1.75, and the gas bill was $3.00. My mother had bought a sewing machine and was making payments on it. But look at groceries – $26.00. Sounds low until you realize that was for two weeks at a time that my father was making under $200 a month.

By the time I was born in May 1950, my family had moved back to Rome and bought a house on Redmond Road. It was one of around two dozen identical duplexes that had been built as temporary housing for staff at Battey General Hospital, which opened at the end of Redmond Road in 1943 as a hospital for sick, wounded and disabled servicemen. Each unit of the duplex had a living room, eat-in kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. My parents rented the other side of our duplex to a divorced woman and her child. More than a half a century later, that woman would share a room with my mother in a nursing home on Redmond Circle, an extension of Redmond Road.

Here is a page from my mother’s spending record from July, 1950.


The house payment was now $66.36. Groceries were $30.00. Henry got a pair of shoes for $2.00. It looks like my father was paying off insulation he bought for the house. My father worked at the Post Office then. It looks like his semi-monthly salary was $113.00, which they supplemented with $42.00 in rent for the other side of the duplex. At the end of the two-week period, they had managed to save a little over $14.00.

So, I don’t really know how they managed Christmas for us two kids, but I know why they did.

bd with us

My mother continued to decorate her house and a tree in her living room, right up to the time she died.


She loved Christmas, and I imagine that part of that was because of her own memories of Christmas when we were young.

When my mother and Leah’s parents were alive, we decorated for Christmas.


Leah is decorating the tree. My last doberman, Zeus, is trying to snooze on his living room bed. The late, great Zoe is peeking out the sliding glass door. Looking for Santa, I suppose.

My parents are gone now, and so are Leah’s. We have no children and no close family here. We don’t decorate or celebrate Christmas. We’ll probably eat some turkey sliced for us at the Walmart deli, and maybe we’ll fix some packaged dressing. But really, all that’s left of the holiday for us is the ghost of Christmas past.

Night view


We picked a cold night to see what the night view is from our new front porch. The picture is fuzzy, but the  best I could do under the circumstances, which means putting the camera on the handrail and trying to hold it steady during the exposure. It was just below freezing, the coldest temperature we have had so far during this extraordinarily warm fall.

We, or rather the various trades, have made significant progress on the house. The plumber says he’s ready for the rough inspection. I think the heating and air conditioning is also ready. The electrician wants to check with the well driller before he says he’s ready. I also need to check with the framing contractor to see whether he thinks he’s ready. If so, maybe we can get all the rough-in inspected before Christmas.

If we pass those inspections, I can start insulating the walls. I plan to do that myself, as much to make sure it’s done right as to save money. The electrician recommended choosing a contractor to install the garage doors so he can put the low-voltage garage-door sensor wires behind the sheetrock. Once that’s done and the walls are insulated, we’ll get a sheetrock crew in.

But before we get sheetrock, I have to decide what we’re going to do about installing a wood-burning stove. I imagine that it will be easier to install the chimney, or parts of the chimney, before the attic is closed in by sheetrock. I also want to install a blower and ducts from above the stove across the attic to the master bedroom and bathroom so we can get some of the heat from the wood stove into those rooms. Part of that will also be easier without sheetrock.

The framer sent a crew to clean up debris around the exterior of the house and clean and sweep the interior. We now have a nice, big pile of construction debris that will have to be hauled to the landfill.

The framer is supposed to provide the exterior painter. I expected him to start last week, but he didn’t. Of course we had rain last week; that’s probably the reason. We picked out a color called Hunter Green. It’s a fairly dark green, one that I think will be appropriate for a woodsy setting. Even though I’m 100 percent with this choice, it is still a little outside my comfort zone. It will be interesting to see how it looks.