Best Christmas Cards of 2020

2020 may have been an unusual year, but it didn’t disappoint when it came to Christmas cards. In this annual blog post highlighting our favorite Christmas cards you will find some great images. Square-shaped cards seem to have been quite popular, as were images of dogs and cats. And who could resist the card with an image of Bernie Sander’s mittens!

Tablets and capsules dancing in the snow. Adorable!
A traditional card in 3D
Zealand’s favorite card
Festive mittens for staying warm on Inauguration Day

The First “Big” Hike of 2021

With a thinning snow cover and a prediction for clear and stable weather for the higher summits in the White Mountains, we decided to hike Franconia Ridge this past Sunday. It had been a while since we had been at higher elevations, so we were eager to stretch our legs and enjoy some views.

Our destination: Franconia Ridge, January 10th, 2021

While the forecast was for clear skies and sun, the winds at higher elevations were predicted to be high (30-45 mph). Since there is “no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, we packed plenty of protective clothing, and outfitted Zealand with a coat, boots and plenty of Musher’s Secret.

The route we would take is a classic one. Leaving from Lafayette Place, we would ascend via Falling Waters Trail to the summit Little Haystack. There we would take Franconia Ridge Trail over the summits of Lincoln and Lafayette, descend on the Greenleaf Ridge to the Greenleaf Hut, and take the Old Bridle Path back to the car.

Zealand near the summit of Little Haystack

It was a treat to see the many waterfalls along the Falling Water Trail frozen in time. There are many stream crossings and we were pleased to find ice bridges over most of them. The trail was covered in hard-packed snow and we made good progress with help of micro spikes. We met a few people, and a few dogs, but overall the trail was quiet.

A fellow hiker for perspective
Sheri and Zealand after just crossing an ice bridge

As predicted we started hiking in low cloud but by the time we reached the ridge, we were standing in brilliant sunshine. An inversion could be seen in nearly all directions, and particularly to the north.

Looking to the southwest

At the ridge we found very little snow, so we removed our “spikes”. The wind was gusty, but not as bad as we feared. The sun and warm temperatures offset the wind, and the views helped too.

Bruno squinting into the sun with Franconia Ridge in the background.

As we approached the summit of Lafayette hikers coming towards us were looking pretty bundled up. Sure enough, just below the summit of Mt. Lafayette the winds were steady at 35-40 mph. We paused briefly at the summit to capture a few images, and then quickly descended down Greenleaf Ridge.

Views of the Mt Washington and the Presidential Range with an inversion in the foreground

We arrived at the Greenleaf Hut at 12:30 pm and had a leisurely lunch on the back deck of the hut where we were sheltered from the wind. From there we took the Old Bridle Path back to the car. The afternoon sun was low in the ski but still was warm. The moderate descent through a mixture of pines and hardwoods made for a nice stroll back to the car.

Sheri and Zealand on the Old Bridle Path with Cannon Mountain in the background
Bruno at the junction of the Old Bridle Path and Walling Waters Trail

A winter hike to Franconia Ridge has been on the “list” for a while. It was an enjoyable day and we were pleased to have made a successful day, and that Zealand did well in some challenging conditions. This is one worth repeating!

When you can’t ride your snowboard….

The traditional English Christmas Cake is a favorite or ours, in part because it is so long-lasting and makes an excellent treat on the trails in winter, especially with a thermos of tea.

A traditional Christmas Cake is a dried-fruit based cake soaked in brandy, covered with marzipan and then royal icing. Typically, the cakes are decorated with traditional iconic holiday decorations, holly, pine cones, Christmas trees…you get the idea.

This year, with the expectation we may not be able to ride our snowboards due to the restrictions related to COVID-19, we decorated our cake with two brash snowboarders shredding a little powder. A girl and boy can dream, can’t they?

Until the next post….we will be on the trail, eating cake.

Even dogs celebrate Christmas…

One of Zealand’s Christmas presents this year was a piece of safety gear for when he takes long hikes in the mountains. It’s called an Airlift (made by Fido Pro) and it allows him to be carried off the mountain in the event that he gets injured far from the trailhead.

You may think this is rather unlikely, but we did have a close call with Kelsi in our younger days. We can attest that carrying a 60lb dog in your backpack isn’t very much fun!

Kelsi being ‘rescued’ in the Adirondacks many years ago…

We tested it out the Airlift in the house just to make sure that it works and fits Zealand’s long-legged physique. It seems like it is a good fit and he was happy to be carried around in style.

From now on this will be folded up and carried in our pack (along with our first aid kit, rain jackets and doggie treats) whenever we go for a long hike in the mountains. Better safe than sorry!

Christmas 2020 (at Cafe Dundee)

Our Christmas in 2020 was a little different than in past years.

We decided to travel to our chalet in New Hampshire so we could have a change of scene and enjoy some time in the mountains. But his meant that we needed to quarantine for 14-days when we arrived. Accordingly, we packed up the car with everything we might need for 2 weeks and set off a few days early.

Our friends Mike and Denise had managed to rent the chalet next-door-but-one to ours for a few days. So, we agreed to try to have an outside and socially distanced Christmas together if we could. We wouldn’t see anyone else and we all had plenty of warm clothes from our outdoor sporting activities to wear.

To shelter from the weather but still stay outdoors we set about creating an outdoor dining area under our deck. We needed protection from strong winds, cold temperatures and heavy rain (the typical New Hampshire weather at this time of year). This was achieved with a tarp, zip-ties, bungies, a string of Christmas lights, a propane heater, and the last remaining Christmas tree from our local hardware store. In just a few hours “Cafe Dundee” was created!

Despite a wide range of weather conditions (including 3” of rain on Christmas Day) we were able to enjoy festivities outside three nights in a row without getting drenched or suffering from frostbite. There was plenty of fresh air and lots of distance between us all even when huddled around the heater. And in between all of the eating and drinking associated with Christmas we managed to fit in a couple of nice winter hikes (Peaked Mountain, Attitash Trails) and a morning on our XC ski’s at Bear Notch.

A big thank you to Mike, Dee and Mesa for joining us in this crazy Christmas adventure. We had a great time and we hope that you did too!

Cave Mountain

We had hoped to spend our Christmas on skis but all the rain we received on Christmas Day left us with no snow. So, we have been exploring new places and since the days are short, we are looking for hikes nearby we can do with two doodles.

In Bartlett, near the chalet we hiked to Cave Mountain. After a short, but steep climb we came to a cliff with impressive boulders. Indeed there were caves. What we didn’t expect was a terrific view, not just from an opening at the top of the caves, but also along the trail, looking south and west. One of the benefits of hiking in winter in New England is prevalence of views that are masked in the canopy of late spring, summer and early fall. We were reminded today of why we enjoy hiking this time of year.

Bruno, Zealand and Mesa at the cliffs
The bones of the trees
Rock and ice
This is the closes to “snow” we have
Sunset through the trees, looking toward Bear Peak
Looking east over the Crippies
Waxing gibbous moon that will be full in 2 days

The Last Harvest of 2020

Post by Sheri

It has been a long year, even in the garden! In the past we have been able to push the garden well into fall, but never as late as December. I have read that in Vermont, farmers can grow greens into the winter using polytunnels. Apparently, protecting the tender plants from the wind is more critical than the cold.

So, during the fall clean up I planted some salad greens in one of the plots and covered them with poly tunnels. The only green that came up was arugula (rocket if you are in the UK) – which is no surprise as it does really well in Hangman Hill Gardens.

I have been watching the arugula grow, always wondering if I should harvest what was there, or keep letting it grow. It was always a balance between taking advantage of a warm fall temperatures and some pretty crazy storms with high winds that can damage the polytunnels (and did for the one covering chard).

Polytunnels over raised beds

With a Nor’easter starting to blow, snow falling and predictions for up to 12”, I knew it was time! Dressed in my down coat, hat and gloves, I harvested the arugula by head lamp with the snow swirling. I have harvested by headlamp in the dark, with the R.E.M. song “Gardening at Night”, playing in my head. Harvesting by headlamp in the snow is a first. The staves holding the tunnels in place were nearly frozen into the ground but I wrestled them out and… VIOLA! Fresh arugula on December 16th.

Inside the polytunnel
Little round ice drops yet green and tender arugula!
Arugula from Hangman Hill (Dec 16th!)

I hope this a good omen for 2021. Keep breathing and eat your veggies!

Christmas lights

Last night we enjoyed a Christmas “music and light show” put on by Pfizer at the Groton CT campus. It was open to employees and neighbours and helped to raise money for local charities and food banks. It was very well organized and a joy to drive through the buildings where we normally work all lit up for the holidays.

Building 220 labs
The parking garage

Giving Thanks

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving in Connecticut, just the two of us, and, Zealand and Chatra too. While we missed spending time with friends and family, we are grateful to have each other for company.

We are very lucky to have friends nearby that we can still see outside for meals or walks in the woods. Our Thanksgiving week started with a delivery of an incredible pumpkin bread from Jen. It was a treat that we savored whole week. We are very grateful to Jen and her culinary skills. We have had some fantastic bread, rolls and pretzels during the pandemic!

Jen’s pumpkin bread.

We were inspired by a colleague at work who shared her successful experience with a grilled spatchcock turkey. We followed a recipe from the New York Times that provided great instruction for removal of the backbone and for brining in buttermilk. After soaking the turkey for the recommended two-days, we opted to grill instead of roast given the warm tempeatures. To our delight, the turkey turned out beautifully and tasted great.

Spatchcock turkey on the grill

For sides, we kept things simple and had stuffing on the side, roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts, steamed peas and a pumpkin pie custard for dessert. The pumpkin custard is just pie filling in a ramekin. We loved the simplicity and less filling version of pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin Pie Custard

We spent the rest of the holiday weekend doing a few home renovations, went for a hike with the Mitchell-Dignan-Spencer clan and began some Christmas preparations. On Sunday evening we enjoyed a happy hour in the glow of our new fire pit and the light of the full moon.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Full Moon and now on to ski season… THINK SNOW!

North Moat Mountain in NH

We enjoyed unusually warm temperatures a few weeks ago for a shoulder season hike to North Moat Mountain. We had tried this hike last year, but had to abandon it due to high water levels.

The hike was very scenic and there were many wonderful views on the ascent. After a picnic lunch and a nap on the summit, we descended via the Red Ridge Trail which took as back to the Diana’s Bath parking lot.

A very scenic trail on the way up
Great views from the top
Relaxing on the summit