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Archive for December, 2010

Christmas Crafts

28.Dec.2010 by Susan Dunklee

My family’s December is filled with Christmas traditions.  As a kid, I couldn’t wait to climb into the attic and dig out our boxes of holiday decorations.  My younger brother always remembered exactly where we had stored the boxes the year before, and his first order of business was to unearth the stocking and hang them by the fireplace.  My favorite box contained our Christmas picture books.  Certain stories were reread so many times over the holidays that we all knew them by heart, including the “The Grinch” and “The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree.”  Finding a Christmas tree with the Dunklees was almost as much of an adventure as with the Berenstain Bears.  It involved a parade down the driveway with the dogs trotting eagerly ahead and the cats trailing along behind.   In the swamp we would pick out our “perfect” tree (it usually had a tangle of unkempt boughs and was missing branches in key places).  My brothers and I would argue over who got to saw it down and drag it back on the sled.

Back at home, we’d eat dinner around a table glowing with candle light.  At the center of the table sat a German Christmas pyramid with intricate wood carvings.

The Dunklee's Christmas pyramid centerpiece.

The Dunklee's Christmas pyramid centerpiece.

The heat from the candles at the bottom of the pyramid spun the paddles above and caused the multiple levels of rotating wooden carvings to rotate.  The bottom layer had wise men and their camel marching circles around a manager scene.  Upper levels depicted shepherds and angels.  Sometimes the spinner would get stuck and we’d spend half of dinner tinkering with the candles or the paddles trying to get it moving again.  We admired the design and craftsmanship of the pyramid and speculated how long it would take to make.  My parent told me they bought it from a catalog for $20 soon after the iron curtain fell.  There is no way that price accurately reflects the work that must have gone into it.

When I showed up at my parents’ house a couple days before Christmas this year, I discovered my father’s workbench covered in wood shavings, delicate saw work, and half finished carvings.  He’s tackling a project that he’s been talking about for years: building his own spinning pyramid.

A homemade wooden pyramid in progress on my dad's workbench.

A homemade wooden pyramid in progress on my dad's workbench.

It will have one level for each of us kids.  Mine will have skiers and biathletes on it, and he’s dreaming up ways to make a little biathlon target change colors from white to black as the scene spins.  I spent one morning trying to roughly shape a biathlete out of a block of wood.  Even with the help of a power jigsaw to get me started, the figure was barely recognizable after a couple hours of work.

Christmas pyramids originated in the Erzgebirge Mountains (also known as the Ore Mountains) of Germany along the Czech border, and evolved out of similar ancient traditions as the Christmas tree.  For hundreds of years, the inhabitants of the Erzgebirge region mined silver, tin, iron and copper, but as the minerals ran out, they needed to supplement their income.  They turned to wood carving and toy making, and the region is now famous for making spinning pyramids and nutcrackers, among other things.  Most of the creations depict either religious themes or folk themes, such as mining.   Unlike most of the things we see for sale today, these wood carvings are not mass produced, and none of them look exactly the same.

Altenberg, Germany lies in the heart of the Erzgebirge region and has many shops that showcase such wood carvings.

Masterpieces on display in an Altenberg shop.

Masterpieces on display in an Altenberg shop.

It is also famous for its biathlon venue.   I have been lucky enough to visit Altenberg for IBU Cup biathlon races and to see shops filled with wooden figurines, mining arches, and spinning pyramids.

January 2009.  I'm standing in front of a giant wooden pyramid in downtown Altenberg.

January 2009. I'm standing in front of a giant wooden pyramid in downtown Altenberg.

Last year the Altenberg races served as the US Olympic Team selection trials and my visit there was more stressful than I would have liked.  However, I’ll be returning there in January for more IBU Cup races and I’m excited to take in more of the village and culture.  Maybe I’ll find some inspiration.  I’ve got a vision swimming around in my mind of a Craftsbury spinning pyramid, with scullers, skiers, runners, and solar panels…

A day in the life: (semi) Pro

12.Dec.2010 by Patrick O'Brien

Racing in high school and college I wondered what was the mark of a full time professional athlete? Was it winning prize money at a Supertour? Racing in high level domestic competition or even in Europe? Was it having a full fleet of skis and a wax tech to make those hard calls for you on race day? Was it having a high strike rate?

I found out today the answer is winning eggs and toilet paper as prizes. 10 athletes living in a house go through lots of food. Eggs (and of course it follows, TP)  go particularly quick around here and this morning we were pretty much out of both.  I really can’t think of a better prize for race organizer to give out! Big congrats to the organizers at Bolton today (for their prize/raffle selections of course) and pulling off a well run race despite natures best efforts to intervene.

3 days worth of eggs!

3 days worth of eggs!

The haul: 7th gen. dish soap, dish washer powder, and tasty homemade baked goods!

The haul: 7th gen. dish soap, dish detergent, and tasty homemade baked goods!

Today I think we saw just about every type of precipitation imaginable over a two hour period. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, all thrown sideways at us from some monster wind gusts. It really speaks to how nasty it is outside when a Casco visor, one of the few choices of eye wear that doesen’t fog, is completely covered in a layer of snow and ice by the end of the first climb. The best tactic for descending today I found was to simply hope the racer ahead was keeping it on the course and follow their blurred outline down the hills. A pretty epic one in the books!

Overall we had a great day as a team with  Chelsea taking second in the woman’s race and Dylan Ollie and I placing sixth, fifth, and first in the guys field. It also felt great to get out and blow some carbon off the valves after some steady volume training here in Craftsbury following our Finland racing trip.

Link to full results

Weather outlook bleak- try back later...

Weather outlook bleak- try back later...

So what about the EC Opener this coming week? Hopefully the rain that is falling right now will turn to snow later tonight and leave us with a good solid base with some accumulation on top. I guess it will be pretty obvious if were going to have the races here in Craftsbury or have to move them by the morning. Looking at the current weather forecast right now (and hearing the rain falling outside) I would be pleasantly surprised if we still had much white stuff on the ground come Monday. But maybe, just maybe?

Quebec and Home

11.Dec.2010 by Patrick O'Brien

This last weekend members from the GRP headed to Foret Montmorency for a great weekend of skiing. When we arrived conditions were good, although only 10k or so of skiing was opened and had been groomed. But thanks to the steady snowfall the groomers continued to open more skiing every day and conditions steadily improved. By Sunday during our OD ski we were able to ski 20+k that had been groomed with the PB and much more that had been packed down previously. It had been a while since I had been to Foret so it was nice to head back there and enjoy a steady block of training on good snow. The additional elevation on some of the forest service roads really meant for some impressive snowfall accumulation while we were skiing. By the end of our skis the tracks that had been recently groomed had already filled in and were practically non-existent!

"Enemies of the forest" poster in our dorms- I never realized that la negligence  and l'urbanization were such problems...

"Enemies of the forest" poster in our dorms- I never realized that la negligence and l'urbanization were such problems...

Midwinter conditions in Foret

Midwinter conditions in Foret

The snowstorm that hit Quebec also brought us some white stuff here in Craftsbury. We probably got 6-7 inches of snow here in Craftsbury although the snow has been so light and fluffy that has packed down to practically nothing. Thanks to all the trail work and smoothing this summer coupled with extensive snow farming from the parking lots and along side the trail we have some great skiing despite the light snowfall so far. A big storm looks to be shaping up for this coming Sunday although it is uncertain if we will be getting some heavy snowfall accumulation or just rain instead.  Fingers crossed!

Overnight fluffies this whole last week- we're going to need a bit more accumulation before the opening Eastern Cups this comming weekend

Overnight flurries this whole last week- we're going to need a bit more accumulation before the opening Eastern Cups this comming weekend

Bird Feed

5.Dec.2010 by Susan Dunklee

This weekend we traveled to Forêt Montmorency (north of Quebec City) to find some snow.  They have plenty of snow here, with more falling as I write, and when the groomer decides to get out on the trails, the skiing is great.

The ski lodge and trail system is owned by Université Laval and doubles as an ecology research station.  There are posters all over the walls depicting everything from forest fire regeneration to tree identification using winter buds to common wildlife.  Unfortunately there are all in French so I can only understand the basics of what they say.  Lauren promises to translate for me if I’m dying to read any in particular.

The forest here has a much different feel than Craftsbury.  We are at the very southern edge of the Boreal Forest, a continuous belt of forest crossing the width of the continent and covering 60% of Canada.  Most of the trees are evergreens, spruce and fir especially, and they grow so thick that it is hard to imagine bushwhacking.   There is a good reason many of the early explorers traveled by water.  I’m not sure if all of the boreal forest looks so dense.   Left to its natural course, it would burn and regenerate through forest fire, but I suspect the section we are in has been logged and grown back thicker.

We’ve been enjoying the wildlife.  The first day here, we found almost a kilometer of classic tracks destroyed giant moose tracks.  Yesterday I almost skied over a grouse chilling in the middle of the trail.  Closer to the lodge, there is a resident fox that steals leftovers from the cafeteria and a variety of birds looking for handouts at the birdfeeder.  Dylan, Pat and Hannah decided to try feeding the birds and had gray jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and grosbeaks all land on their hands.

Dylan and a gray jay

Dylan and a gray jay

Before we left for Quebec, we celebrated Hannah’s birthday.  My favorite part of the day was returning home to find Ethan’s present for her sitting in the garage with a bloodied birthday card in its mouth.   Apparently he walked into the house and announced that he went for a walk in the woods (with his shotgun) and found her a birthday present.  “It has feathers,” is about all he said.

Han's birthday present

Han's birthday dinner