Christmas 2011

Many people don’t take extra time off at Christmas. I hear a lot of, “Well, it’s quiet, so it’s the best time to work!” Nonsense. If you just take a few vacation days, you end up getting many, many days in a row away from work. And while I haven’t been in this job long enough to feel stressed by it, being out of a routine for large stretches is so wonderful, especially when you get to spend it with your family doing the things you enjoy.

Such as bird watching. There’s a new National Wildlife Refuge near the Illinois River, Emiquon. It’s a little more than an hour drive over there from where my parents live, but it’s so worth it. I don’t think we ever saw big skeins of snow geese in Illinois before—that was always something to be seen in Missouri at another huge Refuge, Squaw Creek. But now that this place exists, the snows are starting to find it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to stand under those huge skeins and risk a bird-poop shower in order to hear their calling. But don’t worry: we emerged unscathed.

The other big treat in a setting like this is bald eagles. I don’t know whether they’re off the Endangered list, but they are definitely thriving along the Illinois River.

They’ve created a nice series of walkways and paths, though many were closed for the winter. Still, it’ll be nice to be able to walk out over the water when they are open.

The birds aren’t just near the river. We found three pheasants over near Moraine View State Park. No GOP candidates will be able to bag this fellow.

Oh, you know. This is just another typical sunrise in central Illinois where there are no buildings to obscure your view.

Out of things to do, well, you can always go back to Emiquon, this time to see herons. I counted twelve in one area alone. And you know how happy I get seeing just one heron.

There are also a lot of Canada geese hanging around. Because that’s what they do, I guess. They’re everywhere and I hate dodging their poop on a walk, but they are still pretty birds.

An important James holiday tradition is a pilgrimage to Moline IL and the John Deere World Headquarters. I don’t remember how this started, but we’ve been doing it several years now. The day begins by getting up bright and early in order to catch breakfast at The Iowa Machine Shed. David and Dad always get the pecan pancakes, which are basically a pecan pie turned into pancakes. I don’t know how this place does it, but their pancakes are so beautifully fluffy.

I hop all over the menu. One year I had an omelette that basically had a pork quesadilla inside it (evil, evil stuff; see this post for the consequences of this behavior). This day I went all out and had the cinnamon french toast. What? you’re thinking, That’s not so bad. Au contraire! This particular french toast is made by taking one of their monster cinnamon rolls (day old and with the frosting still on) and turning it into french toast. I made it through one and a half pieces, and I imagine as I write this, David is enjoying the other half. It’s particularly delicious when you reach across to Dad’s plate and dip a forkful in his pecan syrup.

David looks terribly serious in this photo, but I believe it’s because the picture-taking process delayed his enjoyment of breakfast.

After breakfast, we tried to go to the Pavillion in downtown Rock Island, but it’s closed for renovation. Turns out this is Deere’s 175th anniversary (or rather, 2012 is), so preparations are underway to celebrate it correctly.

We headed, then, to the World Headquarters, which contains a little museum and display area for some of their creations. I climbed right into the first tractor I found.

Dad watched helplessly from the floor.

Then David and I switched.

And I finished the day in a combine.

Maybe none of this sounds exciting to you, and I suppose “exciting” isn’t the word. But it’s relaxing and fun, and I feel ready to tackle 2012 now, whatever it’s going to throw at me.