If you want to read news from Essex, please send it along to me at my e-mail address. I always mention in this column anything given to me, whether it's a talk at the library, an academic success, or some other notable town event. However, if I don't get any news items, I can't write about them, so please don't be bashful.

This week I'm back in Alabama, trying to remember it's December, even though it feels a lot like early autumn. There are trees turning color, including a widely planted ornamental pear that is a radiant scarlet right now. The smell of freshly mowed grass is in the air and football, a passionately beloved sport around here, dominates conversations. There are also reminders of Christmas, although it just seems wrong to put lights on palm trees. A lot of inflated snowmen are around town, but most people here have no experience with snow and prefer to keep it that way.

I had a little fun with snow on my drive here, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The first flakes made the traffic slow down, and then sleet and freezing rain really messed up things. The bad roads didn't bother me as much as the overly confident local drivers, many of whom wound up in the ditch.

Later this week, my mother and I are driving to Texas have Christmas with my children. Amy is already there, but not Ginny. As you may recall, Amy is my wife and Ginny is our dog. Ginny is spending her holidays in Reber with neighbors, who adore and pamper her. In fact, the level of dog spoiling is at the shameless level. Ginny has a plush carpet by the woodstove, a place on the sofa for watching TV, and a spot on the bed at night. In exchange, Ginny chases squirrels away from the bird feeders and takes care of any food that might drop on the floor.

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