Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in a bottle

I couldn't remember if I had managed a year-in-review post last year. Turns out I did a brief one. It's a tricky business, attempting to sum up and make sense of a year, to feel good enough about it. I get caught in that tricky place where it all just seems too familiar, too similar, and then I have to remind myself that it's a good thing, this little life here with my family our our cherished routines.

I do try mostly to find images I haven't used here before, but find it's difficult to tell stories I haven't told before. The blog is the ongoing reflection, right?, so it should seem that whether told in the course of one post or over the course of one year the stories are familiar.


I generally do start each year with crafting energy ablaze; I met Kym through a swap that was all about handmade toys. (Now that could be interesting -- keeping track of the new people I meet through the course of a year...). This bear pattern came from a Japanese craft magazine, and I'll say now that in 2010 I'd like to spend less time noodling around on the computer and more time crafting.


My birthday is in February and this was my self-portrait last year. I think I look a little sad, and maybe it's because the lousy weather made it impossible for us to carry out all the plans we'd had for the day. It was a very snowy, rainy, slushy wet winter.


Hard winters make the first rays of spring sunlight so precious -- even being able to unzip a jacket feels miraculous. I tried carrying my camera with me a little more often last year and would like to put more effort this year into photographing the everyday world.

We were finally able to go out for my birthday dinner in March -- Korean bbq. We made an effort last year to avoid chain restaurants (and we're pretty sure we went McDonald's free the whole time); we're all interested in pushing ourselves further this year in the support of local businesses.


Dean's birthday is in April, and there always seem to be several opportunities to celebrate it and light candles and wonder how on earth each Dean Year passes so quickly.

He got these cones for setting up soccer practice zones in the yard but seeing as he IS my son, afterall, he figured they'd make a good hat first thing.

We had a magnificent trip to my homeland, Chicago. I wished we lived there, or at least closer. This trip was way too short but we had just a wonderful time with family and I was able to connect (hurray for Facebook!) with some of my childhood friends. There is something deep -- tangible -- about being home, about being in the place that I truly know.


Dean's class had a family camping trip to Cape Cod. We explored salt water marshes like this one, and the ocean, and all the things that can be done with marshmallows, sticks, and open flame.

A wet winter followed by a long wet spring meant spectacular things for the garden. Ken and Dean are both passionate gardeners -- Dean even successfully set up a hummingbird feeder and garden this year -- which gives us yet one more thing to enjoy doing together.

Dean's primary philanthropic activity so far has been his annual walk to raise money for Dog Orphans. I'm sure he'll do this again next May, but meanwhile he's added sponsorship of a child through ChildFund. We hoped we were raising a child who would be caring and empathetic, and it just warms our hearts (and makes a feel a little better about some of the areas we haven't done as well) to see him make these kinds of choices on his own.


This could be my favorite picture of Biscuit. I probably posted this one before, but I think he's telling me he loves me here.

We crack ourselves up. PhotoBooth fun for the one-eyed boy and his two-headed mother.


Dean always does a variety of day camps over the course of the summer and zoo camp has been a particular favorite. What's not to love about taping a net to a long stick so you can explore a swamp?

I appreciate the Massachusetts sense of humor. For those who aren't familiar, this is how the word 'smart' is pronounced by the locals.


Ken turned 50 in August, as improbable as that still sounds to me, and it was his heart's desire to spend his big day in Disney World.

Oh it's goopy touristy silly and I still love it. I still mean to post a whole slew of pictures so that I can show you the other side of Disney World -- the pictures of things you'd never expect to encounter. It's a deeply beautiful place, although you have to be willing to slow down and dig a little to see it that way.


And this was the last mini-golf game of the season. Yeah, what can I say, I love that shirt....

Gina actually gave away one of her amazing quilts in September and I was the person who actually won it. Can you see how incredible her fabric choices are? I can't imagine life, anymore, without my blogging friends. I have to think about how to honor and extend those connections.

This was Dean's Hope Banner, made on the first day of school. And he meant it.


We managed to take in one professional soccer game -- MLS just doesn't quite have the panache of the European league play but we cheered on our local boys and vowed that if the European clubs send any teams over for friendlies this year then we're definitely going. SO exciting to think that 2010 is a World Cup year....

I caught this shot of Dean as he got home from a field trip.


Dean and I went to Boston in torrential downpours to see the Harry Potter exhibit (primarily of props and sections of sets from the movies). It's almost enough to call it a bona fide curse -- if we've purchased tickets in advance for something, it seems to guarantee horrific weather, or illness, or some other calamity that often leaves us unable to use the tickets. We weren't going to get driving rain keep us from going this time, though.


From the poem Snow Day, by Billy Collins:

In a while I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch,
sending a cold shower down on us both.

Biscuit does porpoise through the drifts, dragging his boy after him with both of them laughing and gasping for breath. They come in cold and utterly encrusted in snow and tired and thirsty and ready to curl up and get warm again.

A toast to the year, to the stories ahead, to you and to me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Already a memory

It has been a tremendous relief to me, over the past few years, to hone the ability to think of "Christmas" as not just one day but as really a series of events and experiences that unfold over the course of about a week. Certainly the building up to that, starting just after Thanksgiving, constitutes the Christmas season, but I just mean the focus, the point of all that preparation is that central week (and not just that one big day). This has helped me not feel depressed when the day itself is over in a flash.

Christmas, then, starts after we are out of school for winter break. With Christmas late in the week, it meant that break started on Monday which was another detail that helped make it possible to relax, enjoy, and still get things done. Step One was the baking and construction of our annual gingerbread houses. After about 12 years or so of doing these, I've found that rolling the dough thin thin thin (in the 1/8" neighborhood) works best -- but I'll note that the recipe I use bakes up super sturdy (even though it is made with all-edible ingredients, once you bake it there's no eating it -- it's just too hard).

I've also got the royal icing down so that it does set up pretty quickly, which is a more important detail if you're working with children since the waiting-to-decorate part is the hardest.

Dean went fairly free-form this year; sometimes he's more about the candy and other details, but this year he was just having a great time with the piping bags. Another critical ingredient to success (for me, anyway) in making gingerbread houses with a child is changing what you're idea of 'perfect' means. I used to be aiming for Martha, to be honest, but now I believe with all my heart that perfection is having a wonderful time and having your child eager for the experience again next year (and I believe these are two very opposite ends of the scale).

I need to remember to pick up another small string of LED lights; I only have one and we decided not to run it between the two houses and instead decided to ditch the lights. I do like how they look when they are lit from within, but even without that detail I'm delighted with how these turned out. And they smell wonderful!

We developed the tradition over the years of opening our gifts from far away family and friends on Christmas Eve. This both helps us truly focus on these dear people and the special things they've sent, and it also helps Dean deal with the incredible excitement and anticipation that's at a fever pitch by the 24th.

You could have heard a pin drop when Dean opened his gift from Gina and her family. Gina regularly spoils Dean with bountiful packages full of football (soccer) magazines, the likes of which just are not available here in the states -- in fact, this Christmas parcel also included several fabulous ones that came with a hat, and a calendar, and stickers (they give away a lot of premiums in those English mags!). But to have sent him an official Liverpool jersey was beyond our wildest dreams. Dean shares Liverpool love with Gina and her family, but we can never thank them enough for such an amazing gift. Dean is looking forward to wearing it to school next week! Another tale of the miracle of blogging, and the incredible connections to people whom we never otherwise would know or treasure....

Dean also received some beautiful books from family, and dug right into those that evening. Eventually, though, it was time for bed and a few other family traditions.

In about 1967, my mom designed an advent calendar; she made one for our family and one that was raffled off in the church bazaar. Pockets with tiny felt figures, one to be drawn out and placed on the tree each night of Advent, with Santa to be drawn and placed on the 24th. Although these calendars are ubiquitous now, they certainly weren't back then and my mom's design was entirely original. This is my re-making of her design -- a few of the felt figures are her originals and the rest I remade from memory (or added my own).

Stockings hung by the chimney with care,

with a cookie for Santa and carrot for his reindeer.

Apparently the offerings, as well as the relative goodness of each of us during the course of the year, were enough to merit some very full stockings on Christmas morning! Those, of course, get opened and enjoyed first.

Dean's dog robe was one of his gifts last year. He made his way slowly and thoughtfully through his gifts, with one surprise gift to both Dean and Ken from me --

Rockband! Neither had asked for it but it has turned out to be a big hit all around. I love those kinds of gifts -- the ones you weren't even thinking of but love.

After presents, our traditional Christmas breakfast of eggnog french toast. We have a lot of special meals, including fish on Christmas Even (shrimp, and then swordfish this year) and then a big dinner Christmas night (maple and dijon glazed roast pork). Appetizers mid-day, enjoyed amidst the toys and treats just received.

(Don't worry -- it only looks as though the tall candle is too close to the figures hanging from the wreath on the chandelier!)

Had to try my hand at Rockband (and part of Biscuit's stocking contents are there on the floor...).

I received some lovely gifts, and amongst my favorites are this set of cookie cutters (isn't the packaging wonderful?). I was delighted with the number of Etsy/blogland gifts that made it under the tree.

And the cutters themselves. SO looking forward to a batch of gnomes.

We had snow, and warmth, and good cheer. And I think we'll do it all again in about a year -- with the note that we really, truly, and totally are going to aim to have all the gifts wrapped by Thanksgiving. Really. We mean it this time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Love and joy, come to you

Wishing you peace, fulfillment, good humor, dreams realized and dreams of what lies ahead.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


For a while there was a poster or plaque you could buy that said something along the lines of "if the three wise men had been women they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, and brought practical gifts" or something like that. Amen. Here's to the sisterhood of women who make the holidays happen.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Kinda looks like a shepherd in the Christmas Pageant, doesn't he? In fact, he is Ibn Rushd, a scholar of 12th century Spain whose work in establishing the idea that faith and reason could co-exist was pivotal in sparking the European renaissance of the 15th century. His own lifetime was lived during the earlier (12th century) renaissance, centered in the Arab world, of which few Western children ever learn. The picture was taken Tuesday night, at the "Alhambra Banquet" where each member of his class presented what they had learned about the person he or she studied, where we sat on low cushions on the floor to eat a middle eastern feast, and where every single person in the room learned things he or she did not know before.

I LOVE our school.

And today, I'm working feverishly to prepare for our first Christmas feast, which takes place tomorrow when family comes to visit and celebrate. That I put placecards and decoration before, say, vacuuming and scrubbing the bathroom drives Ken a little crazy, but I know it will all get done. And I'd rather suffer the indignity of a few dustbunnies than a holiday table that hardly seems set.

Baked a chocolate pie this morning and am prepping the foods that I can for tomorrow. Making fresh pizza for dinner tonight, too. Whenever I feel myself starting to get panicky I just turn the holiday music up a little louder and remind myself that enjoying it is the most important part.

No, I didn't make her, but I did make...

...this little banner for above the kitchen sink. Most of our snow has gone but a big storm is brewing, I hear. The banner says "Merry Moose" -- hard to explain why we refer to Christmas as 'moose' in our house, but I think you can roll with me on this one.

Love and joy, come to you!