Sunday, December 04, 2022

oh the holidays we love!

Did you know that today is National Cookie Day? So what did you do to celebrate it? Nothing? Nothing?? Silly you.

It's hard for me to bring out even more cookies today, because I have been "bringing them out" since I went to Clasen's two weeks ago to pick up a dozen packs of chocolate covered gingerbread. These have been my everyday go-to lunch since then (oh knock it off! I eat healthy otherwise!). Still, it's a cold, crisp, beautiful December 4th. Name Day for my awesome friend in Poland. (Happy Name Day to you!) And National Cookie Day here, in the U.S. 

Maybe I shouldn't ignore it? 

Fine. After I take care of the animals...



... I set out to Madison Sourdough Bakery to pick up a few cookies that Ed loves and cinnamon rolls (our favorites these days) for breakfast. 

On the drive home, I detour slightly to glance over at the corn fields to our east. Yesterday, we saw seemingly hundreds of cranes gather here in the late afternoon. 

(a sample)


They do that just before they take off for the south. And perhaps they did begin their journey because today there was only one. I hope you know what you're doing, buddy!




Breakfast. Ed does ask me if we've gone down the rabbit hole in our breakfast eating. I used to never stray from oatmeal. Maybe granola on a special occasion. Now, it seems that every other day I drive to the bakery for our morning Viennoiseries.  [You know the term, right? A Viennoiserie is a bakery item made from puff pastry or a yeasty dough, which gives it a lightly sweet taste. It can be further sweetened by light sugar or raisins or chocolate. It's a breakfast food and though France has recently succeeded in placing the French baguette on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Viennoiseries are really common throughout all of Europe.] 

Well, we're in the holiday season. Oatmeal for breakfast can make its way to the list of resolutions for the New Year. Though honestly, when you get older, you tend to want to balance life's enjoyment with obsessive healthy eating. After all, your teeth may fall out and your insides may warp any day now. May as well bite into croissants while the biting is good!




Then I wrap. The way I do it now (slowly) is a luxury. When I was at the Law School, first as a student and then as a faculty member, December was a real killer. Exams. To prepare for, then later, to write and grade. It was by far the craziest time of the year. Too, we didn't have the internet for shopping. Lines, everywhere. My vivid memory of December with the little ones is of packed parking lots and long hikes to stores and malls, with bundled up kids, who then had to get all unbundled inside, and re-bundled to get back to the car. Shopping bags, mittens, scarves, caps. Groceries to get. Holiday meals to think about. Insane. And so now, as I wrap a few boxes each day, I smile at the easiness of the job. Yeah, I dont like wrapping. No one likes wrapping. I wish I could see pretty boxes under the tree without me laying a hand on a single roll of wrapping paper, but it cant be done and so I wrap. Slowly. And easily. Well, but for the creaky bones!

The day is not without drama. Ed is having a relapse in whatever bug it is that has been hounding him since mid November and so spending time under a quilt on the couch feels just fine to him. I'm in the kitchen, working on dinner. It's early. 4:30 maybe. But the sun has set already and the cheepers are beginning to settle into their dozy positions. Except I see one walking up the path from the barn.

Ed, why is one of the hens walking up this way?

Don't know. I'll be putting them away in about 15 minutes.

Ed, why is another one at the barn door?

Don't know.

It's not right...

I leave my prep work and go to the barn. There's an opossum in the coop. He's about to go up to the roost. I speed open the roosting box and grab a sleepy old Peach, then slam the door on the chicken hungry guy.  I call Ed over, all the while holding onto Peach. She was one minute away from being someone's dinner. The other cheepers are scattered all over the barn, terrified and tired. 

We trap the invader. We have a place we can him to. It's a bit of a drive, but Ed's up for it.

I go back to fixing dinner.


The young family is here tonight. It's the first time that the boys see the tree and I have mild trepidations about Sandpiper, but I guess he is distracted by all the other ways where he can get his sweet little hands into trouble because he (mostly) leaves the tree alone!


(tree play)



(can I have some of what you're chopping?)



(dinner)



(proud use of fork)



(playing an old favorite: hair salon)



Chickens are sleeping, cats are sleeping, Ed is sleeping. Farmhouse quiet. Winter quiet. Everyone is safe. I think I'll have a little cookie.


Saturday, December 03, 2022

what do you remember?

Morning errands and chores in early December. A quiet, sleepy landscape. No weed to pull, no flower to snip. This is when I let my thoughts run freely. Today they run back to the early winters of my childhood. 

If you come from a Christmas celebrating family, ask yourself this: what stands out in your memories of childhood Christmases? Over and above everything else? What made you happy? 


It's a beautiful morning, though a very nippy one! Still, the light is gorgeous.






Ed comes down for breakfast and we're feeling like a moment of humor would be good, so he brings down his computer and we watch a modestly funny Colbert monologue... 




And then I'm off. To pick up farm produce. To drop off a return (already?!). To take photos of the kids for their family holiday card. So, lots of driving, lots of music, lots of feelings resurfacing. Ones that I remember so well from my young Christmases.

I didn't really start loving this holiday until we moved to New York for my dad's UN job. I was seven then and it was as if I had entered a new universe. Everything changed. And so, too, did Christmas. Suddenly it seemed larger than life. Maybe it was that I simply grew into it. In a few years I was allowed to go out in the city on my own. My most frequented destination? The Woolworth (5and10) store on Lexington and 45th. At Christmas time it had every imaginal shiny holiday trinket and decoration, candy cane, greeting card, and carol book. I'd squander my allowance there and I'd bring my new treasures home, creating my own Christmas there. 

A favorite? That book of carols, with illustrations of what we all liked to imagine as the picture perfect Christmas: a snow covered village, a decorated tree with children dancing, stockings hanging from the mantle. Norman Rockwell would have loved it. Add to this my beloved comic books: Dennis the Menace had a Christmas special edition! Such were my prized possessions!

I learned the songs quickly enough and from then on I was hooked. But on my own. My family remained neutral on the holiday throughout all my childhood. Who can blame them -- my mother was Polish, but not really raised in Poland and so those traditions -- big meal on Eve, family visits on Day -- weren't familiar to her. My father? Oh, it wasn't for a man to "do Christmas." Woman's work. And my mom did make the effort when we were little. There would be a tree, in our room. There would be presents under it the morning of. But there was no magic to it. I quickly figured out where she herself hid the presents -- in her closet, upper left shelf -- and so Santa was never even a possibility. Mom was him and she dutifully purchased the album I coveted or the next book in the Nancy Drew series. My parents did not themselves exchange gifts and we had no relatives that would send anything to any of us. Not even a card. I asked for a Mary Poppins record and I got it. Straight from her closet to under the tree. 

Eventually, this ritual (tree, a few gifts) would diminish and then just disappear. So, Christmas was entirely my own. And in my world, there was magic. 

I am thinking of the fairy-mermaid-detective-unicorn stories Snowdrop makes up routinely. She doesn't really believe in them, but she lives in them nonetheless. I lived in my Christmas world. The carols were poems. They did not have to have greater meaning than that. And of course, New York went all out on Christmas, in my eyes at least! [I am reminded of a Snowdrop comment this week. She tells me -- my mom doesn't really decorate a whole lot on the outside of the house, but inside? She goes all out! Oh children! I hardly think my daughter goes "all out" inside, but to the kids, the comparison is to the house as it was before Christmas. So, now, with the tree and a few boughs and lights here and there? All out!]

By 12, I was roaming the city up and down and searching out that urban wonderland -- the Lord & Taylor store windows, the Rockefeller Center tree -- magic! And then home again to my book of carols and the album I would eventually get of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Christmas, Christmas, time is here, time for joy and time for cheer! I realized as an adult that you have to work on joy -- it doesn't just happen. In my childhood, Christmas wasn't about joy -- it was a warm and emotional place, very deeply felt. And out would come the comic book -- as I recall, it had the story that also aired on TV in 1960 where Dennis really really wanted a horse for Christmas. And in the comic strip, he is on the range, with horses, and the cowboy croons -- it's Christmas Eve on the range, boys, it's Christmas Eve on the range. I got goosebumps every time I read those bubbled words.

And now, when I hear O Little Town of Bethlehem, I am, in my head, opening my carols book to the page with the snow covered village (odd association with Bethlehem but oh well!). And I swear, every Christmas Eve, whether it will have been with my two Christmas loving girls, or my grandkids, I want to smile at all that I see before me and say -- it's Christmas Eve on the range, boys, it's Christmas Eve on the range. Every Christmas Eve.


As for the photo taking of the three grandkids? They were wild and happy and I think we did just fine, even if Sandpiper's bump on the head from yesterday's fall on the playground (a rather rambunctious classmate pushed him) is clearly visible! But then, he's 18 months old and I am grateful that he gave us one of his big grins. (The other two have delivered plenty of smiles over the years, but the youngest child is always asked to grin for no discernible to him or her reason, so it's grand when they just go along with it, because, well, they're happy.)

I wont post their Christmas photo -- that's theirs to keep. But here are three fun ones: two sweet rejects, and a great second choice!











In the afternoon Ed and I finally dragged ourselves out for a walk in the park. My knee had really stiffened up in the days of no walks and so I pushed for an outing, despite the cold. And as always, it was beautiful.


(Ice along the edges of Lake Waubesa...)



A frittata-for-dinner night. Warm and deeply felt.


Friday, December 02, 2022

Friday

When I was hospitalized with a strange virus back in September, I embarked on a journey of tests. Each doc who would come into my room would schedule another series, looking for clues as to what was destroying my health then. Everyone had a different idea.

The trouble with this approach is that if you test an older person long enough and far and wide, you are going to unravel mysteries you never expected to discover. At the very least, you will find yourself back on a retesting journey, just to be sure that the quaint new discovery isn't slowly (or not so slowly) gnawing away at your insides.

This morning I had to repeat some of the hospital tests for exactly this reason even though I am quite certain they will reveal absolutely nothing of interest to anybody (Ed would say that this will have been entirely predictable). I do wonder if Ed's approach -- a more balanced acceptance of what you need to test away and what you can ignore -- gives you a better outcome in the end. I mean, he's out enjoying lunch with friends, I'm sipping some toxic cocktail in a clinic room. Who had the better morning? 

It's a cold day, and, too, it's a frustratingly brown day. Meaning we have before us a winter landscape without snow. This is discouraging for the two of us who are just itching to go out on skis while the knees still permit us (well, really me) to go out on skis. I see no snow in the forecast. Plenty of freezing dry days. The ones that crack your skin and tickle your nasal passages, but leave you with that brown landscape.

But, I do love these seasonal early morning walks to the barn! Each month offers a different perspective. 

And of course, I also love our wintry breakfasts. Oatmeal is so perfect for December mornings that I can even let go of my appetite for croissants and cinnamon rolls. For a day or two!




In the quiet of an empty farmhouse, I read too many articles from various newspapers. This is not a source of pleasure or joy. There is such a thing as too much knowledgable speculation about the state of the world. I should have gone for a walk instead. I and the planet would have been better off for it. (If I walk, then my health improves and I have to use fewer resources to test for diseases as I get older, right?)


In the early afternoon I pick up a happy Snowdrop and bring her to the farmette.




She has been begging her parents (every time I drop her off in the evening and we pass the display of holiday lights at Olin park) to do the holiday drive through past twinkling Santas and reindeer and vignettes from the North Pole ("I dont believe that Santa brings us presents, but I do think that there is a Santa Claus somewhere out there!" Fair enough...). Her parents (rightly) have put her off for a bit, but finally agreed that it should be tonight. She is ecstatic with anticipation.




We read. Back to Judy Blume. I swear we will start in on new stuff next week. But in the meanwhile, she is happily reliving the adventures of a fourth grade nothing.




I drop her off, vaguely considering going through the light display myself on the way home. 




I haven't done it since my girls were too young to drive themselves and I powered through it for them and with them, music on loud, lights twinkling all around us. 

In the end I turn around and skip it. It's just not that exciting to do on your own. Perhaps this is one of those seasonal joys that you truly have to be young to fully appreciate. 

At the farmhouse, I light my spruce-balsam-juniper candle and put the pot of soup on the stove. Lovely scents and tastes and twinkly things, all inside our small little home.


Thursday, December 01, 2022

Thursday

Welcome, December! Can I give you an award for trying the hardest under adverse circumstances? Dark days -- but so much light and color in our homes! Cold weather sweeping through -- and still there's the hope of snow! People singing, music playing, bakers firing up the ovens, mail delivery with delightful messages from friends who may be far, or may otherwise not write you and yet, here we are, updating each other, because we care.

I know not everyone celebrates Christmas. I live with a person who doesn't celebrate Christmas. And I myself pick and choose what from this holiday fits within my worldview. [My religious beliefs are amply documented in Like a Swallow, so if you have read it, you'll know where I stand on those issues. A hint: just because I come from a country that to this day has 93% of its people self identifying as Catholic (NYT, November 2022), and that's a drop from the 99% of Poles describing themselves as such in my youth, and just because I love listening to O Holy Night, and I was moved to tears at age twelve by the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, it does not mean that I am one who would ever complain that Christmas has become too, well, secular. I truly believe that people should celebrate the holiday, any holiday, however they want to. If for some it means crazy shopping and holiday partying and singing jingle bells all day long -- why, isn't that better than losing yourself in the gloom of a month that is, well, rather gloomy? I write as a Pole-turned-Wisconsinite. Gloom, I tell you!]

So, welcome, December! You are at once dark and gloomy, but, too, the most deliberately colorful, delightful, and playful month of the year. (Well, for me anyway.)


I wake early, because Ed opened the door and "accidentally" let the cats into the bedroom. I do not like cats in the bedroom at night. I do not sleep well with cats in the bedroom at night. So I growl and fein deep displeasure, though honestly, it's the nudge I needed to get up and get going.

He asked, as he does each morning -- what do you have to do today? I tick off the list: animal care, tree care, tidy the downstairs, mail first batch of (international) cards, grocery delivery, bakery visit to celebrate our return to normal eating, first wrapping job, Snowdrop sitting, daughter chat, dinner prep.

In other words a pretty quiet day? -- he says. 

I forgive him his comment because when he comes down for breakfast, and I turn off the holiday music -- an automatic gesture acknowledging the fact that Ed loves quiet, he stops me: you like it. who was that -- Frank Sinatra? And it all ends when, December 26? You want it on, you should keep it on.

Sweet, sweet Ed. 




I pick up a bouncy Snowdrop. But she is not a girl who wants to spend any time outside these days. She allows me one photo...




And in she goes.




A friend of mine sent her a little advent calendar card and she gets right to it. A December 1st prerogative. 




And in the evening, I drop her at her Thursday activity (Mathnasium, which she loves) and continue to her home for a visit with her mom. The funny moment of the day comes when I lose the car keys at their place. Not in my bag, not in my pockets, not on the car floor (Ed's suggestion), not on their floor, not on the grass outside (searched with a flashlight), not under the car. Gone! But how could that be?

Many, many searches later, I find them. They had slipped out of my pocket, down between the cushions of the armchair in which I had been sitting. 


At the farmhouse, as I chop veggies in the kitchen for a supper of a hearty soup, I think -- maybe Ed was right. Maybe it was, in the end, a pretty quiet day. Colorful, musical, and busy. In a quiet sort of way.

(A much better place for cats to sleep, rather than the bed upstairs, don't you think? To the left -- meet Friendly. To the right -- Unfriendly. So named because she once was that. These days, Friendly adores Ed and Unfriendly adores me, and they're both, like the rest of the cats, terribly spooked by strange noises and strange people.)





Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wednesday

I am on this day a designated driver. That is my sole job and responsibility. I have, therefore, no child care duties, no greater obligation, nothing typed into my calendar, no big agenda to move toward completion. 

Sure, I feed the animals and it does feel like a chore this morning, because it is so cold out there! We wont move beyond freezing. All that mushy wetness yesterday? Frozen solid today. Only the youngest hens go out. And then they immediately find a wind-free hiding place.




Breakfast? On my own.




And then I wait until I'm called into action.

At least my driving today consists of shuttling Ed back and forth for medical stuff (that is the assignment) that can be taken care of within the perimeters of Madison. When we attend to his eyes (that comes next week), we have to go to the end of the state and back. He chooses his health care providers carefully.

Ed as a patient is very cool and blasé. He uses few words to communicate with the staff. I fill in the pleasantries. As we get older, I expect these visits will grow in number but for now, we keep them to a minimum. Both of us like to pretend we are very self sufficient. 

When you have been together for as long as we have, you understand each others habits and preferences pretty well. But all bets are off when health care issues arise (and to be clear: Ed is not sick; this stuff is routine). Both Ed and I like to minimize what ails us, hating any pity or advice. But, I tend to be a user of the health care system and he is exactly the opposite. When you go in with him to a clinic, he barely understands the protocols. I'm there not only as a designated driver but also as an interpreter. Do this, put away that, go there... And so on.

Of course, nothing phases the guy. A doc could come in and tell him -- sorry, but you have an incurable disease and we expect that you will be dead in two minutes. I'm certain he'd just turn to me and say, Oh, okay, bye gorgeous. Don't forget to put away the chickens and feed the cats tonight.

Man, I love his attitude!

So the day is spent on me driving and eventually, at sunset, we go home and luckily he does not get that diagnosis of only two minutes of life left within him, so he puts away the cheepers and feeds the cats and I fix dinner and he dozes off on the couch, because the whole idea of going to a clinic for the better part of the day is exhausting for a guy who can chop down trees and lift heavy objects but cannot get himself to see a doc more than once every very many years.


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Tuesday

I've been thinking about the novels of Elena Ferrante lately. You've read the Neopolitan Novels maybe? I did, but it's been a while and I read them for the pleasure of the good story that they are and not for the weightier issues that underpin the entire narrative. I've long recognized that when I have a lot on my plate, I don't think enough about the books I read. But I'm thinking about these ones now.

My friend sent me an interview with Ferrante that she came across in the Guardian. (You can find it here.) As I was reading it, I couldn't help but think how much easier it is to recognize the brutal oppression of women in countries far from us (Iran of course, but also so many others), but how much harder it is to recognize patriarchal structures in the complicated societies we ourselves inhabit. Once women have gained access to educational institutions and to some of the basic human rights (as they have in the U.S. and in many other countries), once they gained the freedom to move out of confining homes and workplaces, many of us assumed that they, we could easily knock down the "few remaining impediments" to personal freedom and equality. And we certainly believed that once outed (through open and loud discussions about inequality) why then of course, oppressive patriarchy would become a thing of the past. I know I myself left Poland in the end because I could not imagine living in the male dominated culture that existed in that country then (I write about it in Like a Swallow). I saw the United States as being on the move, ripping apart preconceptions about gender, about race too. Others had done the work (that was not yet started in Poland). Once here, I relaxed. And then I fell into one gendered trap after the next, drowning in my inability to recognize and react to what was happening all around me as I married, had kids, sought to get a degree and find satisfying work (in that order). I wasn't strong enough nor mature nor wise enough to see the pitfalls and to act decisively. But now, thinking about it in the context of the Ferrante interview, I see that using her markers of equality, I was doomed to fail anyway. Mine was not the generation that was going to free women of gender-based constraints. The structures (created over the centuries by men) were not in place for it. It's funny, but when I was just thirteen years old and recounted to my dad my various girlish ambitions, he told me then that women were not going to attain equal footing in his lifetime or even in mine. I was stunned. I thought he was wrong. I felt I could go after any job I wanted, study any discipline at the university. Somehow I never looked beyond those goals. 

Though I don't usually pre-announce trips here on Ocean, I thought it fitting this time to mention that in January, I'll be going to Naples. Not exactly just to poke into the neighborhoods artfully described in the Ferrante novels, but on the other hand both my friend who will accompany me and I are at an age where we can use the prompt of those books to reflect on what Ferrante wrote about postwar Italy and perhaps reframe a little of what we lived through in postwar Poland.

*     *     *

It's gray and wet outside -- nothing to cheer about there. Though maybe there is magic in a misty late November morning. Maybe that dampness releases the pungent earthy aromas from the fields and gardens. Wet leaves, muddy fields, rotting wood -- these have a place in our annual calendar of scents. 




We eat breakfast. I return to oatmeal. It seems fitting for this day.




*     *     *

Watching the three girls (out of the five grandchildren) make their way through each day, I have to wonder  about the world they will inhabit as adult women. I've learnt that even in the worst of times, not everyone is slated to confront the same barriers to personal growth in the same way. Fifty years ago, when I was growing up, there were women who did not fall into traps set by societal expectations and institutions. And I myself was lucky enough to avoid the grossest and most egregious pitfalls. The independence I feel now is a product of that luck. (And believe me, writing freely as I do here, on Ocean, moving around the planet without someone telling me that I can't or shouldn't do it -- these are markers of freedom many would kill for.)

My optimistic hope is that these little girls will get a hell of a lot closer to free agency than you and I ever could. Creating new non-patriarchal structures is a work in progress, that's for sure. But, I don't think I was wrong in believing that here at least the work is well underway. You may not see it in the recent court decisions affecting women, but perhaps we can recognize it in the reactions to those decisions.

In the meantime, this little girl is here after school, reading books, making up stories in the play room and doing a lot of Ed teasing. 




No ballet today. Somebody forgot to pack her ballet clothes into her backpack.

[I was amused with her yesterday because in the same way that I went back to Nancy Drew books when I was already approaching adolescence, she has recently gone back to rereading Cam Jansen, a younger version of the same idea. And in yesterday's book, Cam was rewarded for solving a mystery by the owner of the amusement park where the crime took place. Snowdrop said to me -- gaga, did you notice how in all the Cam Jansen books, the owners and managers of amusement parks, stores and such are always women? I had to laugh. I told her -- the author of these books wants you to know that women can and do hold positions of power and wealth. And then I wondered -- at this age, does she even doubt that this is the case?]

*     *     *

Our evening is a little different because Ed has some routine medical stuff before him and so he's not eating tonight. I do a quick stir fry, eat it equally rapidly, by myself, and then settle in on the couch to watch a TV show -- a rare thing for us. (Movies -- yes. TV shows -- almost never.) This one is about the movie Love Actually and how its themes play out now, 20 years later. I can understand why some people find this movie to be flawed. Yes, okay. Everything in life is flawed. But hey, dig deeper and something beautiful will emerge. I guarantee it.

And the tree lights twinkle and the ornaments shine and Dance, our grand dame of a cat thinks this piece of beauty is there for her to swat at and play with. 




She has a point: Christmas trees are to be shared by all. 

Swat, hit, swat, dangle... Smile.


Monday, November 28, 2022

Monday

Well, either I have an internal will that is fantastically powerful against the invading evil forces of disease, or I was just plain lucky, because the minute the last young family members left the farmhouse yesterday, I got a cold. This in itself is not surprising. I'm around sniffling kids a lot and Ed, too, had something knock him down a couple of weeks ago, so we are running through the usual wintry mix of bugs. Nor am I particularly inconvenienced by it -- it took a little longer to clean up the farmhouse in the evening and I slept in a little later this morning, but otherwise, it's just one of those things that you put up with in the cold season (pun intended). But I am so glad that this happened after everyone left. Totally fine one minute, sneezing away once the door closed behind them. A miracle. (And no, it's not Covid. We test a lot and repeatedly.)

I do morning animal rounds, though a bit late.




And I fix a breakfast of leftover bakery items...




And then I settle in to think about what I need to do to get ready for Christmas. For those of us who have developed traditions for this holiday, December can be quite consumed by thinking about it, planning for it, and executing a fitting set of meals that span a number of days. Too, December means that presents for your loved ones begin to stack up. 

For me, gift giving is only within the family, but I know that the expectations are something else for working parents: gifts for family, sure, up and down the ladder of the old and young, but, too, for kids' teachers (my older daughter, for instance, has a total of seven school teachers who will be expecting gifts), your staff at work -- the list can get long.

At least these days you do not have to go out and actually shop for presents. There are gift cards that are possibly more appreciated by colleagues and teachers than any purchased items, and for the rest -- there's the blessed internet! I will admit it: except for a tiny set of gifts purchased during travel, every single one of my presents for family members will have come in a box, delivered by either USPS, UPS or Fed Ex. Thank you for doing the walking for me and for eliminating both the driving and the long lines at the check outs! 

But something that hasn't become any easier is the wrapping. Buying recyclable paper eases the environmental guilt for indulging this frivolity, but the work of boxing and wrapping does have to be done and it takes a while.

All this to say that I spent a good chunk of my morning not shopping for presents, but searching for lovely recyclable and not monstrously expensive wrapping paper. A waste of time you say? Maybe. But all the visual aspects surrounding this holiday are important. I mean, why else do this??




On December 1st (or thereabouts!), I will begin the wrapping and if the last years are any indication, this is when Ed starts pacing nervously as boxes mount. And with five grandkids and four adult kids, the boxes will mount. Still, he has become much more mellow about holiday giving. Possibly it's his love of these young faces in our lives, possibly it's that he has gone through this enough times that he knows that Christmas comes and goes and for most of us, December is the better for it.


In the afternoon, I pick up Snowdrop at school. I had asked her mom if she wants me to baby sit despite my sneezing and wheezing and she gave the thumbs up so here we are, doors open a bit to move they air around, but really not worrying too much about it, since quite likely the direction of this cold was child to grown up, and not the other way around.




And in the evening, Ed and I sit back and indulge in our beautiful habit of a movie with popcorn and a chocolate and for me -- some wine because I swear, the minute I take a sip, my sneezing stops and my nasal passages relax. Or so it seems. I tell you, we can talk ourselves into anything, anything at all!


Sunday, November 27, 2022

the last of the holiday weekend

I was up extremely early today. Not because I couldn't sleep, not because I had loads to do, but because Ed came up from his all-nighter downstairs and I chose this moments to discuss with him the choices we make in our charitable giving. This is a minefield of a topic for us because he and I are so different in the way we approach it and in the way we imagine who and what needs help from those who make charitable donations, however big or small, at this time of the year. It's no surprise of course that he and I aren't on the same platform here: choosing who to help reflects your core beliefs, your ideas of where we are heading and of course, most of you know that Ed and I are very different in our life choices. What I learned from living with someone who is not at all like me is that in everyday matters, little of this comes up. I imagine it would be like a staunch Republican living with a solid Democrat right now: how you go through the day is not going to be impacted much by your politics. But every once in a while, like in our case this morning, the belief systems (which, just so you know, have little to do with politics) clash and the noise is ear-piercingly loud. Not an argument so much (because -- what's there to argue about? he is who he is, I am who I am, we both know that), but a thunderous divergence of views that gets aired at a weird time. Like by me at 5 a.m. this morning.

And then we return to our regularly scheduled day. Happy and whole once again.

For me, the regularly scheduled day is actually not very regular at all: it's amazing and wonderful and different. The young family from Chicago is in town still and this morning they are at the farmhouse, joined later in the morning by the five who live just 15 minutes up the roads from me.

Things don't change much at the farmhouse: the toys may be updated a tiny bit every now and then, but not a whole lot. Most of it stays the same, waiting for the next grandchild to grow into it. This means that when the kids come here, when their parents come here, everyone knows where everything is. The kids go off to the play room or the art room, the parents gather at the kitchen table, or in the living room, or on the playroom floor -- we've done it all a million times and that comfort of knowing what's what makes for a pretty easy set of hours, even with the littlest guys.


(Primrose notices that there's a fence and a gate in the playroom. This is totally to keep Sandpiper safe. On one side are toys with which he can let loose and do what he wants. On the other -- small stuff, fragile stuff, more precious stuff.)



Hey, Juniper!




How does it feel to be almost one?




(Grandma time..)



(the older girls...)



I was told not to fuss with brunch, so I ordered a box of croissants from Madison Sourdough, cut up loads of fruits, put out some leftover Thanksgiving apple cake and Clasen's baguette, found a hunk of four year cheddar cheese,  baked up some bacon, sautéed some mushrooms, and of course, scrambled some cheeper eggs.




The table just fits eleven if I set things right. 

(Making Juniper laugh...)


We eat, and then we let the kids play while we drift into that wonderful conversation that hits both funny events from the last months and, too, speculations about the future. I mostly love to listen to them, with an occasional question maybe, but really I just suck in the sweetness of the moment where I would change nothing at all. It's all that good.

(Kids, in the art room...)



(Sandpiper goes back for some more blueberries. The boy loves blueberries!)



We are lucky. We all survived the pandemic. Sure, Covid hit both young families in many, many ways (not the least is that they all had it in their households), but here we are, gathered, with old Ed and old me and if you ignore the occasional sneezes and runny noses, we are all so very fine!


(last play of the day: each older kid is "at work;" Juniper so wants to join in...)


And then the afternoon is winding down and they leave and the house is so... empty. But not for long. We may be done with the holiday weekend, but we'll all be together soon enough for the next series of celebrations.


For now, I attend to my own Christmas tree. While I tidy up,  Ed saws off the knotty stump, and then I spend a solid hour decorating it. It used to be small. Now it's... medium!



I have music in the background and images of the happy little ones and older ones from this weekend. My beloved young families: how hard they work, how beautifully they play, all of them!

(the two that started it all...)



In the evening, Ed and I eat Thanksgiving leftovers. He has said repeatedly that this was the best turkey he  has ever eaten, which sounds awfully much like a suck up comment, though honestly, since I've roasted more than a dozen Thanksgiving turkeys for him over the last years, he's comparing this to all my other good efforts to get a perfect bird to the table. It's just that this year, between the turkey itself and the method of preparation, we seem to have hit gold. 

The air is turning cold again. No matter. Tis the season. We are ready for it.

With so much love...


Saturday, November 26, 2022

the holiday weekend

We're still coasting on the tails of the Thanksgiving holiday, but now with one foot into the Christmas season.  And the sun is out, and the weather is unseasonably fine, and both young families are here, and Ed is leaving behind whatever virus snagged him, and I seem to have sailed through with the mildest case, so that luck has been our partner for sure this Thanksgiving weekend. Indeed, these few days are really at the top of the heap of memorable family weekends. 

Let me run through this day using few words. Not because it's late and I'm tired (though that certainly is true), but because so much was exactly right for us today and when that happens, you feel a little humble, knowing that this wasn't the case for everyone, and, too, you lack the words to express again and again your deep gratitude for all the warmth and good feeling that comes your way when you spend extended periods of time with your kids and their families.

So, quietly, this was my beautiful day:

Morning, with the cats and cheepers.




Breakfast, still eating up Thanksgiving Day leftovers with Ed ...




And then I meet up with the two young families at Clasen's, for the gingerbread treats. (We thought, too, we'd let the kids explore the bakery's giant gingerbread house, but for some reason they're holding off on putting it up this year. "We'll have it in a couple of weeks" -- they tell us.)

(happy with the cookies)



(our youngest one was born in mid December so this is in fact her first trip to Clasen's)




("Can we please get some cake?" "Go ask your father." They do just that.)




(cookies everywhere!)



(yep -- cookies everywhere! she already has her favorites...)



For lunch, the kids beg to go to Culver's (just next door). For the burgers and chicken fingers and fries and custard. I feel that after Thanksgiving, I can well put off eating until maybe Christmas, or New Years, so I leave them there...



... and go to a local coffee shop for a nice rich espresso with milk. Then I scoot over to my daughter's house to start in on the tree. Lights need to go up. It's a tedious job and it's best done before all the young ones hit the tree trimming scene.

Okay, lights done. The young families return home, the kids have an hour of play before nap time.








And while young ones rest, grownups chat in the kitchen over food prep. We are all great cheese fans and tree trimming calls for a really special cheese tray.




Kids are up! Time to decorate the young family's tree.




Once one cousin stood on a chair to hang an ornament (the instruction was to put all the glass ones out of reach of toddler hands!), all the cousins wanted to stand on chairs. So they did.




And the band played on...




Remarkably, Sandpiper did not break an ornament until much later in the day!




Reaching the top is no easy feat on this tree!



Done!

Oh Christams tree, oh Christmas tree...




Tuckered out...




Here comes our reward for working hard: pizza!




And eventually we near bedtime for the kids. Hey little ones, do you think we could take a photo of the five of you? And because this day is pure magic, they give us their best!




I return to the farmhouse in the glow of a most beautiful day.

With so much love!