Monday, December 31, 2018


In Poland, it's Sylwester, in France -- Saint-Sylvestre, or more typically, réveillon du nouvel an. In Scotland it's Hogmanay. New Year's Eve.

Ed tells me that it doesn't make sense to celebrate (or even take note of) the turning of a calendar page, that it would have been more authentic to stay with Winter Solstice as a significant point of change, indeed of transformation as we start adding minutes to the length of the day. But in fact, all these December revelries grew out of our appreciation for winter Solstice. We've added religious significance, we've embellished the story by crafting a Rudolph and a Santa, we've dropped a ball, lit torches (that would be Hogmanay) and popped champagne corks over the centuries, but in truth, in one way or another, we are all celebrating light, renewal, birth, a fresh start, a push for something better than our usual old dour selves. We're doing it with food and drink, often (if we're lucky) in the company of others. Sometimes, as in New York Times Square, in the company of millions of others.

As I wake up to my 66th New Year's Eve (I am 65), I stay in bed a while thinking where I've spent my previous December 31sts. In order of repeat performance rather than chronology:
Madison wins at 21!
New York City - 8 times.
Chicago - 8 times.
farmette - 6 times (if I count this year).
Warsaw - 5 times.
Polish village in the middle of nowhere -- 4.
Polish Tatra mountains - 3.
Florida - 3.
Paris - 2.
Finally, somewhere in Vermont, Pittsburgh, Taxco, Istanbul, Seville and Bayfield Wisconsin -- all come in at 1 each.

It's an interesting exercise: the concentration of Madison Eves reflects the stay at home years when the kids were small and money was tighter than tight. If I'm still kicking in a decade or two, the farmette years will forge ahead, toward the top of the list. I am glued to the little yellow house on the three acres of land just outside Madison as we flip the page to a New Year. I do not want to be anywhere else tonight.

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Still, it's not an insignificant day for me. You may like to party, or watch movies late into the night. Perhaps you gather with friends. Or you're one of those who loves crowds. All good! But me -- I like to revel quietly. 2018 was so full of goodness: two children were born, no one was very sick, no one died. I am nothing but joyous at the recollections!

Eventually, I'll cook something very simple but very special for the two of us here, at the farmette. We'll watch a movie. One of us will doze off. The other will give a nudge at midnight. Happy New Year indeed!

But first, the morning chores.

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And the lovely breakfast routines.

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And then I hop out to my daughter's home, to help with the taking down of their Christmas tree.

(One last ring of a holiday bell...)

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(That's just so funny!)

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As I swing by the grocery store on my way home, the rain changes to snow. We all rush between cars and store to avoid the wettest of wet flakes. I smile as a dad hurries his two little girls indoors. He glares at me -- what, you think this is funny?! Clearly he is not having a good day!

At the farmette, the landscape is turning into something very pretty indeed!

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Time to throw in those wee lobster tails into a pot, to roast some potatoes and steam the corn. May 2019 bring us all many reasons to smile, to feel grateful, to feel loved!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2018


I have always loved our Upper Midwest winter sunshine. Melting snow (what little we have) drips from your roof, hens plod their way through slushy terrain. Delicate light that fills your house with a warm glow.

We wake up to this sunshine. It's a late morning for us, compensating for a late night, as Ed streamed videos about damaged knees to make me laugh at my own discomfort (for some reason the knee likes to act up at night).

Ed helps with animal care, possibly to keep an eye on my movements. I'm careful today!

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Breakfast in the sunny front room!

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As we eat our beautifully leisurely meal, I look around Snowdrop's play space. It really needs a good tidying job. Am I up for it?

I have to be. We're starting a new year, Snowdrop's birthday is around the corner (I have ideas for that!) -- the play space begs for an update!

By mid afternoon, I've exhausted my knee's good will. I rest, watching the path of the sun as it moves across the farmette landscape.

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The young family arrives for dinner just as darkness sets in. Winter Sunday dinners are always after nightfall.

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I make tacos for them. Shrimp tacos, because Ed wont eat beef and Snowdrop prefers shrimp to any meat out there. Well, perhaps bacon and prosciutto are equally high on her list, but I just don't think those are a good fit with a taco shell. (Yes, I do the shell rather than the tortilla. I thought she'd like to crunch her way through dinner. She does.)

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So long as our species populates the planet, there will be family dinners -- I'm sure of it. People will gather at the table and forget for a while all the ills of the world, enjoying the food and the warmth of each others presence.

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Oh all the things I have done in my life, I would argue that none are more important than cooking meals for the people I love.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

a calm mind

When I found out I would have these four days without kids in my life, I thought to myself -- my, that's going to be awfully quiet. But then I made plans: I would clean the house. I would downsize everything and reduce our (who am I kidding -- my) belongings by 25%. At least. I would get back to my Great Writing Project. I would finally get to the end of my who-done-it and find out who done it. I would rearrange Snowdrop's play space and create one for Sparrow, too. (A gate must go up! She has too many small pieces that are a hazard to him.) And that was just for day one.

But fate would have it that I would do none of those things.  

In fighting a cold and nursing my overused knee, I found myself letting go of lists. I needed the couch badly. We spent a content (if not jovial) four days together.

There are benefits to doing little when you're a tad incapacitated. You can concentrate on healing. And you can calm your mind.

My drip drip drippy state of yesterday is nearly behind me. My knee was on the road to a good mend too, until I sprinted to the barn this morning and wrecked it again. (A stretched or torn ligament, I later found out, can take months to mend. If you do this to yourself, take it easy afterwards, for Pete's sake!)

And so in these four days, I came into that dreamy calm space that is reserved for people who do not feel rushed in life. Retired people, or people who live in cultures that demand a slower gait. (I'll never forget that a walk from house to village in Ghana, which at my normal pace would take twenty minutes, usually took twice that. You must stop, greet, smile. Stop, greet, smile. If you are a local, you must add a good conversation to the mix.)

It is not true, of course, that in doing very little, you do nothing at all. Yesterday, for example, as I lay in bed thinking about how best to position my knee for the night, I heard it again -- our Great Horned Owl that lives just outside our bedroom window. I've never seen her, but especially in these months (December and January are their mating season), the hoot of these enormous and enormously beautiful birds is unmistakable (and a reminder to lock up the cheepers as soon as the night skies begin to grow dark). When a Great Horned Owl flies, her wings make no sound at all. But at night, close to her home, she sings a melancholy song that is uniquely lovely.

This morning I woke up to nature messing with my story line! Remember how I complained that there was not a single flake of snow to be had? Well now, maybe I was wrong.

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The silly animals were hovering from early morning...

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... and in trying to get ahead of  the flock to take a picture of the whole mess of them, I re-sprained my knee. I know, not so smart! And the photo wasn't worth it. (They're listening to me groan and wondering if Ms. Food Source will make it to the barn to feed them after all.)

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Much better to simply pause and admire the scenery, without the rush...

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As I lamented my foolishness at making worse something that was on the way to being better, Ed tells me his own story of his knee ligament tear (it happened on a boat). Unlike the ortho clinic people, who merely told me what pills to pop for the pain, he showed me a way to move without causing further swelling. Yeah! I can limp again! Indeed, I feel strong enough to do grocery shopping! (Even though I then retire to the couch and spent the rest of the day reading countless articles about people doing beautiful and simple things in life. There are many such stories in the press this time of the year.)

I can't wait to see the kids again tomorrow! I want to hear all about their adventures in Chicago. And if they ask me -- and what did you do, Gaga? I'll say -- listen to the owl. Stretch out on the couch. Exhale. Wait for you to come home.

Friday, December 28, 2018

drip drip drip

Not a single flake of snow today. None. We stayed just warm enough to ensure that anything coming down from that deeply gray sky would be wet and drippy.

It matched the state of my cold: drip drip drip. A regular water fountain.

I am feeling exceptionally grateful: whatever bug I'm dealing with now did not announce itself until well after every last bit of holiday was over and done with. If it's inconvenient to be drippy now, it would have been horrible to drip my way through Christmas festivities. (Too, who wants to eat meal after meal prepared by a drip machine!)

So, I am exceptionally lucky. Drip away, you silly thing.

On the couch, foot-with-injured-knee up, entertained by Ed, who runs by me video clips of exceptional moments from America's Got Talent (the latest -- a beautiful love song as sung by a chicken catcher). Ed is easily impressed by raw talent.

I do go out once: shortly after a lovely little breakfast...

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... we feed the animals. I have to say, I did the easy stuff -- handing over scraps from our Christmas dinner to Stop Sign and scattering bits of stale bready stuff to the cheepers.

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With that, my adventuring moments end for the day and I retreat to the couch.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

the arithmetic of the old year

For many, many decades, I have taken a day out the last week of a calendar year to review my budget for the year gone by. I count up endless columns of good and bad spending choices. (I do the counting in my head. Perhaps because my sums have never been that large, I have never used spreadsheets or calculators in budget exercises.) I make sure that what is in the budget book matches what is in the bank account. Usually I find a lovely little bonus of extra cash, because I round up what I write into the books. Ed always shakes his head in disbelief: what's the point of deceiving yourself all year long? Just write it down like it is! Clearly he has never appreciated the joy of finding 200 unspent dollars at the end of the year.

Today is my chosen day for this budget marathon. I could not have had better weather for it! Rain. A drippy, uninviting rain that matches well my drippy, uninviting nose. (Sure enough, I did not escape the sharing of the family cold!)

But first, there is breakfast.

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When the rains take a brief pause, I give the cheepers some Christmas treats.

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(They're an appreciative bunch!)

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And then I lose myself in my papers, my tissues and cups of warm tea.

Of course, one reason for all this counting and recounting is that it allows me to set goals for the year ahead. So many of us love the idea of a clean slate. Me too!  Well, if you structure your accounting to coincide with the calendar, you can do it! And so long as your accounting books let you turn the page and put behind you your follies and misdeeds of 2018, well then, why not just turn the bigger page and start with a fresh one in any number of domains? Perhaps we can introduce a bit more wisdom and forgiveness into our days going forward. Or how about something that surely can't be terribly hard for most of us -- how about allowing that inner joy to have a good run of it in 2019?

Musings on a soppy wet day full of scribbles, erasures and finally, a balanced budget!

When I'm done, I put away the pencils and note book, take out a delicious stinky cheese, pour a bit of white burgundy, and raise a toast to a new year of budgeting adventures. Ed snitches some of that delicious cheese, then retreats to lock the cheepers in the coop for the night.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Sometimes I think filling your days with family care and pursuing friendships is like managing a career and a houseful of little kids all at the same time. You feel you're never giving enough of yourself to either. For me at least, over time, the more casual contacts with friends -- the ones that demand a steady trickle of meetups or coffees or conversations -- diminish.

I've patted myself on the back for keeping up with my Warsaw gang when I am there, and with my law school buds when they travel here, but I've been so focused on my grandbabes on a daily basis that I hadn't noticed how little time I spend on feeding my more social side. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I prefer a small handful of great friends than three handfuls of a mix.

Still, in recent weeks, I've been thinking about the people whom I have neglected (and who, in turn, have neglected me right back: friendships only work if both parties are engaged). For the couple that live in Madison, the fix is easy: call 'em up and set a coffee or wine date!

But there's been one friend whose disappearance from my radar screen I've been suffering a long long time. I don't know how it happened, but after decades of superb, top notch friendship, things just sort of shut down. Oh, people grow apart. I had a best friend in grade school, another in high school -- I have a mild curiosity about where they are and what they're doing in their advanced years, but not enough to ever want to resurrect communications. We probably have nothing in common except grade school and high school (respectively). So what's the point...

My American college friend, on the other hand -- she was special. The chemistry was remarkable: she could once buoy my spirits so fast that I'd be laughing hard two minutes into our conversation. What happened to us?

Just before the holidays I decided to tentatively reach out. [Then, today, I read an article in the NYT about rekindling lost friendships (honestly, what coincidence!) and I recoiled: the warning was clear: lower your expectations! What was once there could be gone for good. Go easy. OMG! What have I unleashed??]

Still, my college friend responded. We set a time to talk on the phone. Today. (She lives half a country away from me.)  So perfect: my grandkids are elsewhere visiting with other family members. The farmhouse is neat and tidy, the laundry machine is working overtime on table linens and dish towels. And so today, I will focus on my friend.

But first, there are some lovely farmette surprises: Ed is up before me and he calls down -- you have to see the mist! Such pretty colors in the sky!

I'm out with my camera. The construction to our east has given us a less harmonious landscape and so I rarely come out and look this way, but it turns out that on a winter morning, the views can be both gentle and sublime.

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The sun comes up to the southeast, the moon goes down today to the west. (The moon's setting place changes both by season and by the moon phase: when, as today, it's winter, and the moon is in the third quarter, it will be setting due west.)   Sort of the story of life, no? Cyclical, ebbing, flowing, ebbing, repeat performances, but each one infused with something new and remarkable.

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Breakfast with Ed. Today, I do a timed release of the both of us.

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And now my attention shifts back to my friend (who does not read Ocean and so I am as much a mystery to her now as she is to me).

(The cheepers still often move in two packs of three: the young girls feel safest in each others company. The older ones nearly always stick together. And then there are the times when all six walk together, as if forever bonded.)

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I pick up the phone and call. And we talk. I could say that it is like old times. This would not be incorrect: she triggers a laugh in me instantly. And constantly.

But of course, things have changed. When did we last spend time together in person or on the phone? Fifteen years back? Twenty?

The beauty of getting older is that in your conversations, you never have to get stuck in deconstructing the present: you can float back, think about what's next, come around to the present and then leave it again. If you're a good listener, if you're honest, if you're able to show affection for all that you shared and probably still share, well then, you're in for a fine set of hours, even though so much time has passed...

I do admit it:  we had ourselves a very fine set of hours!

Toward evening, Ed goes out for a walk. I'm re-resting the poor discombobulated knee that never quite recovered from Paris, only to be thrown into the tumult of Christmas.

A storm is coming. If we lived further north, we'd get a mountain of snow. As it is, we'll be getting buckets of rain. Our white Christmas is a thing of the past. Tomorrow, I'll take down the tree and tuck away the few ornaments for next year. The lights, of course, stay with us winter, spring, summer and fall.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas with the young family

We wake up on Christmas morning to snow. It's not significant. You may be able to fashion a snow ping pong ball out of it, but not much else. But it's pretty!

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The farmhouse always looks so cheered up when everything around it is lightened by snow.

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Taking my camera for the walk to the barn to feed the cheepers is automatic, but oftentimes I don't bother pausing to take a photo. That changes on a snowy day.

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Ed and I eat a quiet breakfast. I'd toyed with fixing something special, but in the end opted for the familiar old stuff.

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And soon after, I pay a holiday visit to my mom, bringing her some foods that I hope belong to her lineup of favorites.

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She may not be much into holiday revelry, but her daughter sure is. A brief visit is definitely in order.

On the drive back, I take a somewhat longer route, just because the music on the radio is so good and the landscape around me has just enough of that winter magic.

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At the farmette, I take a short stroll to the back of the property. This is where some of our most regal pines stand tall and proud (if you happen to have a card from me this year, you'll recognize these grand ladies; what? I neglected you? poke me, it's not too late!).

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Oh! Look who comes out of the barn to check up on what I'm doing!

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If you have ever tried to photograph a flock of chickens, you'll know how hard it is. At least half will raise their butts to the camera. Too, they move quickly. But not in the snow! Behold! The parade of the cheepers!

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In the afternoon, I start in on dinner. It's another old holiday favorite of ours: Cornish hens. I know, I know, it does feel a tad odd to walk in from a visit with the cheepers and to start fussing with the little hens that belong on your roasting rack!

(Late afternoon sunshine!)

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The young family comes over and I take a break from kitchen work to open presents. So many days of total excitement!

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It can wear out the strongest of us!

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Sparrow at least benefits from naps...

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Time to gather at the table for the comfort food of a Christmas dinner.

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Revived, the girl wants to play!

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She has willing co-conspirators.

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 (I set out an easy dessert of red fruits and macarons...)

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One last look at the tree -- when next these kids come here, I will have taken it down.

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Oh, but why get serious yet! It's a day of laughter and love. Of silly games and lots of spontaneous hugs.

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A beautiful day! Sleep well, you children out there! Grownups too. Put away the holiday wrapping paper, take a deep breath and exhale. With a smile.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas with the young families

Ours is a Christmas story that is perhaps not unusual -- so many of us love being with our family during the holidays -- but on the other hand, it is unique. Every one of us has a different story to tell, a different cache of memories and funny moments from this day.

Here's mine.

Breakfast lite. Just fruits and coffee.

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I have an important bigger breakfast before me: at Hubbard Diner, where I have been eating breakfast with my family on Christmas Eve morning for as long as any of us remember.

But first, a brief pause at my daughter's house to check in on the grandkids.

The two babes (cousins) looking like they're putting forth an excellent rendition of fa la la la la...

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I'm thinking it would be awesome to take a pic of the three cousins, together. They have other ideas.

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This is the best I can come up with.

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We set out for Hubbard. The thing about Hubbard on this morning (and indeed, on any weekend morning) is that there is inevitably a long wait for a table. So we wait.

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Sparrow minds not at all.

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Snowdrop is still fighting off a bug, so she needs as many cuddles as a mommy can spare.

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In the meantime, Primrose is ready to play! I mean serious play! I just ate my mush! I want to have some fun!

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We get our food. All except Snowdrop.

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Everyone is nearly done by the time she gets her mac and cheese. A+ for being patient, little one!

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I take a good look at this little girl. She'll grow another ten feet by the next time I see her (well, maybe not so much in just a few weeks).

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And now it's afternoon and the youngest family is on the road to Chicago. The others come over to the farmhouse, including this rudolph the pink-nosed reindeer!

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We bake cookies for Santa! Ones made with real violet sugar. She loves the stirring of ingredients...

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Cookies are baking. My daughter and I pause for that soulful coffee.

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The cheepers keep an eye on us all. The sunshine emboldens them. They are the queens of the farmette!

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Cookies are ready. I dip them in chocolate. Still, I think they're a grownup cookie (from Mindy over at Chicago's Hot Chocolate). I love them. Snowdrop? Despite all those pink hearts and Ses (for Snowdrop, Sparrow and Santa!), she prefers her gingerbread.

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The  cheepers can only dream of gingerbread. Or stale bread. Or anything that resembles bread.

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In the evening, I cook Christmas Eve dinner at the home of the young family. Sparrow is super happy to see me. But then, he is super happy period, this despite the fact that he got his first tooth today and has some more on the way.

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Snowdrop is allowed to watch the Muppets Christmas Carol. She both loves this and hates it as she cannot get the volume to stream well.

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Her dad is wrapping gifts downstairs and she joins him to watch her movie on the bigger screen in the basement. She falls asleep almost instantly. The girl has had a string of very busy days!

I prepare a seafood pasta. With mussels, squid, and meat from a couple of lobster tails.

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P.j. time!

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Fine, me too!

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Dessert. "I would just like the ice cream, please."

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The cookies for Santa!

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Sparrow is already keeping an eye out for the Right Jolly Old Elf!

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Final evening moments...
With a sleigh full of toys and St Nicholas too...

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But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

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