Why we have children


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Role playing in paradise

Role playing in paradise

When I was pregnant, I used to joke with people that we were having kids so that my husband would have a built in gaming group constantly available. Anyone who has ever been with my husband on a quiet evening and seen the glint in his eyes and he pulled out a dice bag and asked who was up for a Cthulu one shot knows that I wasn’t really kidding.

Still, kids have had more of a dampening than enhancing effect on our gaming life. Our weekly game has survived (the fourth kid has recently been added to the table in the person of a wee little boy born on Christmas Eve), but… well… let’s just say that Adam missed Gencon hotel reservation because he was picking up a sick kid. If anyone has an extra spot in a Gencon hotel let me know. He’ll only be there from midnight to 7 am.

But lately the kids have been getting old enough to do some real actual gaming. Grey is a full on reader, and pretty patient with games. What Thane lacks in literacy he makes up for in spacial reasoning genius. I refuse to play the game, but I bet he’d whup me in Ricochet Robot.

Adam has been playing games with the boys for years. He’s taught them to roll dice and simplified systems. He’s drawn maps and created compelling npcs with silly voices. Grey has played “Eric of the Golden Sword” for years. Thane calls his 1:! game with dad “Lord of the Rings” (it’s not).

On the plan to Cozumel – in which tropical island I currently find myself – Grey read a 7 page Fate rulebook. (Reading a rulebook cover to cover puts him one up on me…) And right now, on the front porch, Grey is running a game he’s been working on all day. There are puzzles and NPCs and monsters and props. Thane and Daddy are sitting with the GM, enjoying the story. Grey is doing a great job – I’ve played in worse games than he’s currently running.

Adam may not have been waiting for this QUITE his whole life. But he has been waiting for it all Grey’s life. Let the gaming begin.

All beautiful the march of days


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Before I had children, I thought of January and February as the wasted time. The boring time. The stuck inside time. The vaguely depressed time. Now the first three months of the year represent the only times in my life when the pressure eases back a little. I – sometimes – have weekends when nothing much happens. If you try to do something with me in the summer on a Saturday, chances are good I’ll return with a next-free-date a month in the future. In January, there’s time for reading, relaxing, not-muching. Of course, I respond by being terribly lazy and hanging out on my couch in my jammies. (Ahem.)

Still, it is against my nature not to use the free time for some joyful activities. I have a big one coming up (and am being forced to be slightly less lazy in order to prepare for it), but my camera has evidence of a joyful January together.

Here is a link to the full set of pictures!

It included:

The kids loved the kids room at the Peabody Essex Museum

The kids loved the kids room at the Peabody Essex Museum

Grey and Thane both expend creative energy in their time at home.

Grey and Thane both expend creative energy in their time at home.

Uncanny picture of two magician brothers. (The link has a video showing Grey's tricks.)

Uncanny picture of two magician brothers. (The link has a video showing Grey’s tricks.)

With iron pen and with lead


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Family portrait

Family portrait

My family was here for Christmas. My mother and father and brother joined my husband and sons and I in the cold turning of the year. Puzzles were solved. Puddings flamed. And even in the cold of New England winter, my mother and brother would put on their coats and boots and go for a walk.

A statue from Lindenwood.

A statue from Lindenwood

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the walking and talking. We took long turns around the Lindenwood Graveyard, where I walked when I labored with my youngest son. In between pointing out my favorite gravestones (Yes, I know it’s weird that I have favorite gravestones. Whatever.) we talked. We talked about family history and lore. We talked about my brother’s new call and pastorate in Denver. We talked about the boys and how they were growing. We talked about my sister and her family and how we missed them.

“You know,” my brother said “Some people think I must not care much about my family, to be willing to move so far away from them.” We laughed.

“Well,” I pointed out, “We four families do now live in all four continental US time zones.” I can see where someone who counts on proximity and constant familiarity would look at the facts of our family and think us unloving and unconcerned. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And then we turned to Job. I’m reading the Old Testament in my Humanities Book Club. This is the club that brought me Herodotus and Thucydides. We’re on year five and semester three. Semester three includes selections from the Old and New Testaments. It doesn’t say, in it’s lovely calligraphy, just what the selections are.

So as the resident Christian, I was nominated for the picks. What do you select? If you need to give a cultural grounding in Christianity based on readings of the Bible, what do choose? What do you leave out? Do you follow the lectionary and disavow all knowledge of Chronicles? That’s where the really good stories are! You must read Genesis, of course, but can you understand modern conservative Christianity without Leviticus? Of course there have to be the Psalms. And if you don’t read Isaiah, the New Testament will feel more random than ordained.

For the first session, I decided to stick to the Pentateuch. That led to a long discussion on whether God was in fact cruel for hardening Pharoah’s heart. It is an interesting thing, as a born and bred Biblically-saturated Christian, to start from scratch in explaining the God of Jacob to someone who has never read the Bible, and is starting at the beginning. The Old Testament God is much harder than we remember in our Sunday School lessons.

So after that, I had to tackle propose that we tackle Job and Ruth. Ruth because Ruth is the very definition of faithful love, in my book. Job because I love Job, and I think that Job speaks to one of the great questions religion must answer: why do good people suffer and bad guys do well?

That’s what I talked to my pastor mom and pastor brother about there on the hill between the tombstones. Job, and what Job tells us in his hard but beautiful poetry.

Oh that my words were written down!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God
whom I shall see on my side.

Job: 19:23-27

As I explained to my mother and brother, what I love so much about Job (in addition to the words which are some of the best poetry in the Bible) is that it takes that great problem of understanding WHY God chooses to do what He does, or why there is suffering… and basically replies that the answers are beyond our understanding. Thane said to me the other day, “I wish no plants would ever die, mom.” I look at the glory of a flower, and I understand it. Isn’t it sad that the daffodils fade in the matter of days? That the glory of the spring lilacs is so fleeting? But do you not, fellow grownup who has studied any part of biology, understand that if no plant ever died… the entire planet would cease to function and we along with it? Well, perhaps so does God look at his creation and understanding it in a way we cannot, and sets it upon courses that we, with all our wisdom, cannot understand.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: …
“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.”


In other words, “What do you know about any of it? Nothing!” I find that liberating. I don’t understand because I can’t understand because I am not actually God.

Grey and I were recently watching NOVA (again – the third episode) and it showed how the universe was at its most orderly at the moment of the Big Bang, and with entropy comes increasing chaos and unpredictability. I found myself struck by the thought of an omniscient, omnipresent, immortal presence. After a certain amount of order, the first few eternities, wouldn’t you be tempted to create a moment of chaos – of free will and chance – out of your order just to be delighted for a moment by the joyful and chaotic complexity? It does not mean you do not rejoice in the daffodil’s bloom – to the contrary – but autumn is a marvel too.

So this I explain to my kinfolk.

“Well,” pronounces my brother, “I always thought of Job as the ultimate book of messianic prophecy.” (This earned him a say-whaaaa? My earlier snippet aside, there’s not a whole lot of Messiah going on.) “Job,” expands my brother, “when he accuses God of being an unfair judge, wishes that there was someone who could argue his side against God. “There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand on us both. If he would take his rod away from me, and not let dread of him terrify me, then I would speak without fear of him.” (Job:9:33-35) “That right there is what Jesus does for us, and what grace is for us. Jesus is the umpire, and grace is the taking away of the rod of judgement.”

Huh. Ok. Cool!

“You know,” says my mom, “Job was never my favorite book.” And we talked instead of the New Testament, and the calling of Christ, and how hard it is to pick hymns when you need to get the bulletin done.

We walked together, hands in our pockets and breath glimmering in the moonlight, and were a family headed down the hill and back towards home.

My family’s two pastors at my brother’s ordination. The bald one in the middle and the lady standing next to him singing.

Ernie and the Tiger’s Eye


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Between the ages of 6 and 9, I lived in a small, remote farming town in the desert/agriculture side of Washington State. The sign as you entered Prosser proudly proclaimed that it was a friendly town with friendly people.

One day I hatched a scheme to scare up some additional pocket money for penny candy at Bonanza 88. I and my best friend Jasmine would draw pictures and go door to door selling them. Now keep in mind that my art skills then were roughly as good as my art skills now. Which is to say that I still can’t draw worth a darn. In a flurry of activity we drew 15 or 20 artistic renderings with crayon on pieces of paper. Then, methodically, went door to door across the whole block – we two little girls.

I’m guessing we failed to ask permission on that one.

Happily, this story does not end up with years going to therapy or my body in a ditch or anything. We had a perfectly lovely time. Some people weren’t home. I have in my memory the face of an immigrant family, completely bewildered by this underage door-to-door salesmanship. Two of the houses I remember particularly. One of them was white, and had snap-dragons lining the walkway. I paused on my way up to make them snap. At home was a grandmother-type, by herself. She had a blue cut glass bowl of ribbon candy – old and sticky – on her table. We stayed quite a while there. I believe she had popsicles. I’m sure she rounded up quarter for us, so we left her house satisfied entrepreneurs.

The last house we left was only three or four doors down from my house. It was blue – a slate blue – with a red door. It was a two story house – unusual in our land-abundant, ranch-heavy town. I suspect it was one of the oldest houses in town. In it was Ernie. Ernie and I formed a strong friendship. He was very old – I believe he was a WWI vet. And his house was filled with all manner of fascinating things. Ernie never moved from his chair between the front door and the kitchen, but he knew exactly where every single object in his house was. Jasmine came with me that first time, but I went back by myself many times.

Ernie’s basement was a hall of wonders. There were mounted heads on plaques. He had a hand-turned crank that lit a light. There were cupboards and drawers and cubbies – all neat and organized and lovely and full of nifty things. Ernie must have delighted to play the classic old guy trick of giving me a tiger’s-eye and telling me I had to keep it with me at all times to fend off tigers, and going on about how well it had worked for him. If I headed up the stairs to the now-still bedrooms, there were daintier things telling of a bygone time when daughters and wives had populated the house. My favorite, on the stairs, was a popup book of gnomes. When you pulled the handles, all manner of funny (and scandalously inappropriate to my mind then) things would happen. Ernie would send me on a quest to a particular room, and have me either look at something there or bring it back to him. Then he would tell me stories about it.

I suspect that Ernie lived an accomplished and interesting life, of which I saw the briefest pages. I’ve loved old codgers my entire life, since I was a young girl, and Ernie was the finest vintage of old codger. I do not remember saying goodbye to him. I wonder if I disappeared? If I told him I was leaving? If I just stopped coming? If, perhaps, he didn’t answer his door one day? I don’t know, and will likely never find out.

Of course, this idyllic turn of entrepreneurial zest somehow did not meet with maternal approval after I got home with five quarters and a bunch of stories. I was *supposed* to be playing at Jasmine’s house, not wandering the block as an itinerant artist. My ear was mightily bent on the topic of “talking to strangers”. (“But mom! He’s not a stranger now!”) But I was chastened, at least temporarily.

Thus it was when, a week later, I seriously hurt myself a mile away from home while with my sister, I walked that entire mile – bloody, with gravel deeply embedded in face, hands and knees – turning down all offers of assistance from kindly grownups who offered to call my mom, explaining through pouring tears that “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers or go into their houses.”

You may all take a moment, friends, to have great pity on my mother.

Photography 101 – Class One


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For Christmas, my husband got me a course from Nicole’s Classes. I wanted to improve my skills with the camera. I really enjoy taking pictures, but am fully aware that I’m limited by technical capabilities. To sum up: there are many buttons on my camera that I don’t know what they do an am afraid to change in case I can’t figure out how to change them back.

So for the quieter time after Christmas, I decided I would learn how to take pictures better.

The course is a four week course. The first week paid for itself. We learned about lighting: shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and equivalent lighting. Now, I’d learned about ISO before and it was my single and sole method of correcting for lighting. This means that most of my photos, especially the indoor photos, are taken with very high ISO. My MIND WAS BLOWN by the fact there were three other ways I could manage light (short of flash), and I had been using the worst of them previously. Now, I had actually read a few photography books, and I knew I was missing something here, but I had trouble putting it all together. This made it make sense finally. (Bonus! Who knew there was a light meter on my camera letting me know – ahead of time – whether a picture was over or under exposed!)

So for your enjoyment, here is my homework for week 1:

Assignment 1 - Change the Depth of Field (two pictures – one with shallow depth of field and one with deep depth):

Deep depth of field

Deep depth of field

Shallow field

Shallow field

Assignment 2 – Daylight vs indoor ISO

Indoor, high ISO

Indoor, high ISO

Outdoor, low ISO.

Outdoor, low ISO.

Assignment 3 – Slow vs. fast shutter speed (sense of motion vs sense of stillness)

The circles are blurred

The circles are blurred

The circles are still

The circles are still

Assignment 4 – we were supposed to follow “a day in the life”. I picked Grey to follow for the day. I will confess that this is over more like 2 days, but I apologize for nothing.

What a great picture of him!

What a great picture of him!

I love the way the beam of light illuminates him

I love the way the beam of light illuminates him

Dual use.

Dual use.

Even with all my new skills, I could not get this picture exposed enough.

Even with all my new skills, I could not get this picture exposed enough.

Using a tripod and timer for the first time!

Using a tripod and timer for the first time!

For those of you who find yourself begging for more, here’s a complete link to an album with all the pictures from the week, some of which are pre-class and others of which are me practicing!

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above


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The Northern Lights have a special place in the pantheon of my history. They are the ever-sought, ever-elusive prey of family adventures and lore. I have yet to see them dance across a dark horizon, but one of my fondest family memories was a six hour quest for them that brought us over mountain, through desert and back home again.

My family has been here for the last several weeks. It was only supposed to be about ten days, but thanks to JetBlue I got an extra week with my mom. Their presence brought out the Johnstone in me, a bit like Gandalf brought out the Tookishness in Bilbo. And so, when I heard that the Northern lights might be spotted in darker northern exposures tonight, I looked at my eight year old son and his five year old brother, and my patient and loving husband, and I packed them all in the car.

Since the aurora was not considerate enough to fall on a Friday or Saturday, I was forced to keep my peregrinations reasonable. I headed up to Cape Ann, as my best hope for a dark northern exposure in an hour’s drive. We wound our way through Manchester-by-the-Sea, then up to Essex and through to Ipswitch. We kept our eyes glued for inexplicable dancing lights on the horizon, while Adam gave the boys a crash course on the magnetosphere and explained radiation poisoning in a preschool appropriate way. (“Those electrically charged particles make leetle tiny holes in your body…”)

In the shadow of Castle Hill, I found hoary flat ground and a northern exposure. I pulled the bumper of the car to where salt spray would have bedecked it in summer. Thane and daddy braved the cold to go outside and count the stars – greatly multiplied from their paucity in Stoneham. Grey and I snuggled in the front seat and waited for our eyes to grow large enough to see the elusive waves of color and light. The moon, half-full and spilling light, illuminated the cracked ice along the shore of Crane Beach. The approach to Logan was busy with planes, each looking like planets until they made their turns. We argued which direction was North (Google and I disagreed on this point) and talked and watched and talked and watched.

We did not see the Northern Lights. We saw no such thing. Before long the windows blurred with foggy breaths and tired children drooped in their seats. Tired tires turned towards home. I was secretly satisfied by the quest begun, but not completed. Where is the joy in a quest completed on the first try? Quests should be hard, so that we value them correctly.

On the way home, Adam and I sang hymns to the children. We sang the old, evening hymns that struggle to find a place in the modern morning worship: Abide With Me, Be Still My Soul, Be Thous My Vision, Peace to You. We sang the great hymns of joy: Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount, How Great Thou Art. We sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. We sang, as we crossed again into our town, the Red River Valley. And we remembered those we love, gone before us, and we felt their love. We looked at those small children, crumpled into sleep in the back seat, and we see the future of love, leading on ahead of us.

I look forward to hunting the elusive aurora on future nights, with my growing sons. Perhaps some day we shall catch those dancing lights – those leprechaun high-energy, high-atmosphere particulate impacts that make it through our magnetosphere. Or perhaps we shall not. Perhaps, some cold January night, my beloved children will bundle their wee ones and their spouses into a car with a glint in their eyes and a promise that the quest for the Northern Lights is one worth the undertaking.

Looking back at 2013


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The boys at the Harvard Museum of Natural Science

I’ve been procrastinating on writing a year in review post for over a week now. It feels a touch overwhelming to actually think through the past year, never mind coherently present it. But I put a link to my Christmas card to my blog with a promise that you might be able to replace the stunning content of the Christmas letter with the blog, so here you go.

Thane hopes you’re doing well!

Thane at 5:
Thane is astonishingly still in preschool. With an October birthday, he’s spending more or less the maximum sentence in preschool. My youngest son is incredibly bouncy and exuberant, with flying limbs and bouncing feet. At 90th+ percentile in height, he continues to outgrow his gross motor coordination. Happily, he couples this with a durability, toughness and focus that shrug off all distractions, such as pain and parents. He is a picture in persistence. He loves Legos, and forces his fingers to make the most intricate Lego creations. I think one of my favorite things in the world is to listen to him sing to himself as he puts together a puzzle or a sculpture. He always wants to help me cook, and has laserlike-focus on understanding particular questions.

This year, Thane did swimming lessons (which he did not like), soccer (which he did), aikido, cooking classes, science classes and Lego League (he was too young, but I snuck him in anyway). He prefers unstructured time to activities, so I’m careful about how much I ask of him in terms of following rules and toe-ing the line. He has begun reading slowly – very phonetically – which he finds hard work. He loves macaroni and cheese, Scooby Doo and his dear Puppy.

Thane is sweet and funny and affectionate. He thinks hard about the world around him, and asks questions to understand it better. He is wholly a delight!

How he spends his time

The artist at work

Grey at 8:
This year has seen a great flowering of Grey’s skills and abilities. He was irate that on our Christmas cards I included my blog, but not his Wacky Wonder Comics blog. He’s arrived at the shores of an age where he can do some things better than I can. He can certainly draw better. Of all the many interests he pursues, his drawing is the most persistent and pervasive. He makes Pokemon cards, comics, doodles, sketches, etc. He spent his Christmas money on some “real” art supplies – an easel that takes up his desk. After a time playing with one of his friends, I discovered a collaborative art project the two of them had created – without my help.

BFFs at Grey’s birthday

We are still looking to see what Grey’s great abiding passion may be – perhaps art – and are exposing him to many things. He enjoys outside activities more than his brother, which makes it easier. This year we tried basketball, swimming lessons, aikido, guitar lessons (still doesn’t want to practice!), baseball camp (a surprising success), soccer (Greece had a great year!), Lego League, and a Scratch programming class. Grey had a really tough spring, but over the summer and fall he rediscovered his emotional equilibrium and grew his resilience.

Grey about to hit a baseball

Grey likes lots of things. Legos, screens in all their many capacities (especially video games), art, rough-housing with his friends, games, books (especially comic books) and some sports. He has done stop-motion-Lego movies, comic series and extended card games of collaborative creation. At afterschool, there is a complex social society of Lego Houses, where the kids have in depth discussions about proximity, gear, style, creation and welcoming.

He might have read a LITTLE too much Calvin and Hobbes

Grey is a very complex, joyful, fun kid. I find myself very interested in his thoughts, and what he has to say. I look forward to being superseded in more skills every day!

Brenda (me):

This is what I look like in my mind’s eye. A less-expertly wielded camera might disagree.

I had a really good year this year. A lot of the changes for me were at work. I got two promotions, and am in a role now which requires my full capabilities and energy – and travel. It’s actually a great feeling to have a job that needs all you have to give, but that gives you the support to do it. I was trying to remember everywhere I went in 2013. I think the list looks something like this:

New York
Ft. Lauderdale
Los Angeles
Troy MI (Detroit) 2x
Montreal (for fun)

I think that’s it. Many of these trips were for only a day or two – the one-day-red-eye to California being particularly notable that way. On the home front, we also took shorter trips to New York, Connecticut and went camping three times!

Selfies while we wait

My personal life is just about as full as it can be. If I add anything (like say exercising more) it comes at the cost of something else (like socializing, sleeping or seeing my kids). There is very little optional relaxation I could cut out, so new years resolutions become like a zero sum game. I must stop an activity to add an activity. That said, I worked a lot on guitar this year, although I’m not notably better. I enjoyed cooking some pretty terrific meals. We gamed more or less weekly this year – we were a bit better than normal about it! I took a lot of pictures, but I do feel my blogging has suffered lately. I’d like to be a bit more consistent in the new year. I attempted a new blog – Technically Pretty – but it required too much research for me to keep up with it. I was less active in church than usual, which is likely to change in the coming year as we seek for an interim pastor.

I’m also taking a four week course on photography, which has already improved my skills! I can hope it will continue to do so and provide some ready-made blog fodder for the next month!

I don’t usually hike wearing a dress, but this was a special occasion.


Adam, gaming, with boys. A perfect scene.

The biggest news of Adam’s year was the closing of the dojo. Sensei became a father. Running a dojo, being a dad and having a day job were one thing too many. Adam earned his first kyu in aikido prior to the closing of the dojo. So there was much aikido until July… and then there was none. We’ve all been enjoying having Adam around so much more, but I think the new year may bring a new activity. He wants to do ballroom dance, which I think sounds like a blast. Adam continues to run our weekly game, and is raising two very fine gamers.

If asked, Grey will inform you that he played quite a role in the building of the bar

Adam also built out an addition to our porch to make it much more usable. The windows are very high, so a person seated in a chair could not see out. Adam constructed a gorgeous maple bar (with help from Grey) to which we added some stools. Both Adam and I have loved working and gathering there! He also launched a mobile application at a company sponsored forum which was a serious success, and of which he is very proud!

My incredibly handsome husband

Data and Tiberius

Snuggly brothers

Grey spent most of the spring and summer earning 170 “Chore checks” in order to get a new cat. The house seemed empty with the death of Magic and Justice, but I wanted Grey to have ownership in a cat, and to actually do the work of pet ownership, so we set a high bar so he could actually show me that he would be capable and consistent of cat care. The moment finally came over Labor Day, when we went to a shelter and found a bonded pair of brothers we really liked. The name Data had been pre-ordained. When we met his swaggering, over-confident, rather corpulent brother, the name Tiberius suggested itself. (There are two kinds of people, the kind who automatically know why Data and Tiberius might go together and the kind who, when the relationship is explained, cannot believe that anyone knows that.)

A few weeks after we brought the boys home, we brought Tiberius in because he wasn’t looking well and discovered that he had a very serious – life-threatening – condition. It would require massive effort and outlay, but if we made it through, his prognosis was to live a full and rich life again. I wrestled considerably with the right solution to this issue, and we did end up having the procedure. After that, he had to be tube fed up to 5 times a day for about a month. He threw up a lot. It was a grim period, and he came within a day or two of me deciding that his quality of life was not worth his suffering. But he pulled through and now is a completely happy, healthy cat with some odd bald patches that are already growing in.

A very sick cat being ministered to by two loving little boys

Data and Tiberius are excellent cats. They’re outgoing, friendly, and have wonderful litter box compliance. (It’s the little things in life that make the big differences.) Tiberius is always in the middle of the action, and Data would happily reconstruct his life to be Adam’s scarf. We’re enjoying them greatly.

“This looks like a great place for a nap!”

That’s where we are at the turning of the page of the year. Where does the new year find you?

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary


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Thane sets out the cookies for Santa

Thane sets out the cookies for Santa

It was midnight when my fellow-Santa and I laid the final touches around the tree. The cookies artistically partially eaten. The massive stuffed animal with the bow. The careful interspersing of presents – the ones from Santa outermost to indicate the jolly old elf had laid them there himself. We were weary from a lovely long day of cleaning, cooking, preparing, and caroling at our church. Our children had fallen asleep in record time. We’d had a lovely chat with some old friends in the neighborhood, and now we were ready for repose. We lingered, looking at the tree lights, looking forward to the morning’s joyous faces.

Ready for the morning!

The next morning at seven, I thought I heard some noise downstairs. “Aha!” I thought. “My children bestir themselves. Perhaps they’ve started to open their stockings! I don’t want to a miss a minute.!” I shook my beloved awake and headed down the stairs, muzzy-minded.

To my shock – my horror – a scene of wrapping mayhem lay below me. My sons were in the midst of a piranhic frenzy of quiet unwrapping. Well over half their gifts lay strewn around in the shards of wrapping paper littering the floor.

STOP! STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP! I sat on the stairs, weak-kneed, as they looked up at me with confused faces. “This,” I said to my similarly week-kneed husband, “May be funny later. Maybe.”

Perhaps this was the culprit of the Great Christmas Mayhem!

Perhaps this was the culprit of the Great Christmas Mayhem!

After a good number of deep breaths, a pot of coffee and a very long explanation to the children that we open presents TOGETHER like we have every Christmas for their entire LIVES, I satisfied myself that there was an excellent chance that Grey really believed he was being kind in letting us sleep in. We talked through the presents they had already opened, and slowly enjoyed the rest together. We did enjoy ourselves, once our hearts got back to a normal tempo.

I only wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a picture of the carnage, with the sweet, innocent confused faces wreaking it.

This is what most of this week has looked like around here

Twelve hours later, my brother, mother and father had all arrived in my house, bringing loot and Christmas cheer with them. As I worked on the roast lamb, I became increasingly uneasy with my menu. The lamb, with carrots, celery and parsnips, had seemed a quintessentially British dish, well served with Yorkshire Pudding and Christmas Pudding. But there was tomato sauce. The veggies were cubed small. And spice numbers 5 and 6 were turmeric and saffron. These are not British spices. On further review, the dish was downright Indian. So I scrapped the Yorkshire pudding and substituted rice, and I’m delighted to report it was absolutely the right call. (And a delicious recipe to boot!)

A beautifully set table with lovely people

A beautifully set table with lovely people

I likely warned my family 10 times that night that I would not be offended if the Christmas pudding turned out to be inedible. It seemed unlikely to be good. 4 cups of raisins and only one each of flour and sugar? Dates and citrons? Suet? This incredible double boiling maneuver – done twice? I’d be lucky if anyone ate two spoonsful. The hard sauce – equal parts butter and powdered sugar – might be eaten straight. But I doubted even it could rescue this unlikely looking concoction. I poured the brandy on with liberal hand and set the pudding to blue flame, lasting far longer than I thought it would and bathing the wide eyes of my son in eerie light.



And so has this time with my sons and my husband, my mother and father and brother been. I hope you, too, have had a joyful and restful holiday!

I have pictures of our Christmas celebrations here.

Also, since all the Christmas Cards that will be sent have been sent, you can see pictures of the great photo shoot we had this autumn here!

Mrs. Flynn’s Christmas Pudding


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There were plums and prunes and cherries,
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon, too
There was nutmeg, cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Such that work up a fine stomach ache
That could kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake.

At the last two Family Meetings, when the subject of Christmas planning came up, Grey has adamantly insisted that any Christmas plans must, MUST, include a Christmas pudding. I confess that this rather unexpected demand warmed the cockles of my heart. “Just what I need this Christmas!” I figured. “A ridiculously elaborate and archaic baked good that needs-must be served flaming!”

So I googled around a bit. I was somewhat dismayed by some of the ingredients. Suet? Citron? What are the odds my local Stop & Shop has those? Plus, all the recipes I read were in metric units. Although we have a scale for just this exigency, I prefer my teaspoons and ounces. Happily, I thought to check my never-used “Joy of Cooking”, and there it was:

Apparently by “plums” they mean “raisins”.

I dragged my eldest on a grocery store scavenger hunt with me. He found the dates. I found the citron. A helpful butcher’s assistant helped us find the suet. (Pro tip: it’s in with the steaks and beef – you’ll check the tiny “British” section fruitlessly.) I did use sultanas (golden raisins) instead of boring ol’ American Raisins. And we emerged victorious, with the fruits of our labors.

By the way, in case you’re as curious as I was, a citron is a completely new fruit to me. I’v never seen one before, but apparently it’s a nearly inedible fruit. I presume the Brits heard about that and took it as a personal challenge. I was truly shocked that they were available for purchase in my little Stop and Shop. I tasted one and they were, um, interesting.

Last night, I figured I’d make the pudding. I got the raisins and currants going, and discovered that step took two hours. Then this afternoon after church, I figured it was high time to make the pudding. I chopped the suet, mixed with my hands, and had several bowls of ingredients.

Some citrons and raisin and cinnamon too.

It was at that point that I discovered the steaming of the pudding takes at least three hours (and I have somewhere to be this afternoon) so I think that will be this evening’s activity.

My Christmas gift from my Mother-in-law was some of her wedding silverware. I’ve secretly always wanted real silver silverware, but it’s the sort of thing I could never justify actually purchasing, so I’m thrilled. I have plans for a fancy-shmancy Christmas dinner, totally from the Joy of Cooking, with my best dishes and linens. My intention is:

Roast lamb shoulder with roast vegetables
Yorkshire pudding
Roast asparagus (a family favorite)

To which my son would like to add “Grey-joulais” which is rice with nuked veggies on top. Of course, I think this will be lovely.

And I’ll finish the whole thing off with a flaming (likely inedible – let’s be honest) Christmas pudding!

I mean, doesn’t it look great?


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