One of the joyful advantages of some time off is that I’ve had a chance to use my nice camera. In fact, I bought a digital photography book and have been reading it. Another nice thing is I actually have time to pull the pictures off in a timely manner. So here is three days worth of pictures (over 450 before I weeded them!).
I send out a number of Christmas cards every year. Many years I include a Christmas letter, so that I can focus on writing a personal note in the card instead of an update on what’s happening in our lives. As frequent blog-readers, all y’all (Hey, I’m in Georgia right now! It’s allowed!) know most of this stuff anyway, but here it is!*
This year feels like it stretched out long and full – like a cat in a sunbeam. The year has been full of moments caught and enjoyed. After a two year tenure at a life sciences company, I switched to become a Solutions Architect at a software company that creates software. I took the job for more than just a great title, and have been incredibly busy and very satisfied. Adam is still with a healthcare non-profit and among other things has had fun working on mobile applications.
As our sons grow older, there’s also been a little more time for other things in our life. I had started Grey on guitar lessons, but he did not enjoy them. During one frustrating lesson, I took over for him. Now, nine months in, I’m getting pretty decent. I can read three kinds of notation and play several songs almost in tempo. It’s a completely different skill than trumpet, and downright exhilarating to learn! I also continue to blog at http://mytruantpen.com, and started a new blog at http://technicallypretty.com .
Adam and I spent our twelfth anniversary idylling in Ashland Oregon. We watched Henry V in the Elizabethan, followed the political trials of Lyndon B. Johnson, played “Lords of Scotland” while eating pizza next to Lithia Creek, and white water rafted the Rogue (which was awesome!). The boys didn’t miss us at all as they went to Camp Gramp with their cousins. The winter was mild and easy. Spring was short and sprightly. The summer was full of camping, canning and beaches. The fall was birthdays and apples and games and storms.
The only cloud on the year was the loss of our two kitty cats. Magic died in the spring of old age, leaving a legacy of love and cat hair. Justice – an indoor/outdoor cat with a strong penchant for adventure – died with his boots on during his adventures. I’m grateful that he was able to come home and rest in the back yard he once prowled. They are both missed by large and small in our home.
Grey began first grade this year. He continues as a strong reader with a particular preference for those odious books intended for pre-adolescent boys (think “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Captain Underpants”). Happily, he also branches out into less nauseating literature, such as “Alice in Wonderland”. The great passions of his 7 year old life are Legos and drawing cartoons. The cartoons are quite good. He’ll come home with stacks of “collectible cards” he and his friends drew at after-school. He does an amazing job of following Lego building instructions, and his room is practically carpeted in Legos. He is still in aikido, and has earned his green belt.
Fortunately for filial peace, Thane is also completely Lego-obsessed right now. I swear he wills his four-year-old fingers to the fine movements required to work with “little Legos”. He spends an astonishing amount of time for a child his age creating objects. I even caught him successfully following the instructions to create a kit. He’s not reading yet, but still loves to be read to – especially books about his beloved Scooby Doo. He’s silly and sweet. He likes to pretend he’s a baby bird. He still considers Puppy (a bunny rabbit) his best friend. I’m savoring the last lingering babyness with all my might.
We have had a wonderful year, with bright horizons for the coming one. We hope you, and your family, are the same. Merry Christmas to you all!
Brenda, Adam, Grey & Thane
*Some information changed to preserve internet anonymity!
I’m not a huge puzzle-doer. Years have elapsed without my doing a single puzzle. But this time of year, I get the urge to do puzzles. It comes back to family. You see, this is the time of year when I have multiple, unscheduled days with people to whom I am related. My sons are no longer in need of constant babysitting, nor have that toddler’s impulse to destroy all that is laid before them. (Although they are forces for chaos and entropy – you should see what happens to a formerly clean room SECONDS after they enter it.)
My family, during my teenage to young adult years, would often do a big puzzle when we all came home from our far-flung lives. There was the massive medieval sayings puzzle (still a favorite!), the three golden magi puzzle (so much of the same color!) and others lost to the mists of time. The glorious thing about a puzzle during the holidays is what it does for the family. Done right, the puzzle is in a place where people pass and invites them to linger. One person sits down to see if they can finish the horse’s head, another person joins them. They sit together, in companionable silence, or chatting. There’s no pressure to “make conversation”, but the conversation likely ebbs and flows. They are not trapped behind a screen or page – mentally isolated from the others around them. But neither are they thrust into the chaos of the activities that swirl around the holidays. And when the holiday is finished – if the puzzle is too – there is a shared sense of purpose, activity and accomplishment. And there are a wealth of small, shared minutes together.
I realized this, of course, when I had a baby and such an activity became impossible. Sitting quietly became an aspiration. Small pieces that could be lost? Inviting tragedy. I longed for the chatting and conversation and the careful piecing of puzzles.
My brother was born on December 20th. My grandmother came to stay that Christmas during my mother’s wait. Family legend is that when my mother went in to labor, she refused to go to the hospital until the puzzle was done so that my grandmother wouldn’t fret. As a consequence, the delivering doctor barely beat my brother to the hospital. (Hey mom – what puzzle was that? Did you save it?)
This Thanksgiving, I thought it was TIME. My four year old, who might be the Destroyer of Puzzles, is actually a great puzzle aficionado. (He calls himself the Puzzle Master.) Indeed – he’s a bigger contributor to even a 1000 piece puzzle than you might consider likely for a preschooler. At Thanksgiving I reviewed the scant grownup puzzle options in the cupboard. There was a 600 piece mosaic puzzle, a thousand piece snowman and a 400 piece satellite photo of our neighborhood. I’d been looking forward to doing the neighborhood one, and figured I could have some fun roping my neighbors into joining me, so pulled it out.
OMG. It was the hardest puzzle ever. The colors were practically identical. The pieces were barely differentiated in shape. It was the Bataan death march of puzzles. We had many “false positives” that were extensive to unwind, and nearly went blind peering over the puzzle. Adam and I stayed up WAY TOO LATE one night to finally finish it. Such a sense of accomplishment! We took pictures. Which was good – Grey accidentally destroyed it the next morning looking at it.
This Christmas, I planned ahead and bought a (hopefully much easier) thousand piece Christmas scene. We’ve set it up just off the living room next to the “gold tree” with floor pillows. The family wanders past and does a section, then wanders off to play. My sweet Thane – prince of puzzles and shapes – sits next to me and pieces together the scenes. He needs help organizing the pieces to get sections together, but his sense of shape, color and fit is astonishing. We sit next to the glimmering tree and sing Christmas songs together, chatting.
The cycle is renewed, the wheel turns, and the new generation takes up the strains of the old.
Christmas arrived abruptly on my street today. It felt like a scene in a Suess/Rockwell/Orwell tale where walking down the street shows happy families trimming trees in window after window. Wreaths appeared on one or two doors. They will appear on many more as soon as the enterprising young Boy Scout who sold to at LEAST four of us on one Sunday afternoon returns with his wares. (Rockwell, I’m telling you.) We’re all just trying to get it done before the Stoneham town Tree Lighting and Trolly Ride to the Zoo Lights. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up folks. The Town Council is contemplating a skating rink on the town commons, as soon as they can figure out who will pay for maintenance.)
Anyway, as my Thanksgiving redux involves massive insights like “turkey is tasty” and “pie is good”, and Grey had a medical procedure which is fine and everything’s good. But let’s just say that I really love Dr. Yu – a urologist at Children’s Hospital Boston. Great guy. Top notch doctor. Enough said for the internet.
I figured that for your entertainment, I might talk about a few of the ornaments that adorn our Christmas tree. Our ornament collection started at college graduation, when my parents and his packed up our childhood ornaments for us. In my family, in our senior years we were given leave and budget to recreate the family Christmas tree. I recall I bought some ornaments… but mostly I liked the tree the way it was. After marriage, Adam and I bought a bunch of glass bulbs at the now defunct Ames (many of which bulbs still survive), and had a few nice ones given to us as wedding presents. We’ve continue to add to the collection (in part by stealing them from my mother-in-law). I also like to try to pick up one a year. And of course, we are now adding clay and pipe-cleaner ornaments crafted by my sons.
This is a silver ornament my father’s parents gave me at my birth. (Or, well, one presumes sometime well after my birth, since my birth was in September on another continent. I do not remember the actual giving well.) Each of us had a silver ornament: my sister a reindeer mobile, my brother a teddy bear I think, and myself this snowman. For a significant portion of my life, I believed this ornament – crafted of the precious metal as it was – my single most valuable possession. I was obsessed with the “kid living on their own” concept (a la “Box Car Children” or “My Side of the Mountain”) and this astonishingly valuable piece of silver was often my mental ace-in-the-hole to be pawned off for real estate, or a bucket and seed corn, or moccasins… you know. What the moment needed. I used to really like polishing it. When I got older, I used my trumpet polishing cloth. I think I did that as recently as last year. My grandparents are gone now, but their birth-gift still hangs on my tree in a place of pride (even if I don’t stake my retirement on it).
At some point in his youth, Adam met with a man who had done the origami Christmas tree for the White House. This star was part of that tree, and at the time my husband learned it, few people knew the secret of this fold. Adam has been patient with me since then. I love holographic paper, and the growing collection of origami holographic stars on my tree does nothing but please me. About once a year I’ll find a scrap of particularly pleasing paper, and beg him to make me a star. He usually obliges. Both sides are lovely. Some of these stars are now ten years or more old.
I am not sure if other people use their trees this way, but we store some of our most important – and most painful – memories on our Christmas tree. This ornament is the most important one on the tree. The inscription reads, “Keitha – 1973″. Keitha was Adam’s older sister, born terribly premature, who lived only a few hours. This little angel, holding its little bell, reminds Adam and I (and now our sons), that she was here. That she lived. That she was loved. And that she is missed. I’m not sure if, without this annual reminder, my sons would know they had a little aunt.
I also have an ornament – not quite as perfect – that I first hung on the tree the year I miscarried two.
I wasn’t the only one with special ornaments. This is a baby-ornament of Adam’s. My sister was also a bicentennial baby, and I remember being jealous because it seemed like a big deal to be a bicentennial baby! Adam’s ornament reminds us all of how special he was. How far away it seems now!
I have actually looked for special ornaments for my nieces and nephews when they were born. You know, silver preferably. Enduring design. Engraveable. Seriously – this has been impossible to find. The best I could do was pewter. (I didn’t WANT pewter. I wanted SILVER.) My sons have Swarovski crystal snowflakes from their grandparents, which are lovely. Actually, Grey’s snowflake might be my single favorite ornament on the tree for how it catches the light, but it doesn’t photograph well. I consider it a loss. Look people! I want to buy something expensive? Does no one wish to take my money? Guess not.
So, what are your favorite ornaments? Which are most deeply sentimental to you? Do you have styles of ornaments you particularly like or dislike? (Blown glass? Dinner-plate-sized?) Do you keep your deepest memories shinily on display on your Christmas tree?
So I tackled the memory card issue today, in addition to getting a haircut. I have pictures of our Christmas celebration, and pictures of my brother’s ordination!
Here are photos of our Christmas:
And here are some really nice pictures of my brother’s ordination. It was an experience that merits its own blog post – we’ll see if that ever happens!
Ah, Christmas! We are at the height of the fun and joyful years with our kids. The Christmas Eve service was excellent. Thane clutched a Christmas card from my aunt and uncle with a scene of the nativity in his hands, periodically lifting it to give “cute baby Jesus” a kiss as he wide-eyed and wiggly watched the tableau of unfold before him, punctuated by familiar carols. After the service, the boys laid out cookies for Santa (soo…. many… cookies!!!!) and put on their brand new Scooby Doo pajamas and soft-footed ascended the stairs. Although Grey had expressed his scientific intention to run some double-blind studies around the existence of Santa, he was out light.
Morning dawned bright, joyful, and not unreasonably early. 7 am is a perfectly fine time for Christmas. A vast ocean of glittering gifts was laid out under the festive fir. And oh joy unbounded! Santa had come! The stockings were resplendent and overflowing. He even put three Hershey’s kisses in the tiny little knit stocking for Puppy. He left a note thanking the boys for their excellent behavior over the course of the year. Then the great unwrapping began.
Thane’s most-played with gifts were an astronaut helmet, a sword and shield and a light saber. He also got a bunch of games, books, some puzzles (which have made a resurgence in popularity) and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember.
Grey got the sword, shield and light saber too. What fun is it to get a sword if you have no one to battle, I ask you? He also got a camera, a DS game, a bunch of board games, books, and crafts.
Adam got an XBox 360 with Kinect, which may require us to do some home renovation in order to get enough room to actually play it. Grey’s really enjoyed it so far. Adam is deep into Arkham City. I’m sure you’re all glad to hear that he’s out there protecting civilization from evil and complaining about how he’s not nearly as good with an XBox controller as with a PC.
I got a book about Peculiar Kids (from Grey), some new pajamas, two new cookbooks, a book on learning German (now slightly less relevant than when I asked for it), and a DROID X phone. Heh. Heh heh. I have joined the digital revolution folks! I’m like the last member of the technorati who doesn’t get email on their phone. I was so ready for this. So now I’m in the long process of configuring, personalizing, etc. I’m PSYCHED.
It was a great Christmas, and everyone was cheerful and no one melted down and it was neither too many nor too few gifties and there was joy and love and coffee and pancakes.
Then we went to church (hey! Did you know that when Christmas falls on a Sunday church is open?! True story!) and the kids sang with us and looked cute and didn’t complain about being there even a little bit.
It was a happy time and will be a happy memory. These are the true richnesses in life. And now I have a week to shovel out the accumulated tasks piling up since I had surgery in September. If I’m far overdue on something for you, watch your inbox.
One sad note amid the cheer, however. On Christmas Eve, I was talking with my mother-in-law about how much we were looking forward to having her here. Half an hour later, my husband tells me that she’s on her way to the ER. She snapped her upper right arm. It’s a clean break – a best case – but a conversation with her orthopedist says she can’t risk her 3 year old grandson until like MARCH. I really like my MIL and her visits are heaven for us, so this is a royal bummer for me, and obviously an even bigger one for her.
One humbug in an otherwise great season.
So… how about you? What great loot did you get? Was it a warm and joyful season? What was the best part?
For almost all my life, I’ve been the person who turned the music on. As a girl, growing up, music was played much more often once I figured out how to make it go. I still remember fondly all 6 of the CDs we owned, seared into my hind-mind as they are. When I graduated, I secretly absconded with all my favorite CDs. (Note to parents everywhere: check what your kid packs to college, especially when they’re going 3000 miles away and will never ever actually return with their possessions.) The music and NPR always played in my dorm room, eventually joined by baseball broadcasts. In my own home, I have complete ownership over the sound system. If it’s on, chances are over 90% it’s because I turned them on.
So it’s interesting to notice my sons gradually taking control over their own soundscape. Each has a CD player in their room. Grey is vert interested in what it plays, and will make careful choices among his handful of CDs. He loves Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, but thinks Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is too scary. And he’s started to form his own opinions about what he likes, what he wants to listen to. I’m sure there will be a moment in the future when I have to compromise the music played in our public space. I’m hoping to avoid sharing as long as possible, however, because my music is better. Ahem.
Anyway, this year for the first time, Grey has a favorite Christmas carol. What do you think it is? Maybe Rudolf? Grey went Christmas carolling with the church group this year (as our official bell-ringer – he refused to sing) and Rudolf was his request, but no. It’s not a kid’s song. Perhaps the Carol of the Bells on the traditional side? Or Joy To the World? Or “Darcy the Dragon” which is MY favorite Christmas song? (Kind of.)
Nope. Grey’s favorite Christmas song is The Kingston Trio’s Mary Mild, from the Last Month of the Year. It is such a joy to see him decide this on his own. While that song is certainly in heavy circulation (“The Last Month of the Year” is my husband’s favorite Christmas album), that song isn’t in my top 50 list. I’d hardly paid much attention to it, other than pondering its apocryphal origins. But he loves it. He sings it. He requests it at night time.
I know that my choices create the soundscape in which my sons grow up. They seem so young, so clearly under my purview. But already, they love things that I like. They notice things that escaped my notice. They hear things with fresh ears and reach different conclusions. I have set the foundations, but the house they build upon it will be all theirs.
“Go up the hill,” His mother said, “and there you will find three jolly children.
But let me hear no complaint of You when You come home again.”
I’ve always liked the idea of the 12 days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas day and ending in Epiphany. Or, as I celebrate it, beginning on Christmas Eve and lasting until I have to go back to work in January. I like that Christmas is a season, not just a day. So I’ve saved up a few Christmas posts, and I even have time to post and take pictures and do fun stuff! Yay!
So with the foresight of an experienced blogger, when I encountered an amazingly bad holiday event, instead of thinking, “Wow, this is amazingly bad!” I pulled out my camera and took notes. It’s one of the blessings of this constant chronicling, that bad experiences can actually be way more fun to write about than good ones.
Now, it should be said that I’m quite positive the experience I’m about to write about is one cherished by generations of New Englanders (it’s the only explanation!). The volunteers who make this happen are hard-working and well-intentioned — I’m positive. The non-profit agency who benefits from the ludicrous, er, eminently reasonable ticket prices are worthy, I’m sure.
But seriously, the Zoolights in Stoneham are like a horror movie waiting to happen.
OK, ok, the immense line for tickets should be a good sign that joys await within, right? Right? Right? Or at least the hefty price of entry should be an indication of value to come?
The first part is ok. You walk through the zoo, past the nocturnal animals and the incredibly stinky reindeer. But then you get to Santa’s workshop. Another line for a picture with Santa — granted a decent Santa. But you start to feel… uncomfortable about the decor. Half of the animatronics (creepy at the best of times) didn’t move. As we waited in line, I failed to snap a picture of flamethrower Santa. Let’s see if you think his holiday candle is festive now! Who you saying moves like a bowl full of jelly?
From there into the hall of horrors. I’m sure these exhibits were cute in 1950 (or whenever) when the Zoolights started. But now, not only are the exhibits really out of touch with what kids even know (see also Amy March above), but they’re starting to… rot. There’s mold and mildew. Leaves get blown in. The exhibits are disheveled.
Or like some of the newer exhibits, completely faded. Elmo should not be pink.
I’m frankly amazed that the kids aren’t terrified by these things. I found them extremely creepy, like this giant, molding bear that periodically opened his eyes:
I mean, people are afraid of non-mildewed clowns. But the kids didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Once you’ve gotten through the gauntlet of creepy creatures, you get to the carnival rides. Several of them were just normal carny rides, but the Merry Go Round had the freakiest looking animals EVEH. I mean, the horses looked demonic.
But the place was packed. Everyone seemed to be having fun! Except me. I was half writing the forthcoming scene of horror, doom and destruction in my head, along with this blog post. Also, it was cold.
Anyway, in case of the Zombie apocalypse, I recommend staying away from the zoo.
This, my friends, is a perfect Christmas. We’re at my mother-in-law’s house… which is to say we’re completely spoiled. The place is all Christmasy. She has, at least count, six Christmas trees up, two full size and several smaller ones. She has about 6 batches of baked goods and every possible treat you can imagine. She also bought out several toy and clothing stores to outfit us. She told us not to pack anything… she had everything – and she does!
I spent this lovely hour today: my husband was watching Tron, the boys were down pretending to nap, the Christmas music was on, the fireplace was roaring and in an extremely unexpected turn of events, it was snowing. I sat on the couch, quiet, and read “The Dark is Rising”, which is my favorite Christmas book. It was an astonishingly lovely moment.
Anyway, for Christmas Santa Husband bought me a Digital SLR camera. I bought a photography book a while back and read it through. This permitted me to know exactly what my point and shoot could or could not do. It can actually do a lot. I use ISO all the time and I think it immeasurably improved my pictures. But there were things I couldn’t do: anything with detachable lenses and most importantly f-stops. I thought about it for about two years. But I decided: I wanted a real camera. So I told my husband and left him to do all the research on which one was best yadda yadda. My new camera is a Pentak DAL 18-55 mm F3.5 – 5.6 AL.
It’s my first non-point-and-shoot, so I’m probably not well qualified to review it. But I have spent, oh, about 24 hours with it now and taken over 300 pictures. It’s a leap of faith to record Christmas morning on your brand new camera (do you know how to take the lens cap off?) but we did it. Here are all the pictures, but let me call some out:
This here explains why I needed this camera. In a point in shoot, usually, most of the picture in the camera is sharp. That’s great – it means Aunt Agnes isn’t a blur (or everything is) – but it also leads to flatter pictures. Snapshots. Nothing wrong with that, but I wanted more. So here is a “non flat” set of the same pictures:
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s a full set of Christmas pictures!.
PS – I have totally not figured out how to work my camera! But I’m looking forward to doing so!
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve uploaded the latest pictures up through Christmas!