Singapore: City of Selfies

I won an all expenses paid trip to Singapore. That’s how I’ve been positioning it to myself when it became clear a few weeks ago that I would definitely need to fly out to Singapore for a big presentation I’d been working on. It’s really hard to figure out how long is the right amount of time to go for a work trip like this. On the one hand, it’s 50 hours of travel (a full work week’s worth!) to get here! On the other hand, I only have like a day or two of stuff I need to do here. I settled on pretty much a week – landing in the weekend to get acclimated.

So far I’ve had that weekend part, wandering the city and trying taking a million pictures. I’ve come up with a few observations.

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore, a quick background might be useful. It’s a former British colony that gained independence in the 60s. It’s a city state – only a few square miles – at the tip of Malaysia. It’s home to about 6 million people, roughly 3 million of whom were born elsewhere. It’s extremely diverse, with key populations coming from China, Malaysia, India & England.

Working on my selfie game

1) The entire city was built for selfies
You know the Sydney Opera House? The Singapore equivalent was built to look like Durian fruit. You can see it across the man-made bay, right next to the iconic Mer-lion. And floating soccer field. But right before the 40 story, three pillared ship-building that hosts the casino. Everywhere you look has beautifully composed views of the city with fascinating architecture. And people have definitely gotten the message, also everywhere you look are hordes of people all taking pictures – mostly selfies. I saw probably 20 people today who’d even hired professional photographers (or had friends with fancy cameras) to follow them through their touristy stuff and take pictures of it. It’s wild.

You know you’re really short on space when…

2) Singapore is basically a spaceship
Imagine if you have a ton of people in a very small, closed environment from many backgrounds. You need to keep them healthy, clothed, fed, exercised and doing the work you need them to do. You also need to give them that human psychological need for greenery, space and outdoors. Well, Singapore is already working under many of those constraints.

World of cacti?

They call it the City in a Garden, and they’re not wrong. Every space that can have greenery crammed in has greenery crammed in. There are trees, vines and flowers at every single opportunity. I spend my day at the Gardens By the Bay which are so clearly nature for people who haven’t ever actually seen nature. As I went from “The world of palms” to the desert cactus exhibit it dawned on me that one of the many kids growing up entirely in Singapore… well, this is what they’d know of nature. All prettiness and near infinite variety, carefully planned and executed. No randomness. No repetition. Entirely unnatural.

They also use every inch. On my drive from the airport my exceptionally informative taxi driver told me that there was a defense troop nearby and that they could clear every single plant off the road in less than 45 minutes to convert it to an emergency runway. Here in Singapore space needs to have one or two or three uses – just like it would on a colony ship. This also might explain why the rules and regulations here are so strict. If you’re going to cram this many people into this little space you need very clear rules governing behavior and interactions, or pandemonium might ensue!

These women in yellow are clearly together

3) People dress to match each other
They’ll all wear the same color (like 6 people!) or the same dress (2 or 3 people). Some of them wear the same dress in complimentary colors (black and white). And it’s not just like bridal parties or something – it was all sorts of people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. I was talking to a native Singaporean colleague about it (she’s spent several years in the US) and she had no idea what I was talking about until we started walking around and she saw it for herself.

4) Jaywalking rules explained
So the typical statement about law abidingness in Singapore is that they’ll ticket you for jaywalking, which sounds ridiculous. In reality, the way the streets are set up it’s both very tempting to jaywalk and rather dangerous to do so. That’s because pedestrians really navigate the city in a series of subterranean mall-tunnel (and sky bridges). So you’ll be on a major thoroughfare with a broad sidewalk that just …. stops right when you get to a big road. If you know what you’re doing, the underground entrance is right behind you, but that’s not intuitive. So you jaywalk, which is bad and unexpected.

You rake your yard, but do you rake your rivers?

Not that the rules aren’t actually pretty strict! I had a “Singapore Moment” shopping in a gift store at a museum. They had tshirts and I wanted to get one for my kids so I picked one up and shook it out to look at it. It wasn’t the right size so I carefully refolded it (the display was extremely neat) and picked up another one. A tap on my shoulder “there are sample t-shirts you can view on that rack”. No picking up tshirts. Got it. This is why the very cute adorable outfit I bought for myself does not fit. Siiiiigh. In the same gift shop I’d gathered a number of things and was clearly making the staff uncomfortable. I thought they were too large to fit into the teeny tiny shopping baskets they had – which was true. But they squirmed and finally came up to me and “offered” a basket and crammed all the stuff in somehow. There is definitely a right way to do things, and woe betide the ignorant!

7-11 has dim sum but zero gum

I’ve put together an album of my hijinks so far here. Tomorrow I have to “go to work” or something, so that’s probably the bulk of my touristing on this trip! The folks in the photos with me are coworkers.

Christmas Cards

The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year
The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year

Christmas Cards are a big deal to me. The process starts in the summer with the question: should I get a professional to take our pictures? Every four years it’s a no-brainer. We have a professional picture taken ever four years for our family portrait wall (usually by Coe). This year was one of the four. The pictures came out fantastically!

Sometime around Thanksgiving, often Thanksgiving proper, I go onto Shutterfly and craft my cards. (Their site is annoying, but improving, and their production values are excellent.) I usually make a calendar for the grandparent-set at the same time, so it’s a lovingly laborious process of going through all the pictures I’ve taken all year, spotting the highlights, uploading them, fixing them, etc. I place the order, and curse myself for not doing this two weeks ago so I could WRITE the cards during Thanksgiving, because I won’t end up having enough time to do them justice. (Please note: this happens EVERY YEAR.) Fall is my busiest time, so I really don’t have time to do this two weeks earlier, to my regret.

So there I am, on the 9th of December, with 100 cards and envelopes staring me in the face. And I begin.

I have two sets of addresses – my personal address list and the church list. The first list is about 60 addresses long, and then I send out all the remaining to my church brothers and sisters. This process probably takes me 20 – 30 hours over the coming weeks. I spend big amounts of time on weekends, and nearly every free weeknight. It takes me far more time than baking, shopping or decorating do.

Why do I do it? And why does it take so long?

Happily, the act of writing all these cards gives me a lengthy chance to think on that investment. And year after year I have come to the same conclusion: this time is not only worthwhile, but precious.

You see, I address the outside of the envelope, and then I write to the person I care about. Some people actually get a full sized letter in their Christmas card. There are a couple correspondents I have where our only communication is annually, at Christmas. For example, one of my college classmates died of Muscular Dystrophy a few years after graduation. We had been good friends in college, and I’d known his mother who had moved heaven and earth to give him a “normal college experience” even though he was very motion constrained. So I wrote his mother a sympathy card, letting her know what he’d meant to me. She asked me to keep in touch, saying it was nice to follow what his life might have been like if he’d been healthy. So, every year I send her a Christmas Card with an update on my life. (And of course, every year I remember my friend in doing so.) And every year she writes back with an update on hers. So the updates are huge – a baby born, a wedding, a big job shift, a move, a death in the family.

And that shows what’s precious to me about this whole laborious process. I take time to really think about the people who matter to me. I stop from my busy day and try to tell them how I really feel about them. Almost every year, there’s a name I take off my list. This year, I didn’t send a card to Grandma Jones because she is gone where no Christmas Card can reach. This sorrowful moment is also a reminder that I have no guarantees that this isn’t the last Christmas card I’ll ever send to the friend in question.

So, if this was the last card I ever send to this person, what would I want to say? If this was my last chance to tell them what they mean to me, how would the card be different? And then I try to write THAT card. (Note – this isn’t perfect. Sometimes inspiration fails, and sometimes I just get tired.)

Christmas is a time of counting blessings. We get and receive gifts. We connect to family and friends we don’t see as often. We lay down our busy lives and pick up our slower ones. We think about the year behind and plan for the year ahead. We think of what is meaningful to us.

There is nothing more meaningful, more precious to me, than you my friends. There’s no gift under the Christmas tree more dear to me than the ones that fill my mailbox this time of year.

Merry Christmas to you, my friends, and a joyful new year.

These are a few of my favorite things
These are a few of my favorite things

Five Cozumel moments worth remembering

1) The room
The morning after we returned, as I lay in bed and before I opened my eyes, I could still see the blue skies and sandy beaches beyond my toes – with my boys lying around reading and playing video games. Tragically at home I usually wake up to see my messy closet. The room we stayed in was one of the “Reef Rooms” (we stayed at the Presidente Intercontinental in Cozumel.) It was graciously appointed and spacious (with tables for games and an epic bathroom!) The best part was being able to open the blinds in the morning, lay in the hammock and watch the nearby ocean. It was glorious.

This was what I woke up to every morning.
This was what I woke up to every morning.

2) The kids in the pool
While Adam and I much prefer snorkeling in the sea, the kids loved loved loved playing in the pool. They spent hours soaking themselves in the warmed waters of the main pool. (There’s a second adults pool that we obviously didn’t spend much time at…) We brought some dive toys and they dove and swam and splashed and somehow just passed hours in the sun and water. It was fantastic.

The kids in the pool
The kids in the pool

3) Reading over breakfast
And after swimming. And before bed. It was so glorious to have readers with us who were just as into their books as we were into ours! Grey read most of the Narnia series. Thane read the first 8 books in the Magic Treehouse. It was a harbinger of great joy ahead, and really awesome right then and there. “One more chapter, mommy! Then we’ll go swimming…”

Reading over breakfast was my favorite
Reading over breakfast was my favorite

4) Swimming with the dolphin
The swim with the dolphins at Chankanaab was way more than I would possibly have anticipated. I didn’t think there was any way my six year old would swim out into the deeps and be pushed back to the pier by a dolphin. I didn’t think anyone would be allowed to grab onto a dolphin’s flippers and be dragged back to shore. I was entirely wrong. It was really, really cool.

Swimming with Merina
Swimming with Merina

5) Spending time with the people I love best
I got to help Grey write a book. I did a puzzle with Thane. I laid in the hammock with Adam and watched the stars. I got to spend time focusing on and really seeing the people I love best in the world. It was a really joyous feeling and experience to have!

My beloved family
My beloved family

You can see pictures of our Trip to Cozumel, or of our swim with Merina!

Check out the sea lion show at Chankanaab!


Camera Obscura

My backpacking trip this summer to Mt. Rainier was fabulous. Fantabulous. Fantabuloustic. Really, really good. There were really only two things I’d change about it: give me 2 hours at Spray Park before the clouds rolled in, and give me a better camera. The first one is obvious. I had a sinking feeling as I raced up the face of the mountain ahead of a roiling ocean of clouds that I would be thwarted, and I was right. It just means I need to go back.

Data prefers catnip to mountains, thanks.

But my camera? I was in one of the most scenic places in the world. Some of the places I planted my feet can’t be gotten to without either real labor or a helicopter. Some of the things I saw are beyond beautiful. I still walk those paths in my mind when I can’t sleep. But my camera. Well. Let’s just say that Thane’s baby pictures were taken on this camera. He’s in Kindergarten. He’s an OLD Kindergartner. There are baby monitors with more megapixels than that thing. It struggled mightily trying to capture the nasty, back-lit conditions that are the mountain at sunrise. Or sunset. Many of the pictures I took just weren’t as good as they could have been. And the video? So 2007!

Thane dropped that same camera that had recorded his borning cry. (Or actually didn’t. As Adam said at the time, “I don’t want anyone seeing *this* mess!”) It doesn’t turn on. Awwwww, shucks.

Not a baby anymore.

So with my birthday coming up, I asked for a camera. I did some research and went to a camera shop, and the guy wrote down what I looked at. I passed off the card to my husband, and looked forward to a Mega-Pixel future. The camera came. I pulled it out with glee and started taking pictures. They, um, didn’t look so hot. And there were no manual functions. I’ve invested a lot of time and love into learning how to really use my camera. I want something that *can* hold my hand, but doesn’t necessarily do so.

I returned the camera.

My last attempt to like camera #2
My last attempt to like camera #2

I went to Hunts Camera in Melrose, the grownup version of a toy store. (With an extra 0 or two added to the end of the price, the way grownup toys are.) The helpful salesman walked through my desires: fits in my pocket (the horror was writ large on his face), manual controls. I’m not too picky. I got my new camera and brought it home and gave it a run.

I really wanted to like it. I really, really, really did! It had a 20x zoom! It was, um, fancy! It has all the controls of my DSLR but in a camera that can fit in my coat pocket, if not so easily my jeans pocket. Yay! I brought it to the soccer field. I brought it to Cape Code. I took pictures hiking.I took pictures apple picking. I took pictures at home. And you know? It drove me nuts. It was hard to focus and slow to turn on. It kept on accidentally turning on when I put it in the case. My kids usually had at least one blurry part of their body. Not only did I not dig it, I didn’t like it. I spent WAY TOO MUCH on it not to like it. With great reluctance, I went back today.

Fractious fractals of romanesco

Truthfully, I was kind of expecting a hassle. I took a few hundred pictures on the camera attempting to like it. I even brought my kids with me to the swap – my prior failure before had been that I hadn’t attempted any photography with vibrating subjects who like to perform photobombs. I asked my assistants to be as obnoxious as possible while I attempted to capture their hijinks on camera. They were naturals.

Many props to Hunts – they swapped out my camera without demur or delay. When the camera I wanted was (of course) out of stock, they sent me home with the floor model and a promise to call me when the new one comes in so I can immediately swap it out.

And guys, I love it. Phew. Third time’s the charm!

Here are the last pictures I took on the second camera and my “trying it out” pictures I took on the new one!

Mr. Puppy in very low light
Mr. Puppy in very low light

PS – one of my daydreams is to turn the attic bedroom into a camera obscura. Someday…..

And oh, what glory filled my soul

Top of the world
Top of the world

When you tell people here in New England that you spent your summer vacation backpacking around an iconic mountain, they tend to think you’re hard core. I like to sprinkle in even more shocking details, saying things like “Yeah, nothing makes you appreciate civilization like a bathroom with walls and unlimited free toilet paper!” (I took a picture of each latrine on the mountain. I think I might make a gallery. You’re welcome.) It does feel impressive, from the land of cubicles.

However, when I was actually backpacking the Wonderland Trail – a 92 mile loop around Mt. Rainier that has so much elevation change it’s equivalent to summiting several times – I did not feel hardcore. Let’s start with the fact we were not doing the whole trail. Adam and I scored an amazing itinerary – absolutely my first choice. But it was only less than a third of the total length of the trail. People have run the Wonderland in the 40 hour range. I actually know some of these lunatics personally. Adam and I were on a pace for maybe a 13 – 14 day Wonderland circumnavigation. We’d stop on the trail and meet someone and they’d ask where we came from and were going. They’d give us a look, and lay out an itinerary often twice the length of ours. Any many of them WERE doing the whole trail.

Two particular meetings come to mind: the three young, map-challenged men we met outside of Mystic Lake around noon who thought they were going to Fire Creek (20 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation change). They weren’t running, so there was no way that they were going to make it. Then there was the dad with his two daughters who were doing the whole trail. The young women were having trouble with their boots, and had done 20 miles, with packs, in flipflops. We handed over our blister packs since our feet were holding up fine and they were in dire straights. These things conspire to make you feel like you’re doing the tourist edition of the trail.

Moonset over Mineral Mountain

Our choice was a good one, however. Adam and I had enough time to linger in some of the loveliest places in the world. We could stop and stare. We could rise when rested, and rest when weary. Our longest day was 10 miles. Our final day out was a mere 2 miles, which eager feet ate up. We never once raced to our goal with nervous eyes measuring the ever decreasing distance between horizon and sun.

The itinerary was this:
Day 1: Sunrise to Berkely Park 2.3 miles
Day 2: Berkely Park to Mystic Lake 10 miles
Day 3: Mystic Lake to Cataract Valley 7 miles
Day 4: Cataract Valley to Eagle’s Roost 5 miles
Day 5: Eagle’s Roost to Mowich Lake (out) 2 miles

The tactical travelogue is probably best enjoyed through the hundreds of pictures that survived the editing process. (The pictures are mostly captioned, so if you’d enjoy a day by day you can go through in slideshow.) Adam patiently stopped over a thousand times for the shutter to open and close.

Mt. Rainier above Mystic Lake

Why do I love this? We could have gone to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival, and stayed in fine accommodations with amazing food. (A fact Adam reminded me of not a few times.) We went through considerable expense and difficulty in order to walk 26 miles up and down the side of a mountain, on the week of our 14th anniversary. Why? It’s an answer I struggle to articulate. Because I can’t see these things anywhere else? Because I challenge my mind constantly and my body hardly ever? Because without the discipline of walking, I can never slow my mind down enough to listen? Because carrying everything you need forces you to embrace simplicity and to be grateful for what you have? Because I do not feel happier than I feel when I turn a corner and stare one of my oldest, deepest friends in the face, and see an aspect of that marvelous mountain I have never seen before? Because I enjoy the right kind of suffering? I’m not sure I ever have fully answered the why of loving to backpack, but I can assure you my heart exulted as soon as my boots hit the trail. (My heart promptly started to work overtime as those boots immediately pulled me up the hill to Frozen Lake.)

Since returning to the email-filled world, I have found myself as I so often do – lying in a hotel bed in some city, mind racing with the challenges of the day. There are few things I resent more than work dreams. So instead I pick a section of path, in my mind, and walk it as close to memory as I can. I pull out as many of the scenes, unwittingly recorded. The sights, the smells, the creak of the pack, the loam underfoot. I see the avalanche lily, the lupine, the columbine, the Jeffrey’s shooting star. I watch the moon setting over Mt. Rainier behind Mineral Mountain. The hike feeds and nourishes my true self, and gives strength for the labors that are needed.

Mysterious flower along the trail

I’ve thought of a thousand things I want to tell you about my five days of bliss. How much I love my purple hiking shirt. How Adam and I learned just how little water people truly need compared to how much they use. Why Eagle’s Roost is so lovely. What it feels like for me to walk in the dark without my contacts. How beautifully my knee held up in extremis. What five days without any sort of internet access was like. How desperately I need a much better point and shoot camera for my next trip. Perhaps those thoughts will sneak out, but I struggle enough just to tell the primary stories, never mind the quirkier, flashing tales that sneak across my mind and are gone in a twinkling. So you shall have to be content with this:

Hymns play through my mind as I walk, unbidden. There is less atmosphere so high to interfere between me and God.

Cairn, looking over Mist Park, headed into Spray Park

All beautiful the march of days

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.)

Photography 101 – Class One

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!

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary

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!

Merry Christmas from Legoland

Little Lego set before heading into Vampyre castle

The house is full of little boys yelling out “Wow! Cool!” and “Sticker help, mom!” Grey is on bag six of seven of the Lego Vampyre Castle, and Thane has completed “Spider-Man’s Doc Ock Ambush”, “Genosian Starfighter”, “Space Police” and is attempting to open “Droid Escape”. Suffice it to say, we’re having an amazingly awesome Christmas morning.

Doc Ock’s Ambush

As I waited for the kids to fall asleep last night, I pulled some pictures off the camera. These include Grey’s Christmas concert and Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house with Cousin Alec!

Pictures here!

Puzzle Master

Thane and Adam puzzle by the light of the tree
Thane and Adam puzzle by the light of the tree

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?)

Impossible puzzle with bonus: a picture of me I like!

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.

Alex, Adam and Thane consider the puzzle
Alex, Adam and Thane consider the puzzle