2014 Year in Review

My boys
My boys

I did not manage to write a Christmas Letter for my Christmas cards this year. I know, I’m so terribly sorry for disappointing you like that. I’m sure you’ll somehow manage to pull through… but the Christmas letters serve a useful purpose in addition to making my Christmas Card process even more complicated. They’re a nice moment to reflect back on the year and set down the milestones, for posterity as it were. So in this close of year time, I’ll take advantage of the six hour flight to Washington to do just that. (Then I’ll play Minecraft. My sons are guaranteed to think this is entirely unfair.)


Grey is nine, and started third grade this year. Thane is six, and starts his school career in Kindergarten. We had his preschool graduation this year, with cap and gown. Both of them are doing very well. Grey is majorly obsessed with screens of all sorts (can’t imagine where he gets that from…) and has dabbled with blogging and Scratch programming. His online time is primarily spent playing mindless video games. His favorite is Minecraft. Grey has gotten very good at board games. On a few occasions, he’s stayed up late and played “grownup” games with our friends (like St. Petersburg or 7 Wonders). He’s done quite well.


Thane is a still a young and innocent 6. He’s less all about screens than Grey. His DS has gone unplayed for at least a year. He loves that fiddly finicky work – like making mosaics or building with Legos. He can sometimes disappear for several hours into his room, building things and singing to himself. Less charmingly, he’s definitely at the disgusting-obsessed phase of life. If I never hear about poop or vomit over dinner again, it’ll be fine by me. He is reading, but it’s heavy work for him. You can watch him visibly tire over the course of a book. So he reads… but he’s not really a “reader”. Lately he’s been in constant motion – unable to stop bouncing. He never walks – there’s always a hitch or a skip in his step!

I got cats in high places
I got cats in high places

Our cats like to sit on Adam’s head. Their hobbies include eating things that aren’t food, and throwing up.
Neither Adam nor I made major work changes this year. Our roles and companies remain the same. Work is, of course, a thing that requires a tremendous amount of time and energy, and creates a significant part of identity. It seems misleading to talk abou the year without work. But, on the other hand, a personal blog is really no place for work talk. So let’s leave it a big part of our lives that shall go unremarked.

Tropical Island boys
Tropical Island boys

This year, in the “fun things” category, we went to Cozumel with the kids. I was nervous that we’d go through great expense and effort for a vacation that would end up wearing us out. Happily, it was a tremendously relaxing and enjoyable experience! There was snorkeling, game playing, lying reading on beaches, jeep adventures, Mayan ruins and early nights. I think we’re all hoping that the future will play out in such a way that we can go back again!
Adam and I also celebrated our 14th anniversary with a meal of dehydrated noodles on the north side of Mt. Rainier. We had a superb five day backpacking trip that fed my heart, soul and imagination.

Adam & John
Adam & John

Our family experienced some additions and subtractions this year. In the subtraction category, Adam’s grandfather, John Turley, died in October. He had come to the end of a long, and largely joyful journey. I was extremely glad that I had gotten to spend a bit of time with him a few weeks before he left.

In the addition category, on Halloween my brother asked his lady to build a life together with him. I’m delighted to report that she agreed to this plan! We’ll be celebrating their wedding in the first days of the new year (assuming that spending a week with my entire family doesn’t scare her off the proposition). It reflects that last time someone will voluntarily enter my family in a generation. I’m really looking forward to getting to know her better.

This year was one of the years in the heart of the “young family” time of life. My children are getting so big, so fast I can start to understand that confused lamentation of the parents of teens, wondering where their babies went. Grey is halfway through his childhood – with as much behind as there ahead. We are busy busy busy – at work, at play, with our children, with our chores. I have a hunch that this will be the time of life that we look back on most fondly when the business ceases and the house quiets. This was a lovely year. I have great hope that 2015 will be lovelier still!

Looking back at 2013

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?

2009 in review

One of my friends posted this. I generally don’t do memes here (memes are internet quizzes that tend to get copied around between various people), but this one asks some good questions and I didn’t have some OTHER brilliant idea for what to write about today. So here you go!

2009 In Review

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Made apple butter and ate radishes. All the other examples are things that I probably don’t want to admit that I have ever done, mostly related to Thane’s health and comfort. We took the boys camping, which turned out to be a completely awesome thing to do. And for the first time, I had a relative live with me for an extended period (my brother). Dim sum.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I made a resolution to do my best to serve a vegetable with every single meal (well, lunch and dinner) even if no one else will eat them. I’ve actually been really successful with this, even though no one else eats them. At least it’s meant that *I* eat more veggies. I lack a good articulation of what I’d like to do next year.

3. Did anyone close to you have a child?
Both my neighbors had babies this year, and several of my internet friends. There were also some sweet little babies at church, with more on the way. Whee!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My father-in-law died about 10 months ago. The “firsts” without him have been hard. We miss him a lot.

5. Where did you travel?
This wasn’t a year for wild adventurous travel. We went to Atlanta in May, Washington State and Victoria BC in summer, and New Hampshire for camping. (Hey honey! I just remembered… you need to renew your passport. This reminder brought to you by the hours we spent sitting in the passport office in Seattle this summer….)

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A ____ where I am more ____ and ___ than I am at my current ____. Also, a big exciting international adventure. Also also, I’d really like to see my friends down in DC.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
Dude. I still can’t remember my eldest’s birthdate. I would say it was the night my father in law died, but I’d be lying because I only vaguely remember which month that was, although I remember with cristal clarity listening to my husband pick up the phone and hear that his father had died — a day before he was going to fly down to see him.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Most of the things I’m striving for are longer term than a year, and none of them really came to fruition this year. I’ve been working towards raising two wonderful young men (time horizon: 20 years), building a vibrant church that serves Christ and humanity with joy and enthusiasm (time horizon: forever), and creating a strong and joyful marriage (time horizon: my lifetime). Maybe I need a few shorter term goals, eh? Oh, I did learn Flex at work?!

9. What was your biggest failure?
I am not very fit or strong or in shape. It gets hard to do everything else if your body is not adequately attended to.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, I’m really pretty darn healthy.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I got this glass teapot with these jasmine tea flowers that unfurl. I’ve been looking for just the perfect tea setup, and I finally found it. I’m just happy every time we use it. Add to that “St. Petersburg” and you get some of my happiest quiet evenings, even though I always lose. Also, bras that fit.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Grey has been fantastic this year. He was really difficult a year ago during the summer, but he’s really hit his stride since. He’s polite, charming, interested and interesting, funny, affectionate and generally a joy to be around.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I’ve been really disappointed by the willingness of Americans of all stripes to accept their labels “Conservative” or “Liberal” and then make all subsequent decisions based on that identity. I’ve been disappointed with all our politicians from both sides of the aisles for playing politics instead of making the best possible governing decisions. I have not yet understood whether it is not possible to govern for the people the way our system is currently organized, or whether they choose not to do so. I do feel that the media, by handicapping the political horserace instead of discussing the substance of the issues being debated, has furthered this tendency.

Also, I really wish we were better people than to pay so much attention to the private lives of others whom we’ve never met. Frankly, it’s none of my business how Tiger Woods chooses to comport himself. And I still haven’t figured out WHY Paris Hilton is a celebrity.

14. Where did most of your money go?
I’ve been asking myself this question a LOT lately. It believe the top four largest are the mortgage, taxes, childcare and charitable donations.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Christmas comes to mind! Ooh ooh! I know! Hiking the West Side of the Wonderland Trail. I was vibrating for 24 hours at having gotten the perfect itinerary at the last minute. It was AWESOME.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
The Symphony of Science MP3s became favorites this year.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
I remain generally quite happy. I don’t really think I can be much happier on a regular basis than I am. I am, sadly, no thinner nor fatter. (This time last year I was 2 months postpartum, so one would HOPE I’d be thinner. One would be wrong.) I definitely think our expenses to income ratio is higher this year, due to the second childcare issue.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I would like to have read more books (well, of the non-Sandra-Boynton variety) and gotten more exercise.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Being anxious. Also, I should never call my parents before dinner on Friday night.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
I spent it with my boys. Thane the clingy with his ear infection, my husband with the Kindle he just got, Grey rotting his brains out with video games. I even got to play some video games myself!!! The joy of the boys was a great delight.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
I deepened my love for my laddies. I did fall in love with suated radishes and plum jam. I did many things that I love, but few of them were new.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I don’t watch much TV. I did enjoy the Avatar dvds. I like most of the Discovery Channel programming. Baseball was really pretty “eh” this year.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
This is going to sound corny, but the extremists (esp. in Pakistan/Afghanistan) who blow people up in mosques, threaten voters, destroy girl’s schools and demolish their countries’ infrastructure seem beyond the pale. Usually there’s another side to every conflict, but these people seem to be working against everyone, including their own co-religionists, own ethnic group, and own people. I cannot fathom what they are working for, and cannot imagine how they think they are doing good and will end up in heaven when they walk into one of their own holy buildings and open fire on people worshiping there.

24. What was the best book you read?
The two books of the Sarantine Mosaic by Guy Gavriel Kay.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Maddy Prior and the Symphony of Science were my two favorite new music thingies.

26. What did you want and get?
A largely repainted interior of the house!

28. What did you want and not get?
A raise.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
This would be between “The Blind Side” and the new “Enterprise”. I suspect for staying power, it would be “Enterprise”. I’m angling to watch it again — maybe tonight!

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 31 this year. I believe my husband made me my favorite chocolate cake. Birthday season will likely always mean mine is a moderate celebration.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
My life is generally very satisfying! Is it shallow of me to wish that my online works had been more successful? I would’ve liked it if this blog had gotten a bit bigger audience, or had a post that went viral. I would like it if some of the online work I was doing for my church resulted in more people who are seeking meaning finding it with us.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Machine wash only.

33. What kept you sane?
I often remind myself that I have agency over my life. The patterns and outlines of my life are ones that I have laid and chosen — and I know I’m lucky that’s the case. Very few of the boundaries of my life are ones that I couldn’t change if I chose, but I am unwilling to accept the sacrifices that would require. That is a choice, even if it is one that might not seem like a choice because I’d never choose otherwise. But it’s always good to remember when I feel greatly bounded that we are usually only trapped by our minds and perceptions, and could generally untrap ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice what we have and take risks. I’m not sure that’s a clear articulation of what I mean (I do not feel trapped, and I do not wish to escape) but knowing that I am where I am because I choose to be is freeing.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I’m about 20 years behind the times developing a crush on Carl Sagan, but there you have it.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The divisiveness of the dialog and inability to find common ground.

36. Who did you miss?
I missed having a best girlfriend next door who loved babysitting and coming over late at night to chat. Pretty much every other slot in my emotional landscape is beautifully peopled.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
I didn’t meet many new people this year. Maybe that’s something I should try to change for next year!

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
You keep your balance better when your eyes are on the horizon, not on your feet.