Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowmageddon

Last night when I went to bed, I peeked out the window and watching the falling snow swirling in the air, hurling itself at the trees, whisking past the fairy lights hanging from the eaves, drifting past the dark cars in the driveway. This morning when I got up, I peeked out the window at a silent, white world. The drifting snow had sculpted itself into fantastical shapes, disguising the familiar objects in the yard, covering the landscape with swirls and cones and angles.

I love snowstorms. Of course, I don’t love digging out from under a foot of snow, or scraping a thick layer of ice off my car, or driving on ice-slick roads. But I love the blustery sound of the wind during a storm and the blanket of silence afterwards. I love watching the snow dancing on the wind in an intricately choreographed ballet. I love hearing the first peeps of the birds as they emerge after the snow ends, huddled and fluffing and eagerly seeking out food. I love the flash of a bright red cardinal against a pure-white snowbank. I love the icicles artistically dripping from power lines and eaves and car antennas. I love the squeak of damp snow under thick-soled boots. I love the wet thump of clots of snow sliding off a roof into the bushes below. I even love the pure, clean, cold smell of the air after a snowstorm.

By the end of the winter, I’ll be as sick of snow as everyone else, longing to see some green leaves peeping through the dirty gray slush. But now, right after the very first big storm of the season, I love it. The first storm of the season, to me, is like a dish of cool, icy sorbet to cleanse your palate. It perks up your senses, it cleanses and purifies, it readies you for what is yet to come.

So today, I will enjoy the snow. I will wait for the sun to sparkle on the ice and dazzle my eyes with its splendor. I will snuggle with a cozy blanket and a mug of steaming coffee and listen to the whistle of the wind. I will watch the birds storing up for the storms still to come. I will be thankful for my cozy house and my full refrigerator and my shoveling husband.

And a few months from now, when we’ve had a dozen storms like this, when we’ve dug out from under more inches of snow than I care to count, when we’ve risked our necks driving through white-outs and skidding over black ice, when I’m thoroughly sick of the nasty white stuff, I’ll look back at what I’ve just written, and wonder, “What the heck was I thinking back in December?”

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Making a List, I'm Checking It Twice

Christmas is a little over a week away, and I’m suddenly realizing all the things I need to get done between now and then. So, as I often do in this kind of situation, I’ve made a list. Actually, I’ve made a whole bunch of lists.

The first list is a list of everything that’s on my calendar for the next few weeks. Saturday Herb’s daughter flies in, Sunday we’re reading in church and then hosting the family Christmas party, Tuesday we’re having dinner with friends, Thursday we’re going to New York, Friday we’re coming home and then going to the Christmas Eve service at church, Saturday we’re having Christmas morning at home then heading to my grandmother’s for the afternoon, and Sunday we’re celebrating Herb’s birthday. So just having all that in writing is helpful.

Next, I have a list of all the different tasks I need to work into the schedule on the first list. I’m baking cupcakes, making Christmas cookies, shopping for last-minute Christmas presents, and wrapping presents, so I’ve scheduled all those chores in between the things that are already on the calendar.

Third, I have my shopping lists. One for groceries that I need to pick up before Sunday’s party. One for ingredients for my cupcakes and cookies. One for gifts I can’t get until shortly before Christmas. And one for the gifts I can get as soon as I can find them, if only I could find them.

Lastly, I have my prep lists. I have a list of everything I need to be sure gets done before the party on Sunday: cutting up garnishes, preparing appetizer trays, chilling soda in the cooler, clearing Ryan’s toys out of every nook and cranny in the house. I have a list of the things I need to bring to my grandmother’s on Christmas Day. I have a list of things I need to have ready for Herb’s party the day after Christmas.

Now, if only I could remember where I put all those lists…

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You Never Forget Your First Kiss

First kisses are magical. I still remember my very first kiss. A good friend of mine that I had a terrible crush on had escorted me to my big sophomore dance and he kissed me goodnight when he brought me home. It was kind and sweet and genuinely affectionate, if not exactly romantic.

I remember the first time Herb kissed me. It was after our first “real” date, in the parking lot of Café Escadrille in Burlington. He held my hand as we walked back to our cars and I’ll never forget the thrill of standing on my tiptoes as he leaned down to kiss me. It was also kind and sweet and genuinely affectionate, but completely romantic and sexy as well.

And as of yesterday, I have one more perfect first kiss to add to my list. Ryan and I were visiting my mom, and she and I were sitting on the living room floor as he happily toddled back and forth, bringing us his various toys, when out of the blue, he casually marched over to me, planted a big wet kiss on my cheek and solemnly announced, “Mwah,” before wandering away to find another toy. It was the off-handedness of the gesture that made it so sweet. He didn’t hang around waiting for applause or approval or even acknowledgement from me, he simply expressed what he felt and went on with his day. But the sweet gesture of affection brought tears to my eyes with its simplicity.

I love how affectionate Ryan is these days, and especially how casual he is about it. Some children give someone a hug and then look expectantly around for praise. But Ryan simply loves people, especially his family. He often runs up to Herb or me and hugs us in passing before going on his merry way. It’s quite common for him to suddenly begin patting one of us on the back as we’re holding him. He squeezes me around the neck as I carry him up the stairs, or he gives Daddy a playful pat on the head when he’s sitting on Daddy’s shoulders, or he’ll lay his head down on the shoulder of whoever’s carrying him. I don’t think he does it in deliberate imitation of us, because when he imitates us he almost always looks to one or the other of us for praise and approval. He’s simply showing his affection in the most natural way, by physical contact.

And oh, how sweet it is.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Then and Now

Last year was Ryan’s first Christmas, and although being only six weeks old, he didn’t appreciate it much, it was extra-special doing all the Christmas things that parents do with their children.

We got him some festive Christmas outfits:


We took him to see Santa:

 
We even took him to see the production of “It’s ChristmasTime!” that we usually perform in (we weren’t in the show last year but Ryan’s cousin Kayla was):

 
We told him how Santa would come down the chimney and put treats and goodies in his stocking:

So this year, we’re doing those things all over again. He has another festive new outfit this year (and oops, apparently Mom does not):
 

We took him to see Santa, but since last year he seems to have developed an irrational fear of beards, so we were not successful in getting a photo (so far; the season is still young).

We knew he would be too wiggly to sit through a performance of “It’s ChristmasTime” even though Mom and Dad performed in it again this year, but we did manage to wrangle him a cameo appearance in one of the scenes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to manage photographic evidence (flash photos during a performance are a big no-no), but we had a number of family members and friends in the audience who got to see it in person.

And we’ve been telling him stories about Christmas. He has a beautiful little board book with the story of the first Christmas that we can occasionally get him to sit still long enough to read a page or two:

And he’s actually noticing the Christmas decorations this year, unlike last Christmas. Fortunately, he’s still much more interested in the giant Nutcracker than he is the glass ornaments on the tree:

He’s even left the poinsettia alone since we got it home. Since he shredded several leaves in the car on the way home after we bought it (I still underestimate how long his reach is!!), I guess he figured he’d done enough damage.

But most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing his face on Christmas morning. I know he won’t care about his presents for their own sake, but it will be a morning with Mommy, Daddy, and his sister, all sitting around paying attention to him, and it will be a morning filled with tearing wrapping paper, shredding tissue paper, good crunching sounds, and boxes of all sizes and shapes. And then the afternoon will be spent with more family, more paper, and more boxes! And the next day there’s even more family, more paper, and more boxes! It’ll be about as much joy as one little boy can handle.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Family Portraits

When Ryan was 6 months old (which was very conveniently right around Mother’s Day), Herb took him to a professional photographer and had a bunch of fabulous photos taken of him:



A month later, we were all in California for Herb’s daughter’s high school graduation, so we went in and had a whole bunch of family photos taken:



And since he recently turned one year old, we decided we definitely needed to get a set of official one-year photos taken, so the other day we packed him up and did another photo session.

I’m not sure how well-behaved most one-year-olds are at that sort of session, but I must admit I was both impressed and proud at how cooperative Ryan was. Sure, he was interested in the camera and the lighting umbrella and would have preferred to wander around the studio to sitting still and posing, but all in all, he was smiling and cooperative and extremely well-behaved. And the resulting photos prove it:








It’s amazing to me to see how much he’s changed in the last six months. He’s turned from a baby into a big, grown-up toddler right before our eyes. He’s developing his own unique personality and charms. He’s still happy and social and playful and curious, but in a much more mature way. He really is a little boy and not a baby any more. I’m so grateful that we live in an age where photographs and videos are cheap and easily obtainable, so I can be reminded of each different stage as it quickly slips by. When I look at him and find it hard to remember when this independent little boy was still a helpless baby, I can look back at my photo albums and remember those precious moments. I can watch an old video and hear how his baby laugh grew into his big boy laugh. I can watch how his play has developed, how his skills have improved, how he’s changed physically and emotionally and socially and intellectually.

But above and beyond photos of him alone, I love watching how the family photos change over time. The changes in Herb and I aren’t quite as obvious (or as flattering) as the changes in Ryan. We may have gained a few pounds, added a wrinkle or two, and gotten a bit grayer, but we’ve also grown to be an even closer, more affectionate, more bonded family. And every moment that family is together is precious.


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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eau Christmas Tree

I love the smell of Christmas trees. To me, the smell of pine sap is the smell of Christmas. I love the way the smell lingers on my hands the day we pick out the tree and my hands are covered in sap from turning each one around to make sure it’s perfect. I love the way the needles in the vacuum cleaner shed the smell every time I clean for weeks after the tree is gone. I love the lingering essence of pine that hides inside the boxes of Christmas ornaments, releasing their sweet fragrance of Christmas past the next year.

We always had a real Christmas tree growing up. My father petitioned for an artificial tree every year - after all, in a household of women, he was the one who wrestled the tree onto the top of the car, sawed off the stump when we got home, hefted the thing inside the house and into the tree stand, and wrestled it back to the curb after the holidays were over. But the rest of the family was bound and determined that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a real tree. Herb and I have already had the real vs. fake discussion several times. Artificial trees today are much more realistic than they were when I was a little girl. Many artificial trees can’t even be distinguished from live trees by visual inspection alone. But the nose knows. No fake pine spray can take the place of the smell of genuine pine boughs. I’ve admitted that I might be willing to have an artificial tree as long as we have real pine boughs adorning the mantelpiece, and a genuine pine wreath on the door, so the house will still be filled with the smell of Christmas. But given my druthers, I’d still choose a real live tree over an artificial one any day.

That decision was anchored even more firmly in my mind this afternoon. Ryan and I went to Herb’s work to have lunch with him and to admire the holiday decorations in the building lobby. The company tree echoes our own, being decked out in dozens of brilliant cardinals along with long strands of artificial cranberries and sprays of various kinds of berries and grasses. The tree itself is artificial but beautiful and full, and I never would have guessed it wasn’t real except for the absence of scent. It’s very naturalistic and very lovely. But it doesn’t smell like it ought to.


Then when we came home, I bundled Ryan in quickly through the brisk air and as soon as the front door swung open, we were greeted with the warm, welcoming smell of Christmas tree. It filled my heart with a sense of coziness, warmth, home, and holidays. I could practically feel my blood pressure dropping and my heart rate slowing. Just that quick scent of pine relaxed me to my core. That is truly the scent of Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Guilt Trip + Cuteness = Marshmallow Mom

Herb often teases me that I’m a complete pushover when it comes to Ryan, and that’s probably somewhat true, even though I try to be hardnosed when necessary. But how can any mother not succumb to the combination of cuteness and guilt? And Ryan has certainly mastered both.

Just a short while ago I was putting Ryan down for his nap and he wasn’t really ready to go, and as I headed out of the room and told him, “Have a good nap, I love you,” and blew him a kiss, he said through his snurfling and tears, “Buh-bye!” and gave me a pathetic little wave. Now, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t deliberate emotional manipulation, but between the laughter and the guilt, it was all I could do not to run back into the room and sweep him up in a big hug, because I am, admittedly, a marshmallow.

I often refer to him affectionately as my “drama llama” because he’s so good at turning on the waterworks at a moment’s notice. When he wants me to take him out of the playpen, he never just reaches up his arms, he reaches up his arms and gives me the most pathetic pout and/or wail that has ever been seen or heard. That sad little face breaks my heart, just as it’s intended to. Those beautiful big eyes welling up, the chubby pink cheeks streaked with tears, the rosebud lips turned down into a wounded pout…that’s an arsenal that no mother can resist. I know he’ll be just fine if I say no, but then I’ll have to deal with the image of that tragic face burned into my brain, along with the corresponding guilt that I caused that “tragedy”. The fact that five seconds from now he’ll be distracted and happy and the tears and pout will have vanished is of absolutely no account.

Above and beyond the guilt trip, though, the adorableness factor definitely comes into play. A pouting child can be extremely unattractive when said child is sour and self-centered, but Ryan has such a sweet nature that even when his pout is a bit selfish it’s still rather endearing. Knowing that his sweet dimpled smile is hiding underneath the sad expression is that much more of an inducement to try to bring the smile back into view. And of course, the fact that even when he’s angry and pushes me away, two seconds later he’s grabbing me around the neck so tightly that I can hardly breathe is in his favor. He’s becoming so affectionate with people that he knows, especially Mummy and Daddy, that I can hardly bear to give him any reason not to show that affection.

Fortunately, I have known enough spoiled, selfish, over-indulged children that I’m not afraid I'll start giving in when I shouldn’t. When Ryan is a little older and I’m able to explain the concepts of “no” and “not right now” to him, it will be easier to refuse him things, and I’m sure I’ll do it much more often. But for now, he’s still relatively spoil-proof, so I plan on taking advantage of that and giving in to the puppy dog eyes whenever I can. It’ll keep us both happier.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Who's Watching the Baby?

Ryan definitely wins a gold star award for surviving the past couple of weeks without having (or giving anyone else) a nervous breakdown. Since Herb and I are both performing in the Reagle Christmas show, Ryan was with a babysitter for several evenings last week, all day last Sunday, every night Monday through Friday this week, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. A good bit of the time, he’s been with one of his grandmothers or his aunt and cousins, and at his own house, but he spent several times with a less familiar sitter, or being passed between two different sitters, and once he spent most of the day at the theater being watched by a bunch of different people. So when we got home at the end of yesterday’s performance, it was no surprise that he was starting to have a bit of a meltdown. All of the sitters were great with him, but I think he was just relieved to finally be with Mommy and Daddy.

He was so happy this morning to play with me in his playroom. A few times I went into the study to check my e-mail or into the laundry room to do something, and he immediately protested. Normally, I’d let him yell for a few minutes but after the week he’s had, I immediately went in to show him that I was there. And above and beyond reassuring him, I had missed playing with him so much! The past few mornings, even though I’d been home, I was so busy getting ready for the show and getting ready for the sitter that I hadn’t been able to play with him as much as usual, so having the chance to just relax and enjoy his company was a real pleasure.

There are days when I want to tear my hair out because he wants my constant attention, and sometimes I feel like I never have a second to myself except when he’s napping. But mornings like this morning remind me how much I enjoy being with him and just watching him play and learn and explore. He spent the morning marching around the basement with an old red bucket he’d found somewhere. He swung it back and forth for a while, giggling as it pivoted on its metal handle. He spent some time picking up various small toys and carefully dropping them into the bucket, then taking them out and strewing them all over the floor. At one point he even put it on his head like a hat, and then slid it down over his face and sang into it, chortling at the funny echo it made. If he’d been with a babysitter, I’d have missed that charming moment!

But at the same time, I know it’s good for him to spend time with other people. There will be times when we have no choice but to leave him with someone else for a while, either someone he already knows (like a grandmother or an aunt or a sitter he’s familiar with) or someone who’s a stranger or nearly a stranger to him (like a new babysitter). So we need to teach him that he’s okay when someone else is with him and Mommy and Daddy aren’t around. And he needs to learn that sometimes Mommy and Daddy go away for a while but that we’ll always come back, and that he’ll be well taken care of until we do.

So I guess the bottom line is that as difficult as this past week was for him and for me, it’s been good for him to learn that it’s okay when someone else is taking care of him. And it’s definitely been good for me to learn that it’s okay when someone else is taking care of him. But I’m still happiest when the someone taking care of him is me.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Opening Night! It's Opening Night!


Tonight is opening night for the Reagle Music Theatre’s annual production of “It’s ChristmasTime”! This is my third year performing in the show (I missed last year because I was busy giving birth and all that), and it has really become one of the main kickoffs of the holiday season for me.

The first time I did the show, Herb and I had only been dating for a few months. He had done the show a number of times previously, and really wanted to perform in it that year, but he admitted that the rehearsal schedule for the two weeks before the show and the performance schedule for the two weekends of shows was time-consuming enough that he didn’t want to do it unless I did it with him, since otherwise we wouldn’t be able to spend much time together. So I agreed, and dug an audition piece out of my repertoire, polished it up, and proceeded to totally plotz over it. Herb kept assuring me that I’d be fine and I shouldn’t even worry about it, but being the somewhat tightly-wound person that I am, I drove myself crazy, and then after the brief (probably about 60-second) audition and the official nod of approval, I wondered what I had been so nervous about.

For first-time performers, there’s an awful lot to learn. Some of the Christmas carols are familiar, but some are new and even the familiar ones are often unfamiliar arrangements or unusual harmonies. Some of the numbers have a bit of choreography, as well: step-touch here, raise your hands there, turn out to the audience on this word, turn off your candle on that. Nothing too complicated, but one more detail thrust into a brain that’s already full to overflowing. And then you need to know the order of the numbers and what you’re wearing in each – including shoes, hose, jewelry, and props. Herb made me a CD of a pervious performance and I kept it in my car at all times, listening carefully so I could pick out the correct harmony line and be sure I was singing what I was supposed to be. Herb reassured me over and over that it was okay if I forgot some of the words, and that people would nudge me into the right position or whisper the upcoming choreography if I needed it, but I was determined to get everything right all on my own. (Of course, I screwed up all over the place, but at least I made the effort. And Herb was right, nobody noticed.)

And yet, somehow I was able to get past my nerves and apprehension and enjoy being on stage with Herb. The singers are paired off for many of the numbers, and it was always reassuring to have my hand firmly tucked into Herb’s, knowing he’d be sure I was in the right place at the right time. I could see how much he was enjoying being on stage, and his pleasure made me enjoy being on stage, too. I remember watching him during a few of the men’s numbers and just enjoying his calm stage presence, listening to his wonderful voice and watching him come alive with the audience’s reaction. I fell even more deeply in love with him during those shows, if that was even possible.

And so now, after doing the show a few more times, I still get that new-love flutter in my heart when he catches my eye and takes my hand before we make our first entrance together. I still beam like a lovesick teenager when he puts on his sunglasses and grins impishly at the audience at the beginning of “Little Saint Nick”. And my heart still melts as he interacts with the children who come onstage for the sing-along. I remember the first time I saw that and I thought, “I wonder what he’ll be like with our children?” Because now I know exactly what he’s like. And it’s even better than I’d imagined.


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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney With Care

I love Christmas stockings. I don’t mean the actual, physical stocking that you hang by the chimney on Christmas Eve (although I do like those an awful lot). I mean the stuff that stockings get stuffed with. I love choosing stocking stuffers for other people, and I love opening my own stocking on Christmas morning. In fact, if I had to choose between getting a Christmas stocking and getting presents under the tree, I think I’d pick the stocking.

My mom was always the best stocking stuffer, so I’m sure that’s why I love stockings so much. There was always a predictable group of categories of stuff that would be in my stocking every year. Without fail, there was always a new toothbrush, a few pairs of earrings, a package of underwear in pretty colors or funny prints, silly socks, toiletries like scented hand lotion or fancy chapstick or bright nailpolish or lipstick or bath beads, some kind of goofy desk toy, a crossword puzzle book, a calendar, a daily planner, a CD or two, some nice pens and pencils, fancy tea or coffee or hot cocoa mix, some kind of unusual snack like freeze-dried pear slices or gourmet trail mix (once it was even a tin of octopus meat) and a few handfuls of the recipient’s favorite kind of candy. Mom kept a “Christmas box” under her bed year-round and picked up interesting things she saw whenever she happened across them. The whole collection probably cost less than 20 bucks, but digging into that stocking was like opening a treasure chest.

Of course, she had the advantage of stuffing stockings mainly for girls, which I think is a lot easier. Females of every age tend to appreciate toiletries more than males do, and most men don’t get excited about cheap jewelry. So when I look for ideas of what to stuff Herb’s stocking with, it’s not quite so obvious or easy. Sure, I can buy him a can of fancy shaving gel, but he doesn’t use hand lotion or bubble bath. He’s not even a big candy eater so filling out the empty spaces in the stocking with extra handfuls of candy isn’t such a winner. He does love hot cocoa, so I always have to include a handful of single-serving packets of the darkest, richest cocoa mix I can find. And a few nice pens are something he enjoys. But with all his electronic gadgets and devices and online sites, he doesn’t use puzzle books or calendars or daily planners. He doesn’t even use CDs anymore, since downloading music is so easy and convenient. So I really have to dig into my creative brain to find things that interest him. I can occasionally figure out electronic things like a thumb drive or a certain type of cord or connector or even a gift card for some mp3 downloads, but that takes a good bit of sleuthing and a lot of hoping that he won’t buy whatever it is for himself in the week before Christmas!

But this year, I get to do a stocking for Ryan. And even though he is technically male, he’s young enough to not really fall into the “hard to buy for” male category. In fact, he’s about as easy to please as is humanly possible, since I could fill his entire stocking with crumpled up newspaper and he’d think it was the coolest thing on the face of the earth. I’m sure I’ll end up including some boring practical stuff that he doesn’t really care about like socks or a pair of mittens, but I can probably do a sweep through the dollar store and fill his stocking with things he'll love for less than 10 bucks. A few plastic measuring cups, a wooden spoon or two, a colander, couple of cheap saucepans and I’m done! Find that hard to believe? Just check out this video and you’ll see how easy it is to keep him amused with a few kitchen implements.

video

And of course, the crowning glory of his stocking will be the Clementine tucked into the toe. In his opinion, that’s even better than candy!


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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tick Tock Clock

Ryan is truly the “strong, silent type” in that he doesn’t say much yet. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard “up” in the right context, and he does say “ba ba” when he waves goodbye. But other than that, the only “word” he says is “K”. Now, that might not seem like much, but when you hear it in context, over and over again, it becomes very obvious that “K” is his way of saying “clock”.

We have a wall clock in our living room that chimes on the quarter hour, and Ryan has always been fascinated by that clock. He likes to watch the pendulum swing back and forth, he likes to watch the second hand makes its sweep, and he LOVES to hear it play its song. In fact, if he’s in another room when it chimes, he’ll often stop what he’s doing and run over to look at it, often repeating, “K! K! K!” as he watches. If he happens to be in the basement playroom and he hears it chime, he’ll point up the stairs and excitedly announce to whoever is in the room with him: “K! K! K!” And anytime we go past it, whether we’re on our way upstairs for a nap or bedtime, or we’ve just come in the door from a shopping trip, or he’s simply marching around the living room, he casually remarks, “K,” as he passes by, just to let you know that the clock is still there.

But what really impresses me is the fact that not only does he know that specific clock is a clock, he also has a clear understanding of the general concept of “clock”, enough that he’ll point to a clock in a strange place and announce, “K!” He seems to understand that a clock is big and round, and hangs on a wall, and has markings around the edge, and has hands that move. Yesterday we were with my mom at the doctor’s office, where each cubicle has a large blood pressure monitor mounted on the wall. The monitor has a large round face, hash marks and numbers around its edges, and a hand that points to the numbers. Ryan solemnly marched from cubicle to cubicle, pointing at each one and informing everyone within earshot that it was a “K”. We’ve been in offices and restaurants and stores with all shapes and sizes of clocks, and he unfailingly points to every clock within sight and proclaims it a “K”. On several occasions he’s repeated, “K! K! K!” in a place where I was sure there were no clocks, but whenever I followed his pointing finger, darned if there wasn’t a clock tucked away somewhere.

He’s even able to apply the concept of a clock to a timepiece that doesn’t quite fit all the general criteria. The other day he pointed at Daddy’s wristwatch and announced, “K!”, so he obviously understands that being big and hanging on a wall are not crucial to making something a clock. Of course, he occasionally points to a picture hanging on a wall, especially if it has any kind of a circle motif, and pronounces it a “K”, so the concept isn’t perfect, but for a one-year-old brain, it’s some pretty impressive deductive reasoning.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

On the First Day of Christmas

Since Herb and I perform in the Reagle Music Theatre’s annual production of “It’s ChristmasTime” every year, which runs the first two weekends of December and which generally involves us hosting a cast party, we always put up our Christmas decorations on the weekend after Thanksgiving. And by “Christmas decorations”, I don’t mean just the Christmas tree. We transform the entire house into a Christmas wonderland, inside and out. The top of the piano hosts an entire Christmas village, complete with a carousel, children throwing snowballs, a swan pond, a trolley, a theater, and a cobblestoned footbridge. The mantelpiece is filled with greens and berries and glitter-adorned candles, with an array of nutcrackers standing at attention. We drape swags of greenery over the entryway, across the living room ceiling, over the banisters, and around the mirror in the front hallway. The sideboard is cleared of its usual array of wineglasses and candlesticks to make room for the manger and the Magi. The chandelier gets bedecked with festive red bows. White icicle lights twinkle from the eaves. Wreaths adorn every door. And of course, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

But the crowning glory is always the Christmas tree. We are among the diehards who refuse to give in to an artificial tree. The feel, the scent, the imperfections and variations from year to year just can’t be imitated by an artificial tree. So we made our annual trek to Seasons Four in Lexington to get the complete tree-picking experience. We began by grabbing an unused flatbed cart in the parking lot, plopping Ryan onto it, and then making our way through rows and rows of fragrant green trees until we reached the section with the hardy Fraser firs. I love the rich smell of the balsams and the dusty color of the blue spruces, but when you put your tree up as early as we do, nothing beats the longevity of a Fraser fir. So while Ryan attempted to eat the red berries that were rolling across the flatbed, Herb pulled out tree after tree and we evaluated each one for symmetry, fullness, height, freshness, and overall personality. We soon found a lovely tree that had a beautiful shape and was full without being too big around for our room, and I evicted Ryan from his throne on the flatbed so Herb could have the tree trimmed and wrapped for the trip home. While he was doing that, Ryan and I went to visit the alpacas and the baby goats at the back of the tree lot. Ryan was more interested in the other children who were feeding the animals than he was in the animals themselves, but once he was standing nose to nose with a little grey goat who licked his fingers hoping for a treat, he got a little more interested.

It was getting a bit chilly by then, so we went inside to warm up for a few minutes and to check out all the theme trees inside. Ryan’s eyes were like saucers as he contemplated tree after tree full of twinkling white lights and glittering ornaments. We even found a Sesame Street-themed tree featuring Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Big Bird, and of course, his buddy Elmo. But leave it to Ryan, even as we were checking out the Sesame Street tree, he looked over my shoulder and announced, “K! K! K!” (which means “clock”, his latest obsession). I told him that no, there weren’t any clocks in here, but then I peered into the corner where he was pointing and wouldn’t you know, there was a clock with a 6-foot wide face. So we stood in front of that clock for a while as his face lit up with the wonder that is usually reserved for seeing the full stockings on Christmas morning, or sitting on Santa’s lap.

Eventually we tore him away from the clock and headed back home to unload the tree. We weren’t sure how he’d react to all the chaos and temptation of decorating the tree, so we waited until he was in bed to put up the tree and start decorating it. I’ll admit it: decorating the tree is my very favorite part of Christmas. And I especially love our tree, because we created a very special tree all our own just before we were married. I was living in an apartment with a cat who would have decimated a Christmas tree, so we decorated his house together. I don’t remember exactly what inspired us, but we decided to do a bird-themed tree, using glass icicles and baubles, snowflakes, pine cones, and every kind of bird ornament we could find. We cover the tree with hundreds and hundreds of tiny white lights and don’t use any tinsel or garlands (I’m a tinsel girl who hates garlands and Herb’s a bead/garland guy who hates tinsel – it was a very convenient compromise). We have dozens of feathered cardinal ornaments that add splashes of red everywhere, with a few bright blue jays, a goldfinch or two, a couple of robins, and even a jeweled hummingbird adding a dash of color here and there. The result, in my opinion, is breathtaking and glorious:


The crystal snowflakes, baubles, and icicles move gently with the warm air currents, catching the light and adding a gentle, ever-changing glimmer to the tree.

The cardinals nestling cozily into the crook of a limb, the chickadees perched pertly on the tips of branches, the blue jays seeming to cock their heads and fix their dark eyes on the observer, the majestic pheasant, the graceful dove, the proud peacock, the goldfinch flashing its bright gold feathers, the owls peeking wisely and watchfully from their perches, all the birds bring such a sweet, natural, peaceful beauty to the tree.

And so our bird tree is once again the centerpiece of our Christmas décor. It is festive, elegant, simple, and beautiful. And I hope it still will be when we have to put the playpen around it to protect it from a curious one-year-old who is just a bit too fascinated by it for his own good.


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Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I'm Thankful for This Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving, I make a mental list of the things that I’m thankful for in my life. And the older I get, the more the things on that list have ceased to be actual “things” and the more they have become the people and situations that I’ve encountered over the past year. “I’m thankful I got a new car” and “I’m thankful I took that cruise” have turned into “I’m thankful that I’m happy at my job” and “I’m thankful that I had the chance to visit some old college friends”. So here is what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful that all my basic needs are met. I’m thankful that I have a comfortable home, a full pantry, a reliable car, warm clothes, and the option to stay at home with my son instead of having to work full time. I’m thankful that my family has enough to share with others. I’m thankful that every once in a while I have the luxury of splurging on a nice dinner out with my sweetheart, or buying that pair of shoes that I don’t exactly need but just have to have, or getting the good brand of salad dressing or toilet paper or breakfast cereal instead of the lousy generic kind.

I’m thankful that I have an extended family that loves me and supports me. I’m thankful that I have a host of family members I can call on to babysit in a pinch. I’m thankful that I never have to dread an outbreak of family drama during the holidays. I’m thankful that my family-by-birth and my family-by-marriage enjoy each other’s company. I’m thankful that the pain of the recent and untimely death of my brother-in-law is slowly but surely being replaced with the joy of memories of the short time I knew him.

I’m thankful for my beautiful son, who reminds me every day that life is precious and awe-inspiring and miraculous and wonderful. I’m thankful for his inquisitiveness, his sunny disposition, his affectionate nature, and his cute dimples. I’m thankful that he gets his looks from his father and his temperament from me – not that my looks or Daddy’s temperament would be a bad thing, but I’m thankful that he is a perfect mix of me and my husband.

I’m thankful that I have a husband who loves me despite my flaws. I’m thankful that he is patient, thoughtful, generous, compassionate, romantic, kind, and forgiving. I’m thankful that he is a loyal husband, a generous provider, a wonderful father, a devoted son, and a caring brother. I’m thankful that he inspires me to find more of all those qualities in myself.

And looking back a little further than just the past year, I’m thankful that I had the courage, four years ago, to take my destiny into my own hands and take a leap of faith by signing up for an online dating service. I’m thankful that I met a few interesting people, dodged a few whackaloons, and collected enough stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly to write a book about my experiences. I’m thankful that even if no-one else ever reads that book, writing it was both a growing experience and a satisfying artistic outlet for me. But most of all, I’m thankful that those dating experiences brought me my wonderful husband, for whom I would gladly re-live every sweaty-palmed first date, every phone call from a whackaloon, and every awkward moment I endured in my dating life before my Prince Charming arrived.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

Today, I am Superwoman. I am wearing so many hats that you can’t even see my head. I am mother supreme, I am master baker, I am prolific author, I am seamstress extraordinaire, and I am professional chanteuse. Fortunately, I am also an organizational whiz, otherwise I would never get everything done that needs doing today.

Ryan has been a bit clingy and whiny over the past few days, so he’s claiming a bit more attention than he otherwise might. And since he’s had a few babysitters lately and will be having a bunch more next week, I feel the need to give him extra cuddles and snuggles to reassure him that Mommy isn’t going anywhere. I want to be certain he feels secure and loved, even more so than usual. (Daddy would probably say I’m spoiling him a bit and he’s just fine – which of course he is – but that’s why babies have Mommies AND Daddies.) So instead of just letting him whine in his playpen for a few hours while I get other things done, I’m spending a lot more time playing with him, sitting and reading with him, and just generally keeping him company.

Next on the list is my one make-ahead item for Thanksgiving dinner: Parker House rolls. I love Parker House rolls. No, that’s not exactly true. I ADORE Parker House rolls. I could probably live for a week, quite happily, on nothing but Parker House rolls. And I have fond childhood memories of having Parker House rolls at family get-togethers like Easter, Christmas, birthdays, and of course, Thanksgiving. So since the pies are being contributed by various family members, I decided the one thing I’d make completely from scratch for Thanksgiving dinner (I’m not counting heating the veggies or gravy or even cooking the turkey or making the stuffing – there’s very little culinary finesse involved in those) would be a batch of fresh Parker House rolls. Making these rolls is not especially difficult, but it is time-consuming. And not just time-consuming, but time-dependent, since there are long pauses while the dough rises but when it’s ready, it has to be dealt with NOW! (Motherhood has prepared me well for that kind of demand, actually.) So as soon as Ryan went down for his nap, I went to work scalding and measuring and kneading. And providing that Ryan’s nap schedule cooperates (ha!), I should be able to get in the next step right before he wakes up from his nap and starts demanding his lunch.

And until that stage is reached, I have a few minutes to get my blog going. I often think about ideas for a blog entry at random times of the day or night, as something strikes me. Sometimes I even lie in bed at night, mentally composing the next day’s blog. (Sometimes I even remember them the next morning!) And then some days, I sit in front of a blank Word document and discover that my mind is just as devoid of ideas as the screen in front of me. Fortunately, most of the time all I need to do is mentally review the previous day and there’s something that Ryan did that is fertile material for a blog entry. And today was one of those days when I did have a nervous moment staring at the screen – but even while I was staring, my inside voice was reminding me, “You need to check the rolls! You need to finish that hem! You need to memorize your lyrics!” And I knew what today’s blog would be. So here I am, inviting all of you into the glorious chaos that is my life.

If by some chance I manage to finish this entry and the rolls aren’t ready for the next step and Ryan is still napping, I’ll have a chance to jump back into my role as seamstress. As many of you who know me personally are aware, for the past few years (with the exception of last year, when I was kind of busy with a new baby), Herb and I have performed in the Reagle Music Theatre’s annual Christmas production, “It’s ChristmasTime!” This is a wonderful show that I look forward to every year. Herb and I first performed in the show together when we were just dating, so it will always have a special place in my heart. But aside from that, it is a show full of wonderful performers who are also my dear friends, and it is a show full of wonderful Christmas music, both familiar and a bit less common. And it is a delightfully festive way to begin the Christmas season, both for the audience and for the performers. The interesting thing for the performers is that every year, the cast is a mix of new performers and cast members who have done the show for ten, fifteen, even twenty or more years. It’s a joy to us veterans to watch the newbies flounder but then find their feet, to recall our own moments of terror and feeling of unpreparedness, and to reassure them that no-one will notice if they sing the wrong words, and that if they forget where to go next someone will nudge them into the right spot.

But part of the challenge in having so many newcomers in the cast is that they all have to somehow get costumes. Reagle has a pretty extensive stock of costumes, but there is still a limited number of sizes to fit an unlimited number of various-sized bodies. Which means that there are always piles of last-minute alterations. A skirt to be hemmed here, a vest to be let out there, a zipper to be mended, a hook to be re-stitched, a pulled seam to be re-sewn. So after last night’s rehearsal, I found myself heading home with a stack of costumes needing little mends and tweaks. I spent last night taking my seam ripper to this and my needle and thread to that, digging through my sewing box for a length of fabric in the right shade of brown or a hook the right size to fit an existing loop. And this morning most of the pile was still remaining, so while Ryan is either dozing upstairs or curiously peering over the playpen wall to see what I’m doing, I’ll be continuing to sew up a storm until everything in the “to be done” pile is finally in the “done” pile.

The reason that I need to get it all into the done pile today is that we have one more rehearsal tonight, and I need to deliver everything to their rightful owners in case any more tweaks are needed. Which means that as well as finishing all my sewing, I need to polish up my own music. It’s amazing how much two years and having a baby can dissolve blocking and lyrics out of a person’s brain. But I have no doubt that a few more run-throughs and it’ll all be back in my head. (And if it’s not, I’m sure some of the 20-year veterans will nudge me back into the correct spot.)

Hm, did I remember everything? Oh wait – I forgot to put eating on the schedule. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll make up for any missed meals on Thanksgiving Day.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Oh, I Love Trash

Ryan is fascinated with trash cans. This fascination first developed, not surprisingly, when he discovered our automatic kitchen trash can. When he grabs at it on his way past, it magically opens, and as he peers inside in amazement, it closes again. He is completely awed and mystified by this. He discovered he can make it open by waving his spoon at it. He often tries to dive in and rescue various items. (This is highly discouraged by his mother.) But this is not the only trash can in the house that holds him in its thrall.

The trash can in his bedroom is also fascinating in its own right. It doesn’t open and close on its own, but it’s short enough that he can see inside it and it’s lightweight enough that he can knock it over and explore its contents at his leisure. It tends to contain interesting things like cardboard clothing tags, used tissues, and the occasional plastic wrapper from a diaper pack. Sometimes it even has a sticker from the diaper wipes container. There is endless amusement to be found in the nursery trash can.

But I think his new favorite is the tall green plastic trash can in the basement playroom. It’s tall enough that he can’t see into it without standing on his tiptoes and leaning over the edge, but he can easily reach over the top to drop various things into it. And he does. I’ve rescued more things than I can count from that trash can: balls, rings, a toy phone, the Barbie jeep, innumerable spit rags, the occasional stuffed animal. Every time I empty that trash can I have to sift through the contents to make sure I’m not about to throw away something that wasn’t meant to be discarded. And he has as much fun rescuing things from that trash can as he does throwing things away. That trash can tends to contain unusually fascinating items like the cardboard and plastic wrapper from a pallet of soda cans, empty plastic bottles from pool chemicals, birdseed bags, and almost always at least one soda can. How could he possibly resist the temptation to dumpster dive with a treasure trove like that waiting for him?

And on top of all the fascinating treasures that he’s likely to find, the best part is the reaction he gets from Mom and Dad, whether he’s throwing away things that aren’t meant to be thrown away or retrieving stuff that isn’t meant to be retrieved. He can always count on one or the other of us diving at him with a loud, excited, “No!” And if we take out what he’s just thrown away, it becomes a game of him trying to throw it away again every time we retrieve it. And if we throw away what he’s just retrieved, it becomes a game of him trying to retrieve it again. He finds it as endlessly amusing as we find it endlessly frustrating.

But short of inventing a locking trash can (and don’t think I haven’t considered it), I think for now I’ll just have to settle for keeping my eye on the trash can in whatever room Ryan happens to be in, and for carefully checking the contents of every trash can every time I empty it. I’m sure this fascination will be replaced by another before long, and he’ll soon forget about the trash can game.

And in the meantime, at least now I have a theory about what happened to that pair of socks that went missing, and the toy hammer that seems to have disappeared, and the birthday card I was saving to go in his baby book that’s nowhere to be found…

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Toyland

Ryan is very creative when he plays. He plays with just about anything that’s handy – a saucepan, a spoon, a vacuum nozzle, an empty box, my feet, his own feet. But he also loves to play with his toys – sometimes in the way they were designed, and sometimes not. Plastic stacking rings can, of course, be stacked on their peg – but they can also but balanced on one’s head, dropped into a bucket, or have a ball balanced in them. Balls can be rolled and bounced as intended, but also climbed on, stuffed into various cubbies and crevices, and licked. (The licking thing is true about pretty much anything he can reach with his tongue, but semi-see-through balls are especially fun to lick, since crazy Mommy can easily be tempted to lick the other side, which is a source of endless amusement. But I digress.)

So a few days ago, I decided to capture Ryan playing with his toys on video. So here, for your entertainment, I present “Two Minutes of Toys!”

video


So now if anyone ever asks me what Ryan and I do all day long, I can show them this video and explain that this is what we do all day. Over and over and over and over again. This, times 30 times an hour, times 12 hours a day. With the occasional break for eating, napping, and diaper changes.

Have I mentioned lately that I have the best job in the whole wide world?


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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

Spoons are wonderful things. Not only are they useful and functional as food transporters (and as drumsticks), but they are also useful and functional in extending one’s reach. They can be used to knock objects off of tables that were formerly out of reach! They can be used to explore objects on top of the countertop that cannot even be seen. Spoons can be used to poke behind the couch, knock books off the bookshelf, bang pots on the stovetop, and reach otherwise unreachable items on the kitchen table.

Ryan may not be short by any means in terms of the height of most children his age, but he seems to be extremely aware that the world was designed to be explored by someone much taller than he. Spoons, however, have minimized this problem. He has a long-handled plastic mixing spoon that he plays with in the kitchen, and until recently it served mainly as a drumstick – he used it to bang on pots, pans, the colander, the doors of the kitchen cabinets, and the shins of unwary passers-by. But then he discovered that he can use it to extend his reach and explore all kinds of formerly unreachable places.

The kitchen counter, for example. He can’t see what’s on top of the counter when he’s right next to it, and he can’t reach past the very edge of the counter with his bare hands. But give him his long-handled spoon and, like the tentacle of a curious octopus, he uses it to poke and prod and feel his way across the countertop, poking at a squishy loaf of bread, banging on the wooden side of the breadbox, clanging on the rim of the sink.

The kitchen table is also deliciously in reach with spoon in hand. When he’s strapped into his high chair next to the table, his reach is frustratingly short – he can barely touch the edge of the tabletop. But add a spoon into the equation and he can flap the leaves of the flower arrangement on the center of the table, knock down the collection of birthday cards like so many dominos, and make the salt and pepper shakers roll across the table and onto the floor with a satisfying clunk.

The music room is another place that’s especially satisfying to explore with a spoon. All those low piano notes that are just out of reach are back in play when you have a spoon. Strumming the guitar with a spoon is a new and exciting experience. And the tower of CDs next to the stereo that used to be just beyond his fingertips can all be knocked over with one swipe of the spoon.

Like most children in this day and age, Ryan has a large collection of playthings that are technological wonders. He has a play phone with keys that light up and play music and read the alphabet to him, he has a wheeled zebra that sings and makes animal noises at the touch of a button, he has a plastic car with an elephant sitting in it that trumpets and zooms across the room. And he loves all those toys, and plays with them for hours. But when it comes right down to it, sometimes he’s just as happy to amuse himself with an old plastic spoon.


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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You Say It's Your Birthday

Today is my birthday. Two weeks ago, it was Ryan’s birthday. In the past week, two of my friends have had babies. At my last job, I worked in a group with about 20 people and five of us had birthdays in November. November is a wonderful month to be born in! And after carefully counting on my fingers, I’m thinking that Valentine’s Day might just have something to do with it. But I digress…

Birthdays! They’re something that Americans celebrate with great gusto. On your birthday, not only do your friends and family give you presents and good wishes and balloons and cake, but complete strangers do nice things for you. Restaurants offer you a discount, a free meal, or a special dessert. When I was in college, a few friends and I spirited my roommate off to NYC for the night and took her to dinner at a Chinese place. We pulled our waiter aside to let him know it was her birthday, and before we knew it, the entire waitstaff came back with a giant orange taper candle stuck into a scoop of lichee ice cream on a plate, rang a gong, and announced, “Happee burfu-day, An-na!”

I was once in line at the registry to renew my license and during a conversation I struck up with the woman in line behind me, mentioned that my license expired TODAY and immediately half the people in line turned to me and wished me happy birthday.

It’s kind of funny, when you think about it. What are people honoring you for? Being born? It’s not like you had all that much to do with the event. It would make more sense to honor your mom on the day you were born – after all, she did most of the work. You just kind of went along for the ride.

Or maybe they’re honoring you for surviving another year. Congratulations – you managed to go for another 365 days without being hit by a bus, or catching typhoid, or falling off a cliff. Have some cake! Nope, that doesn’t make sense either.

I guess it’s just nice to be recognized for making a contribution to the world, even if the contribution is nothing more than existing. So what have I done in the past year that was a contribution to the universe? I’ve raised a wonderful little boy who’s brought sunshine into many lives. I’ve tried to make my husband’s life happier. I’ve joined in celebrating the anticipated birth of my cousin’s baby and the anticipated wedding of my sister, and I’ve celebrated the actual birth and wedding. I’ve performed on stage and hopefully helped to bring some smiles to people. I’ve supported charities and causes that help those in need. I’ve smiled at tired-looking cashiers, waved harried drivers into a line of traffic ahead of me, and offered a seat to a stranger in church. I’ve laughed and I’ve loved and I’ve tried to give others reason to do the same.

Yeah, I guess I’ve done enough this year to not feel guilty about all the good wishes that people are sending my way. So thanks to you all, and happy birthday to me! Let’s see if I can make this year even more worthy than the last.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Family Holiday Traditions

With the holidays rapidly approaching (what do you mean, Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK??), the annual juggling of family traditions is at the forefront of many minds. Some families have deeply-ingrained, sacrosanct holiday traditions, others are more casual. But whatever traditions you grew up with and assumed that everyone shared, when you get married you discover differently.

Just figuring out who’s hosting Thanksgiving dinner may be a sticking point with some families. What do you do when your family always gathers at your mom’s house but your husband’s family always gathers at his Aunt Matilda’s house (which happens to be 300 miles away from your mom’s)? Do you kill yourselves having dinner at one home and then driving frenetically to the other for pie? Do you try to convince one of the families to move their celebration from Thursday to either Friday or Saturday? Do you play the newlywed card and insist that everyone come to your house?

What about timing? Are there appetizers beforehand or will that ruin everyone’s appetite? Is dinner served at 1pm or at 6pm? Do guests need to arrive late enough that they had time to watch the parade before leaving home, or do they need to leave early enough to watch the last football game in the comfort of their own living room? Do the hosts have a big enough living room to accommodate all the football fans? And are the non-fans then expected to clean the kitchen, or are they allowed to nap while the footballers lounge on the couch?

And then there’s the menu. You grew up on bread stuffing, your husband grew up on cornbread stuffing – so do you make both? Mashed potatoes or wild rice? Jellied cranberry sauce from a can or whole berry relish made from Grandma’s secret recipe? Pumpkin pie or apple pie? With whipped cream or without? Brine the turkey or baste it?

It seems like no matter what you decide on any of the above questions, someone’s not going to be happy. But then, change is hard. So sometimes it’s best to start a completely new tradition. Our family’s solution is to host Thanksgiving dinner ourselves. The troops are arriving at 1-2pm and dinner is scheduled for 4pm (assuming the turkey cooperates). The menu includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, jellied cranberry sauce (with the ridges from the can still in evidence), peas, squash, creamed onions, rolls, and both pumpkin and apple pie. Anyone who can’t live without a particular dish that’s not on the menu is welcome to bring it. It might not be the exact family tradition that any of us grew up with, but it’s now officially OUR family tradition. And I know that a lovely time will be had by all – because, after all, it’s family, and it’s Thanksgiving. How can it not be lovely?

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