It was almost like a Thomas Kinkade painting around here.

I spent New Year’s Eve doing one of the things that makes me the happiest in life: cooking and serving a big meal for a bunch of people.

Before I bought my house, I couldn’t really have a bunch of people over. Now, I can have maybe a dozen before it starts getting really cozy. (And by “really cozy” I mean “more than two people sitting on my stairs to eat.”) I had 10 Tuesday night. At least five of them were mystified by the countertop roaster I was using to make the three pork tenderloins I was going to serve. (It had occurred to me that every item on my menu needed to be roasted and I only have one oven. Happily, when I mentioned this to my parents during my Christmas visit, they offered me use of the roaster I forgot they had.) Before I’d turned it on, people were slowly approaching it, lifting the lid and and gazing at it like it was the eighth wonder of the world. It’s a Hamilton Beach contraption, and it doesn’t look particularly old. I don’t know when my parents bought it, but I believe it was so they could make two turkeys for either Thanksgiving or Christmas to feed our crowd, which varies between 22 and 34 people, depending on who’s spending which holiday with which side of their own families. They used it for Thanksgiving; my aunt and uncle used it for Christmas, and the morning after, my uncle delivered it back to my parents so I could take it.

Everyone had dressed up. This was such a delight. I had planned to be dressy because I’ve never hosted New Year’s Eve and I haven’t been to a NYE party since 2006/7 (And that one was boring, featured me overhearing someone tell my then-boyfriend-of-two-months, Mitch, “Your wife is hot,” and hearing him reply, “She’s not my wife. Yet,” and ended with his brother-in-law, who I had met one time before this, drunkenly hugging me goodbye and saying, “Please love him.” I should have known then that Mitch was a jerk.) But I hadn’t told anyone what to wear; I truly wanted it to be whatever they liked. Eliza texted me earlier in the day:

E: Attire?
Me: I’ll probably be dressy because that’s my mood, but wear whatever you want.
E: So, pajamas.
Me: Totally acceptable. I might change my clothes at some point. Toga? Possible.
E: Bikini.
Me: That would make things interesting…
E: Why not?
Me: It IS nye…

When I opened the door to their knock, Eliza was in an awesome cocktail dress, hair did, makeup on, heels, her glasses reflecting the twinkle of the lit garland around my door. Her husband was in a sportcoat and tie. They looked dashing. As did everyone else who showed up without asking at all what to wear. I was honored that they wanted to look nice. Even wee bitty Rosemary, all of two years old, was in a pretty dress and tights, walking around sipping ginger ale from a plastic champagne flute and saying “Cheers!” to everyone.

It’s possible that her father, Blaine, scoped out the situation when he came over early to drop off the veggie tray. I was already dressed. He may well have gone back and reported to Erica that the dress code was fancy. He was in a suit. A full-on suit. The man has a master’s degree in physics and is unemployed (cruel twist to being super-smart and educated). I have no idea the last time he wore a suit.

My tree was lit up, almost every light in the house was on and my friends were complimenting my Christmas decor while Rosemary played with the sheep in my nativity scene. (I had wondered if I should put it away – Rosemary tends to be sweetly destructive – but how could I hide the nativity scene and still call myself a good Christian woman, all sins to the contrary aside?) There was so much good cheer I could hardly contain myself.

Then Rosemary got hold of the remotes and now I can’t control my TV with any of them. The evening included about 30 minutes of four people trying to figure out how to get it to respond to button-pushing. I was crouched behind-beside it, maneuvering my wrap dress to stay wrapped while reaching through a tangle of cable-box-blu-ray-player-phone-TV-router-modem cords trying to sort out which was which so I could unplug the TV, hoping it might re-set. Because kicking it to make it work is probably ill-advised when you’re dealing with a TV. Is what the four of us had worked out. This includes the guy with the M.S. in physics.

My grandmother, when she hosted holiday meals, always served Pepperidge Farm Piroutte cookies… little, buttery, crisp, light straws streaked with chocolate. I remember them clearly from my childhood. When I had been shopping, I came across them and thought they’d be a pretty addition to the berries & sparkling wine I planned to serve for dessert. The berries went into my grandmother’s sliver-rimmed bone china bowls, topped with a little bit of still-fizzing bubbly, and I laid a Pirouette across each one. It was so simple and so pretty, and it made me smile to know that my grandmother was with us, even if I was the only one aware of it.

She probably smiled too, but she prefered the sweet Asti Spumanti to the Gruet Brut I was serving. We buried her with a bottle of Asti. True story. My cousin accidentally bumped the casket during the viewing and the bottle loudly clunked to the bottom, sending my cousin shooting away from my grandmother’s remains with an expression of terror. It was hysterical. I believe my mother and several aunts peed themselves a little.

When the countdown clock ticked down to midnight, old acquaintance was not forgot, but these friends of mine in this home I’ve made lifted plastic flutes of sparkling wine and bade each other good for the year, after being a very big part of what made the last one good for me.

Here’s to 2014, and friends. And family who linger long after they’re gone. Eat, drink, and be merry. Show love.

And occasionally, knock a bottle of cheap booze around a dead body. Can’t hurt.

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

Oh heeeyyyy 2014! We had quite a welcoming party for you last night. I, for one, spent the first four hours of your existence awake and talking and listening and wearing heels, trying not to think about the dishes that were piled in the sink. We said goodbye to your ancestor, 2013, with quite the yummy meal and lots of laughs and hugs and smiles. The old Irish toasted wish that my house be too small to hold all my friends came true.

So now as I sit next to my increasingly brittle Christmas tree (it has volunteered in tribute—this thing has a death wish which apparently involves taking in no water at all despite the fresh cut in its trunk and in absolute defiance of the special stuff I put in the water to help it live longer), knowing full well that I haven’t posted a blog entry in many, many days (despite taking my laptop with me to my parents’ house for the Christmas visit), it occurs to me that I made a list one year ago today of things I wanted to learn in 2013. (I posted it a year ago tomorrow, probably because I worked late on the 1st.) Let’s see how I did.

1. How to make a really, truly good lasagna
I did not learn how to make a really, truly good lasagna. In fact, I only made lasagna once in 2013, and it was the Tyler Florence recipe that bubbled over in the oven. I did, however, eat some really, truly good lasagna. So maybe I’ll just get the recipe from the neighbor who made it. 1/3 credit.

2. More arias by Puccini.
I did not sing more arias by Puccini. But I listened to them. This counts as learning. Half credit.

3. How to get paint out of carpet.
I heard a few suggestions for how to get paint out of carpet. They did not work. Item voided.

4. My own worth.
It didn’t occur to me a year ago that I wouldn’t have a yardstick by which to measure that. But I know I’ve learned more about my worth than I knew in 2012. And I’m very grateful for that. Credit.

5. More about history.
I learned much more about history even though I still can’t quite get past page 100 in “Lincoln: Team of Rivals”. Credit.

6. How to better identify and let go of lost causes.
I’m trying to think of what the lost causes were in 2013. I know the biggest one, and I certainly finally recognized it. I’m definitely working on letting it go, and I’m getting there. That’s pretty huge. There’s another one I haven’t quite admitted yet, but I’m pretty close. Maybe I don’t see things in the frame of the phrase “lost cause.” I kind of like that I don’t see things that way—it seems so dire and blah. Oh, but I accepted that my car will look like a piece of crap until it no longer belongs to me, because it will cost too much to fix it. And the tree is probably a lost cause at this point. Credit.

7. How to be a more effective and prolific advocate for crime victims.
After waiting for about a year for a response from the state senator with whom I worked on our first legislative effort for crime victims, I gave up (lost cause recognized) and approached another lawmaker. He and I are due for a follow-up conversation in the next few days to find out whether there’s something we can do to change home detention eligibility requirements so that persons who have been served with a protective order while on home detention forfeit their eligibility. And the state’s system for issuing protective orders now provides information to complainants so that they know exactly when those orders have been delivered to the respondent (it takes longer than you might think, and this is typically the most dangerous time in a volatile situation). Credit.

PS: As soon as I started working with the other lawmaker, the state senator emailed me and asked me if we could talk about my ideas. I told him who I was talking with and the senator immediately contacted him. Rick finds this hilarious.

8. How to paint the nails on my right hand as well as I paint the nails on my left hand.
This is almost a reality. Sometimes. Half credit.

9. How to let other people see me vulnerable (in non-blog form). 
I’m still working on this. Old habits. But I’ve gotten better. I’m just not where I should be yet. Half credit.

10. What it means to be truly loved.
I have friends and family who truly love me, and I have more of them than I deserve, and I am more grateful for that than I used to be. But I know that, when I put this item on the list, I meant romantic love, and there was very little of that in 2013. The only person I dated was Rick. But I’m okay with that, because I’ve needed the time, and I’ve needed to work on #4. So… maybe I’m set up better for 2014. Half credit awarded, half suspended indefinitely.

11. How to get red wine splatter of a white ceiling without repainting the whole damned thing.
Whatever. Item revoked.

12. What yet another country looks like, in person.
Didn’t happen. No credit.

13. Where I left my step stool.
I found that thing a week after I wrote the post. It was behind my bedroom door, which I never close. Credit for finding it negated by credit subtracted for being a jackass.

14. More about my community and who lives in it.
Definitely accomplished this. Particularly last week when I heard a terrible car accident. By the time I got to the corner of my block, where it happened, there must have been 50 people milling around. I have no idea where they all came from.

15. What it would take to fix Congress… because just voting everyone out is both unrealistic and probably a really, really bad idea.
Well, I have my thoughts. We know this. But I think they might have come to a bit of an understanding up there on Capitol Hill recently. Everybody lost in 2013. Credit awarded for being smarter than most of those people.

16. To be more open to new things.
Well, I think I am more open to new things… I just can’t think of any new things I did. Oh, wait—new career, new chapter as a graduate student, first full year as a homeowner, just accepted my first freelance writing gig, new friends, hosted a holiday dinner for the first time… and I’ve let spiders live in my basement. That never happened before. Credit.

17. A new, really good soup recipe.
Just made it two days ago for the second time. It’s just chicken noodle, but damn, it’s good chicken noodle. It’s also the only thing I’ve eaten today. Credit.

18. How to clean my house the way Mary Poppins cleaned Jane and Michael Banks’ room.
Nope. But I did see “Saving Mr. Banks,” and apparently, Mary Poppins was never meant to be a housekeeper, so I had the wrong premise. Item voided.

19. A magic trick that makes laundry fold itself.
Negative. But I did leave it unfolded for a long time, piled in heaps. No credit.

20. To be more productive and feel more purposed.
This might be the most unexpected gift of my new career. Or maybe it’s just because, in that new career, I am constantly making To Do lists and then crossing things off. Sure, I don’t even get started on them until 4pm on any given day, but that’s even better, in a way, because the reason I don’t get started until 4pm is that I’ve spent the previous hours doing other stuff that was more pressing and had come up in the course of the day. I almost never get everything on the list done, but let’s face it: a bunch of the stuff is just there so I don’t forget it needs to be done at some point, not necessarily that day. Crossing items off those lists is truly one of the most satisfying little things in life. And to be appreciated for my work makes me feel more purposed. Credit. 

21. Better ways to get and keep my back healthier.
It was better in 2013, and I was more mindful of how to keep it from freaking out. I stopped seeing the chiropractor in January. That seems to have helped. Credit… and a knock on wood.

22. More grace.
Thank God, this is an ongoing effort. But when I feel grace, or I feel myself using grace in response to a less-than-gracious situation, I feel great peace. And since I didn’t quantify this as anything other than “more,” even just a tiny bit counts. Credit.

23. When to keep my mouth shut.
I’m actually doing pretty well with this. Especially because it’s limited to keeping my mouth shut and not keeping my typing fingers still. You’re welcome, blog. Credit.

24. More about where I came from.
This was accomplished unexpectedly. My friend loves to get lost in ancestry records. I now know my mother’s great-grandparents’ names and what they looked like. I know there was a third child in a photo taken in 1895, but no one knows who it is. I know and have seen photos of the ships my great-grandparents immigrated on, and I know that my great-grandfather held at least two patents for textile design, which was one of his goals in immigrating (his company in Germany took all his ideas and claimed them as theirs). I know my grandfather’s father was in a soldiers’ orphans’ home by the time he was 15, but I’m still working on finding out why. If we can find who his parents were, we will have unlocked a very long family mystery. Credit.

Now, the following are not resolutions, but they’re things I’d like to do in 2014. Here goes:

Read more books.

Help my division work more effectively.

Make more friends.

Fall in love, be fallen in love with… and keep him for a while!

Go to the movies more. (I think I went twice in 2013, and one of those was the day after Christmas.)

Figure out what the hell my two-year-old neighbor did to my remote last night that rendered it useless for controlling the TV’s power and volume. (This might be the hardest one to accomplish. Several people tried already.)

Enjoy more moments.

Take six graduate classes. (Two lined up for next term.)

Be of service.

Show love.

Buy a Christmas tree that accepts water as sustenance.
A happy, healthy 2014 full of the best words to all of you!




The Course of Human Events

Social media tends to give those of us who participate in it an interesting glimpse at how people think about Independence Day. Other holidays too, but particularly the patriotic ones. Aside from the lack of creativity (everyone changes their profile photo to a waving-in-the-noble-breeze American flag and says “Happy 4th everyone!”), there’s a lot of thanking the military for upholding and protecting freedom.

I’m down with that.

But there is a forgotten faction of that militia, and I hate for us to misremember the way our independence was declared. It was early in the struggle, just less than two years after the first Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, that 56 men met and argued for hours and days over exactly what independence would mean for these colonies they had created – colonies which did not always agree and, indeed, often fought openly about the ramifications of their freedom from King George III’s tyranny.

It was this fighting, this conflict, in a hot and airless chamber of a building still standing, that first truly won the nation’s freedom, a freedom signed in ink before blood on July 4, 1776. From this, a purpose for guns and bombs was gelled. The fighting had begun long before, on principle and on blood-stained ground, but it was a loosely-held union that faced the redcoats of the King’s army.

It was the unequaled might of the pen that sealed the bonds against Britain.

We don’t celebrate that much. We manipulate their document and the Constitution that followed to score points against those with whom we disagree, but we don’t often offer proper reverence to the 56 men who were willing to put their lives on the line not in front of rifles and cannons but in front of each other, who left their weary wives and children in Boston, in Wilmington, in Charleston and Atlanta, to travel on horseback for weeks and face the threat of sacrificing their sons for the sake of the shaky ground on which they dared to stand firm.

These were noble men, great men, brave and strong and carrying the weight of a new way of life on their limited shoulders.

Soldiers are hailed as heroes and often – but not always – deserve to be. Founders are relegated to history as men in funny hats who blew hard, only regarded as Founding Fathers when it’s convenient to rhetoric.

Who really is responsible for America’s freedom? Who really is ennobled by the distinction of setting forth the cause for which all American fighting – some of it misguided – has come since?

John Adams.
Samuel Adams.
Josiah Bartlett.
Carter Braxton.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Samuel Chase.
Abraham Clark.
George Clymer.
William Ellery.
William Floyd.
Benjamin Franklin.
Elbridge Gerry.
Button Gwinnett.
Lyman Hall.
John Hancock.
Benjamin Harrison.
John Hart.
Joseph Hewes.
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
William Hooper.
Stephen Hopkins.
Francis Hopkinson.
Samuel Huntington.
Thomas Jefferson.
Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Richard Henry Lee.
Francis Lewis.
Philip Livingston.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Thomas McKean.
Arthur Middleton.
Lewis Morris.
Robert Morris.
John Morton.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
William Paca.
Robert Treat Paine.
John Penn.
George Read.
Caesar Rodney.
George Ross.
Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Edward Rutledge.
Roger Sherman.
James Smith.
Richard Stockton.
Thomas Stone.
George Taylor.
Matthew Thornton.
George Walton.
William Whipple.
William Williams.
James Wilson.
John Witherspoon.
Oliver Wolcott.
George Wythe.

Freedom forever to be defended under the flag and the sword – because of these men.

Let us never forget.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

The eighth day of Christmas should have been sparkly and shiny and new. I should have woken up to find that all kinds of things were different and everything was positive and diamonds had rained down from the sky during the night. The eighth day of Christmas was New Year’s Day, and none of that crap happened.

None of it.

It was sunny, though, which was good for my fuzzy head. No, it was not fuzzy from a night of partying. (See previous post.) My head tends to get a little cottony on New Year’s Day, I think precisely because I expect things to be different and they’re totally not, except there’s a whiff of some sort of expectation in the air and everybody’s off and I get the feeling like everybody has something to do, and I feel bamboozled by the whole magic trick-that’s-not-really-a-trick. “Oh! Behold! A shiny new year!”

“Madeja look.”

New Year’s Day is a holy day in the Catholic church: the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The purpose is to honor the role Mary played in bringing about the salvation of the world. I’m not the most religious person – mild to moderate at best. But I am a cantor at my church, and I sang the noon mass. Just me, my favorite accompanist and the contemporary group, who showed up ready to really play. Music is an alive thing, breathing and morphing, and sometimes the group just doesn’t gel. But other times, it really gets into a groove. And the instruments tend to change from week to week, which keeps things fresh even though it’s mostly because someone flaked out and another person stepped up. (A violin this time!) As a singer, I get inspired by this kind of stuff – people who just know what they’re doing and don’t need much direction, who can look at the music and play, and elevate the experience without saying a word. When you’re Catholic and a music person and a good two decades younger than nearly all of the people you see in front of you, you will take every chance you get to change things up and get them out of the rut of the status quo. The people in the pews usually respond.

I think they respond because the music becomes a spiritual power boost, which everybody can use. It doesn’t have to be some big thing. It doesn’t have to scream “religion” or “God” or “miracle” at you. It can just be an old hymn you hear in a new way, by virtue, even, of where you do and don’t take a breath. Like reading a poem and not stopping your momentum at the end of a line. Oh! That’s what that means!

The mass was a minute from starting when I looked at the accompanist and pointed to sheet music that was sitting on top of the organ (which she wouldn’t play today – the contemporary group is more of a piano crew). “Are we doing this?” I mouthed.

“Oh! We can,” she mouthed back.

“Offertory?” I suggested. It’s the moment when the altar is prepared for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the gifts are brought forward by parishioners. Technically, this piece is not liturgically correct to sing at that time, but it’s the only place to do it without making the mass longer. And nobody likes it when the mass is longer.

She nodded. “What key?”


The contemporary group zinged up the music enough that we were fairly enjoying ourselves from the beginning of the service, and I could tell the Frozen Chosen were, as well. Cantoring is like teaching, I think: you look out at a sea of dead faces and you’re trying to think of something that’s going to wake them up and bring light to their eyes. Music can do that if you play and sing it right. Even the old stuff. Plus it helps that we’re still in Christmas carols.

But when it came time for the Offertory, we took it down a notch. The contemporary group left their instruments. On the piano, the accompanist played the first few measures of Schubert, measures most people recognize very quickly. And I sang.

Ave Maria, gratia plena…

It is one of my favorite pieces to sing. The only trick is that it’s a bit of a pressure piece. It’s not something you sing all the time; it’s for special occasions. Weddings. Funerals. Feasts and solemnities of Mary. So when you do it, it has to be special.

It has to shine.

I sang the Ave Maria for my grandmother’s funeral in 2007. She had basically ordered me to do it, and I knew if I chickened out, or sang it badly, she would haunt me with murmured “That was nice, dear” sentiments that really meant, “I would have thought my eternal sendoff would be a bit better.” I was medicated and prayed to every saint I could think of for help as I climbed the stairs to the choir loft to sing it. I didn’t love how it went, but it was enough, thankfully, to keep my grandmother quiet.

I sang it for my sister’s wedding in 2002. Sister 2 played piano.

I sang it for my brother-in-law’s grandmother’s funeral two weeks ago. The family had requested it. They remembered it from the wedding.

It’s a piece that matters, that means something to people. A piece they close their eyes to. A piece that rings in their breath-filled chests when it’s over.

If you do it right.

For me, the only way to do it right is not to sing it myself. Rather, I have to open my mouth and let it come through me from somewhere else. Otherwise I worry too much about tempo and tone and where I can breathe, and it just doesn’t do. I run out of air, I go a little flat, I push a little. I make it about me, and it loses something. It loses shine.

On the eighth day of Christmas, I turned it all over to the gift I’ve been given instead of the brain I use, and I let it come through me instead of from me. I sang it for my grandmother all over again, for my sister and her husband, for his grandmother. The pews stilled. Eyes closed. My cottony head cleared.

It shined.

And a new year began.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas (AKA New Year’s Eve)

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, I worked til 11pm. That meant I got home at midnight. One of the things that has clearly changed as I’ve gotten older is that I stopped caring whether I had any plans on New Year’s Eve. When I was in my early and mid-20s, I spent several New Year’s Eves crying alone on my couch. (Feel free to comment that you did, too, so I don’t feel quite so bad.) I cared a lot about whether I had something to do – or someone to do it with – on a night that I now tend to think of as a randomly assigned date marking the passage of time. Sure, on our calendar it means the old year is about to end (old as of when?) and the new year to begin. But on the Hebrew calendar we’ve already missed the party. And are we really that anxious to start the year the Mayans said would spell the end for us all? The Chinese new year doesn’t start until January 23rd this time around. (Year of the Dragon, by the way. Symbol of good fortune and sign of intense power. Not bad. Not bad at all. Phew. Way to deflect the Mayan thing.)

You could say that I use all of these other cultures’ dates as an excuse not to be bothered by having no plans for the night. Maybe that’s true. I admit: I do get a tiny bit sad if I don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to see after work. And it does sting a little when someone enthusiastically asks me what I’m doing. I suppose, since the night signifies so much (what?) for people all over the world, it is rather pathetic.

But I see a trend. The What Are You doing New Year’s Eve thing, aside from being a lovely song that chokes me up when I hear it, is a manufactured pressure situation by which those who subscribe to it will judge you for exactly two minutes. But only those who subscribe to it. My friends really didn’t do much of anything. I think they all stayed home with their significant others or maybe just a few friends, and in more than one case, a good DVD. One of my co-workers said she and a couple of other people were just hanging out, wearing sweats and playing board games.

Which, you have to admit, sounds kind of awesome.

If there’s something to do or somewhere to go, I’m happy to do it. But I’m glad I’m past trying to impress people with where I went or who I saw or what I wore. I am definitely not interested it trying to find parking spot or a square inch of space to occupy in which no one will spill a drink (or worse) on me. I am completely uninterested in trying to convince a schnockered 24-year-old that she is draped across my car, not the car belonging to the guy she met two hours ago, and that no, it is not okay for her to just stay there and have me drive her to him.

There was a TV on at work, affording me the opportunity to reconfirm that the formerly Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC has become absolutely unwatchable. Around 9:30 or so, I caught a glimpse of some blonde woman who may have been Jenny McCarthy under seven layers of mascara, interviewing some people who said they’d eaten nothing but Power Bars since 9am and hadn’t used the bathroom since around two in the afternoon. Jenny or whoever it was managed to say the word “Blackberry” three times in a one-minute period. I noticed a little graphic on the bottom of the screen showing the corporate logo. Apparently, here in American culture, 2012 is The Year of the Blackberry. And that was all immediately after they put up a graphic that said the #3 resolution for 2012 was to “get in a relationship.” First of all, how can you resolve to do that? “That’s it! This year I’m going to have a girl/boyfriend, dammit! By force, if necessary!” Secondly… “Get in a relationship”? that’s just bad grammar.

***Poster’s note: in talking with Sister 2 just after midnight, I was reminded that her friend Andy resolved last year to find a girlfriend in 2011, and now he’s engaged. Bugger. I hereby declare him to be the exception to the rule. 

Here’s the deal: the only thing that makes New Year’s Eve unlike any other night is that lots of people stand around in various states of inebriation and possibly of clothing, and at midnight, a bunch of people start yelling and various items drop from poles, the most famous of which is a sparkly ball.

No different from a strip club, really.

Anyway, you know what I realized as I hated on the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve show? Everything they do now is geared toward young people. Younger than me. Which means even those people are staying home more and counting on Ryan Seacrest and Justin Bieber (who shows up everywhere, seriously… New Year’s Resolution 2012: End Bieber Fever. Some people want to cure cancer.  My thing might be a more realistic goal.) to see them through to 2012. Which means they didn’t have anywhere to go, either. And apparently, millions and millions of people have not had anywhere to go, since New Year’s Eve 1972 when Dick Clark started the special.

On the seventh day of Christmas (AKA New Year’s Eve), I rang in the new year grateful for everything and everyone that blessed me in 2011, and praying that they would all be blessed in 2012, even if I couldn’t see them at 12:01am.

May 2012 bring you joy, peace, grace and health.

And good blog posts.

And an end to Bieber Fever.


On the Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas, I kind of thought a little bit about what I’d learned in 2011. In order to understand the significance of this quasi-navel-gazing, you have to understand that, while I freaking excel at navel-gazing, I really don’t ever use the end of a given year to look back on it and figure out where I am as compared to where I was when the year began. I find that process kind of depressing.

I suppose that means I’m doing it wrong.

Anyway, looking back has always seemed counter-productive to me. It’s why I don’t keep a journal or diary; every time I’ve written down a bunch of personal feelings and thoughts and re-read them months later, I’ve wanted to throw the stupid book across a room in disgust. Gah, me. You are so annoying sometimes. Plus, it’s just too much all at once. I prefer to do my soul-wrenching introspection in smaller, more random doses. My friend Joey does a lot of reflecting at the end of the year and also on his birthday, and sometimes those phone conversations are just agonizing. I wish he would just let himself off the hook and move forward.

So when I started suddenly wondering what I’d learned and putting some thoughts together, I felt rather surprised by the pull. Now, though, as I’m sitting here typing this, I’m feeling something more like dread. A roiling in my stomach. A definite threat that, at some point, I’m going to cry.

See why I don’t do this?

It’s not that I don’t think I’m in a good place as compared to where I was last year. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m in a different place at all, really, but that’s alright. Unlike Joey, I don’t feel the need to move mountains and leap tall buildings in the course of one year. What do you do the next year? You’re going to be miserably disappointed in yourself and calling me to whine about it. I know it. I’ve done some stuff. Moved past a couple things. Helped some people, I think. I’m good with that.

It doesn’t help that every website, aggregate, TV network and magazine is doing their year-ender pieces full of “looks back” at various categories of things deemed Best and Worst: political doings, celebrity habits, movies, news items, and, of course, the beloved Homage To Famous People Who Died This Year (my money’s on Etta James by the time the ball drops).

Yes, I’m twisted. You’re surprised by this? You must be new.

Anyway. Deep breath. Here goes.


Things I’ve Learned In 2011

Good fences make good neighbors. Ten miles’ distance make even better neighbors.

My taste has evolved quite a bit recently. I used to love candy. Now I find it too sweet. These days I far prefer for my sugar to be mixed with flour, butter and eggs.

It’s okay to just not care sometimes.

When feeling uninspired, it may be best to sit down and just make myself write something. And not infrequently, I will produce the worst crap I have ever written in my life.

Never buy a car with a cloth interior. It will pick up everything but men and money.

A clean home matters much less than a good friend. But a good friend is an excellent motivator to have a clean home. (So is a stupid faulty carbon monoxide detector.)

Do not get a smoke/carbon monoxide detector combo. It will tell you you’re about to die in the middle of the night when you’re totally not going to die. Or you might. Hard to say with those combos.

I will probably never separate reds from darks.

Sometimes it’s better just to not answer the phone when you know the conversation is going to go badly, be it because of your mood or theirs.

There is such a thing as a biceps femoralis. You don’t know about it, but it’s in your leg, and it will hurt you for days if you go roller skating past the age of 20. (I debated the age.)

Nothing beats the enthusiastic and happy-to-see-you hug of a child.

No matter how much I like to be a bum, I feel better if I’ve been productive. This will not, however, stop me from being a bum.

Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to. Do ask questions you should know the answers to… even if the answers hurt.

Sometimes my gut is an idiot.

The Learning Channel teaches me very little except that there are entire categories of people I did not know I can’t stand.

It is not hard to love someone. What is hard is to be secure in that love. What is harder still is to know whether it is foolish to love. And hardest of all is to know whether being foolish might be worth it.

I still hate English Baroque music. I will never grow to appreciate it. Not happening.

Trust what you know about yourself, but ask a question once in a while to be sure.

There is no longer nearly as much stigma to online dating as there used to be. I just watched an entire group of co-workers look over another co-worker’s shoulder at her eHarmony matches. The guys were so judgey!

Showing someone who seeks my counsel that I, too, am a complete neurotic mess is often more helpful to them than making them think I’m not.

It is bad to overdose on that over-the-counter stuff that makes UTIs stop hurting. Unless you want to see what day-glo vomit looks like.

Writing a blog has not exactly been what I hoped or expected. I have not done what I set out to do. But I have enjoyed what I have done, and I have found a wonderful bunch of writers and readers that I look forward to seeing every day on my screen.

Years of ordinary friendship add up to extraordinary support.

There is a difference between being loved and being liked. Sometimes it is hard to know which is best.

A compliment from a total stranger can make someone’s day. Be the stranger.


I was right. On the sixth day of Christmas, I did a little reflecting… and it made me cry a little. But it made me smile, too.

What have you learned this year?

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, I thought I might die.

I had just gotten home from the grocery store when I was struck by an incredible pain in my abdomen. It felt like the worst heartburn I’d ever had… and I’ve had some brutal heartburn. I couldn’t figure out why it attacked me so suddenly. I had, I admit, opened a bag of cinnamon sugar pita chips in the car on the way home, but I didn’t eat that many. Still, maybe the cinnamon…

I didn’t have any antacid at home, so I debated a different antidote and settled on some milk. I settled on that because it was the only thing I had that might work. It had already been opened, about nine days before. The sell-by date was Dec. 25.

 Eh. Close enough.

But as I worked in the kitchen, putting groceries away, the heartburn didn’t subside. In fact, it got worse. I started cooking a pot of chili and kept drinking the milk. The spices were in a heap on top of the chopped onion and peppers and meat and tomatoes when the burning in my stomach suddenly ratcheted itself up by a factor of five and I nearly doubled over. Was the milk bad after all? I leaned on the counter to finish the stirring and left the pot to simmer while I headed to the bathroom to deal with still more developing symptoms.

I started to sweat and got a little shaky, so I peeled off my sweater. And then everything started graying at the edges.

Oh, no. Not this again.

Leaving out a bunch of details, suffice it to say that I once had to have emergency surgery because I was bleeding out into my abdominal cavity. The experience that led me to surgery felt a lot like this one was starting to feel. Including the passing out. What with having lost 40% of my blood supply to my belly.

The advantage of having gone through that fun little episode, however, is that I can now self-diagnose internal hemorrhaging. That’s a handy skill to have. But even though this was starting to feel like I might be slowly dying in a way akin to the effects of the Ebola virus (again), I knew it couldn’t have been from the same instigator. I put my head on my knees to avoid unconsciousness and ran through a very short known list of Reasons To Start Spontaneously Bleeding To Death Inside. I lit on the only explanation I could fathom.

Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Well. This is going to suck.

I checked my pulse. Kinda slowish. As with the last time (when I had no idea what was happening), I started debating what to do. Do I wait and see if I get better? It would be really embarrassing if I got to the ER, let out a massive fart, and then felt fine. Do I drive myself there? It’s only a mile and a half. Or do I call an ambulance? Ugh… that sounds awful. What about Jack? I knew he was meeting one of his friends for dinner but he hadn’t left yet. If I had at least 30 minutes left to live before absolutely requiring medical intervention, I could call him. I could recite a litany of information and explain the symptoms in detail to him on the way to the ER so that he’d be informed of all my needs and history before I slipped into the oblivion of cardiac arrest.

When the immediate threat of unconsciousness passed and the sweats subsided, I shuffled to the couch. Knowing that sitting up would be bad for a bleeder, but lying down would be the worst thing for some sort of demonic reflux, I settled for something halfway between. In that position, I felt better. But when I stood up to stir the chili, the fuzzy-headed threat of fainting came back. Every time that happened, I worried that I really was bleeding out again. The disadvantage to having gone through that fun little episode is that now I know what it’s like to have my gut cut open and lots of blood sucked out with a wet/dry ShopVac, and frankly, I’d love not to do that again. The doctor had told me post-op that I’d lost more than enough blood to warrant a transfusion, but that my hematocrit and hemoglobin levels were good and I was only 25 at the time, and the hospital was very low on blood, so they’d opted to make me do the replenishing work myself and save the blood for a severe trauma.  I don’t want to deny a couple pints to a guy who just got run over by a cement mixer, but you’d be surprised by the lingering effects of that kind of blood loss without the boost of a transfusion.

And then, two hours after the whole thing started, as suddenly as it had come upon me, the pain left. Just… stopped. I wondered if my aorta had miraculously healed itself. I had, after all, said a prayer for help. Maybe that was it. Whatever it was, I was grateful.

On the fifth day of Christmas, I thanked God I just had heartburn. Apparently.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, I woke up feeling like the holiday had never even happened, like I was still anticipating it. Except I did absolutely nothing productive for the first time in a month. And I liked it. The always-comical visit to Art the Indistinguishably Asian Massage Therapist (“What you been doeeeng? Yoah IT band tiiight.”) was the only thing that motivated me to even take a shower before 5pm. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that said, “Your home is still a God-forsaken mess. Do something about it” with a counter-argument that this was my do-nothing day, cleaning and laundry would ruin the physical therapy, and I would do it today instead. I won the argument.

In the evening, I headed out to meet up for dinner and drinks with my friend John. We had agreed on a funky little neighborhood in the city that we, I realized as I parked, tend to flock to pretty consistently this time of year. It’s full of a great combination of kitschy shops and antique stores, approachable restaurants with appealing menus and wacky decor, and houses with I mean ridiculous amounts of lights and decorations on their postage-stamp yards. In any other place, I find this amount of decoration tacky and trashy. Any other place but here.

I smiled as I walked the two blocks from my parking spot to the restaurant, passing toasty (from drink, not layers of clothing) people in Santa hats out for a holiday stroll. I love it when a community doesn’t end Christmas at midnight on the 25th. It gives us all a chance to enjoy the vibe when the craziness of the holiday is done. In my long red zip-up hooded fleece from my Crazy Aunt (the fourth zip-up fleece I’ve received in a row now), I looked like Little Red Riding Hood reflected in the storefront windows. The air was cold and clear. The people on the street were happy and pink-faced, walking in clouds of breath-fueled vapor. It felt like Christmas.

The restaurant was just the right kind of full, so John and I opted to sit at the bar rather than wait 15 minutes for a table (not that we thought 15 minutes was long). We met about eight years ago through Jack, but we hadn’t seen each other in months, so we toasted the season with our beverages and set about the catching up. John is one of the most naturally interesting people I know. It’s not that he’s got an amazing life or anything; it’s just that he’s so easy to talk to while being very, very smart. He’s 53, but the only giveaway is the ratio of salt to pepper in his hair. He’s handsome without being obvious, 6’3″ without being imposing. He’s got a great laugh. And he’s an idea guy. His brain works in really fun ways without being crazy. In a past life, he worked for an investment firm, but now he’s a renaissance man, and not the annoying kind who only says that’s what he is while wearing a pinky ring and a dickie. He’s developing several nonfiction TV series right now, two that are in some stage of greenlight or another. Which is sort of crazy considering he lives in our humble city in a tiny house (with a stupidly high property tax rate). He’s got brilliant, audience-ready concepts out the wazoo, but presently precious little income. “I’m thinking if my plans for prosperity in 2012 don’t work out, I might put myself up for adoption,” he deadpanned. Then he picked up my tab.

He’s the kind of friend that makes you feel cooler just by being your friend.

Alight on our stools, me with a quesadilla and he with a po’boy sandwich, we updated each other on our lives, our jobs (well, our work – he’s a renaissance man, he don’ work for nobody), our families and how we spent the holiday. He got the bartender to pour me another glass of wine when I felt certain I’d done something to make him hate and therefore ignore me. (I had turned down his suggestion of French dressing on my salad…might that have done it?) Other than the unaware bartender, the world faded away as two friends spent an evening in warm and comfortable conversation, and vowed (as we always do) to do it again soon.

On the fourth day of Christmas, I soaked up the joy of city living and easy friendship.

On the Second Day of Christmas

On the Second Day of Christmas, I wished I could wear pajamas to work. But since only one boss was around and she dresses very questionably on a good day, I settled on jeans, a comfy sweater, glorious cushiony flats and a pair of Christmas socks. They don’t light up or anything. They just have red and white polka dots on them. They’re festive. I also wore the Christmas watch that Santa gave me, which features a holiday-colored tartan wristband and snowflakes on the very large face. It will make my moth–uh, Santa– happy to know I wore it. Santa is always wasting her money on little “extra” gifts that my sisters and I will never, ever use or wear. It’s cute, in a useless way. She makes us all wait and open that particular gift at the same time so there’s no big reveal that ruins the tartan wristband snowflake watch surprise for anybody else, and then all four of us look at each other while trying to summon a face that doesn’t disappoint her. Poor Santa.

On the 26th, I had no food in the house other than superfluous cookies which I didn’t even want to look at. So at work, I ordered miso soup and lettuce wraps for dinner like a Jewish girl who’d misplaced her calendar. (What? Two of my [six] bosses are Jewish. They said it too.) I happily slurped and munched my Chinese food because it didn’t contain a single carb or fried thing or cream cheese-based substance, and therefore, like Christmas itself, it would lead to salvation. Though not so much from sin and damnation as from the stuff I had mindlessly nibbled the day before while pirouetting around my parents’ kitchen playing sous-chef and sommelier to a huge holiday meal. When my dad swore at the turkey and asked when my generation was going to take over, I told him the whole crew is welcome to schlep the road trip to my place and back for the sake of not having to prepare the meal… just as soon as I buy a house. Minutes later, he told the grown-up table that he and my mother would host Thanksgiving in 2012.

I think he’d been too much into the wine and cold medicine.

Speaking of being too much into the wine… Jack and I managed to do Christmas on the 26th since he begged off on the 25th, citing prohibitive discomfort from a meal much heavier than what his marathon-running system is used to. He came over when I got done with work Monday night, bearing a wrapped box of happiness: six bottles of yummy wine. “I had help,” he told me. Jack is not a wine drinker, and therefore has no earthly idea what’s good and what’s not other than by guessing from the price tags. So, God love him, he asked the guy at the liquor store for guidance and stocked me up with excellent choices.

I think he’s trying to take advantage of me.

Might work.

Jack is one of those guys who doesn’t want anything he doesn’t have, and if he does, he’ll buy it for himself, so finding a gift for him is a challenge every year. Fortunately, I’m learning to key in when he says he likes something. In this case, it was a photo I’d taken during a little autumn shoot on a nature trail. He runs on the trail, and when he saw the shot, he told me how much he loved it. As in, he had a litany of thoughtful reasons. Score. Blow it up, buy a pre-fab frame, wrap it, put a bow on it. You’re done. This resulted in what I find to be one of the best things about Christmas: watching a loved one adore a gift you’ve picked out especially for them. The dear man even graced me with the assumption that I’d had the frame and matte custom-made.

Oh, Target. You are my best friend.

I couldn’t let him think that, though. He’d feel bad about the expense. So I fumbled my way around the reality – that I bought the pre-made frame at Target – and came up with “I didn’t go that route.”

Sometimes the lesson of Christmas is how to be graceful about being a cheap-ass.

With the running and rush of the holiday over and the day at work behind me, the Second Night of Christmas glowed in the light of the tree and the candles, and the quiet joy of a gift well-received and a companion well-loved. After the chaos and commotion of the day before, we spent the evening in calm relaxation. In his Christmas sermon at my parents’ new church, the priest had told us that the night of Jesus’ birth was almost certainly not silent. For Jack and me, the night after it was blessedly close.

On the First Day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, I was at my parents’ new house. We had spent the two days before that doing little things to get ready, like still getting their stuff out of boxes and putting furniture where it was supposed to be, along with all the usual Christmas stuff people do, like decorating the tree and cleaning bathrooms and inspecting nooks and crannies for cobwebs. And then there was Actual Christmas.

8am: I’m up. Mom and Dad have been up probably for an hour. Low-energy why-do-you-people-drink-such-weak-ass-coffee gift exchange ensues between me, parents and Sister 3, who is 21 and has a nasty cold, and therefore is basically comatose and speaking in monosyllabic grunts.

9am: in the shower. Dad making scrapple and eggs. Yummy food smells. More coffee.

9:30am: breakfast. Mom’s head begins revolving on neck. Apparently no one else notices.

9:50am: must do something with hair. Not optional.

10:00am: Mom, Sister 3 and I get in car to head to 93-year-old grandfather’s house for 90-minute visit. 90 minutes! Not a minute longer! Dad is home cooking and needs help.

10:47am: At grandfather’s house visiting with him and Crazy Aunt. Vaguely racist references leak out in course of normal conversation between Crazy Aunt and Mom. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me blink and stiffen up but is perfectly normal in gatherings of a certain generation and a certain skin color, with just a slight twist because Crazy Aunt is crazy. Ah, family togetherness: a chance to realize you might be adopted, after all.

10:51am: Mom complains that the Midnight Mass from the Vatican featured too many closeups of the Pope’s gold rings. “That’s just the media’s way of slamming the Church.”  I try to be gentle as I explain that the people who do the broadcast are, in fact, the Vatican. She remains displeased. I suggest she write letter to Vatican.

12:00pm: back in the car people. Back in the car!

12:31pm: back at Mom & Dad’s house. Off with the heels, on with the sweater socks to last until real people show up around 4:30 and I have to look like a grownup.

(Yes, my parents moved into a new house from a different state and hosted Christmas dinner for 20 adults and five small children like three days later.)

(That is a slight exaggeration.)

(But only slight.)

1pm: Sister 2, BIL 2 and Youngest Neph arrive. Youngest Neph is still in footie pajamas, ready for nap to avoid mammoth meltdown in course of long day still ahead. I might have given anything for my own footie pajamas and nap. Denied, because I’m 34 and helping with dinner instead of lying in crib blissfully with new toy and no obligations whatsoever, including no obligation not to mess my own pants. (Or anyone else’s, for that matter.)

1:36pm: wasps enter family room inexplicably. Wasps on Christmas in Pennsylvania? Theory: fireplace brickface is separating from wall in new house. Might be nest between bricks and wall. Fire is smoking wasps out. Fantastic.

1:38pm: Dad learns theory. Swears for first time of day.

2pm: Sister 1, BIL 1 and Twin Nephs add selves to mix. Twin Nephs have brought remote-control cars to crash into new house’s walls. WTF, Sister 1?

2:07pm: Youngest Neph wakes up from nap. Calamity around tree begins in earnest with second shift of gift-opening featuring two four-year-olds and a 21-month old who got a super-cool retro red Radio Flyer tricycle with bell on handlebars. Mayhem? Um… yes.

2:18pm: I envy Youngest Neph’s tricycle. Would nix bell, ride off to someplace quieter. Like an active runway.

2:45 – 4:15pm: kitchen dance gets underway. Dad, Mom and I do-si-do. All bleeding avoided. Almost. Dad swears for second time. And third.

4:15pm: BIL 2’s parents arrive. I ruefully remove sweater socks and put on Big Girl shoes.

4:16 – 4:35pm: inhale appetizers. Warmly greet arrivals. With more appetizers. Bask in glow of family.

5:00pm: appointed wine czarina. Good job. Will work for booze.

5:06pm: resisted own glass of wine for six minutes. New record. I win. Merry Christmas,  cabernet.

5:13pm: Dad checks turkey. Swears fourth & fifth time.

5:30pm: appointed vegetable supervisor. Fill bowl with frozen broccoli to steam in microwave. Doesn’t all fit. Entirely unnecessary discussion with Mom over 1/5 bag of broccoli. “Is this still frozen?” “Yes.” “You can’t refreeze it.” “It’s good, Mom, I just got it out of the freezer.” “Just throw it out.” “Mom.”  “Throw it out!”

5:31pm: hide remaining still-frozen broccoli behind microwave. Will make when first bowl is done.

5:33pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long broccoli will take, how long peas will take.  Turkey is three minutes behind schedule.

5:35pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Swears sixth time. Wonders at cooking time of frozen peas.

5:41pm: whispered, intense talks between Mom and Dad re: readiness of turkey, fallibility of oven in new house.

5:42pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Turkey now 12 minutes behind schedule. Dad swears seventh time.

5:50pm: Dad orders Sister 2 to pour dinner beverages for everyone.

6:01pm: beverages warming in glasses. Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Turkey 31 minutes behind schedule.

6:12pm: commence flurry of veggie plating. Broccoli for three tables: check. Corn for three tables: check. Green bean casserole for three tables: check. Peas for three tables: why do we have so many damned peas? Only three people in this family even eat peas. We needed four bags? Dad yells at 22 other people to sit down, lifts turkey out of oven. Swears eighth through eleventh times.

6:14pm: grace. Mom cries. Dad swears twelfth time. Unrelated to grace.

6:17pm: all veggies plated and on tables.

6:20pm: Dinner guests nibble on cold vegetables. Dad swears thirteenth time. Happy holidays, glass of chardonnay.

6:22pm: I sit down.

6:25pm: first plate of turkey finds first table.

— Meal break —

6:52pm: Dad sits down. Offers toast. Chokes up.

6:54pm: I remember stupid 1/5th bag of frozen broccoli hidden behind microwave. Swear for first time. Get up, throw bag out. Mom doesn’t notice. I win.

7:12 – 8:30pm: eat more, clear plates, eat dessert. General festiveness and conversation. Season’s greetings, fresh glass of chardonnay.

8:30p – 9:10pm: extended family gift exchange. Twin Nephs “help” selected relatives open gifts. Fun (read: potentially life-threatening) games and tomfoolery between little kids and Fun Uncle.

9:10pm: dishes.

9:17pm: fatigue sets in.

9:23pm: Sister 1 yells at me for telling Twin Nephs to stop running through kitchen while she is standing. Right. There. (Not telling them.)

9:24pm: limit reached. Time to go. Still doing dishes. Why is parents’ dishwasher so flipping small?

9:45pm: wonder whether Jack will be impatient for me to arrive at his house after road trip home.

9:55pm: exhaustion threatens; mood drops. All parts hurt. Feet vicious. Dishes not done.

10:00pm: throwing in towel. Literally. Slip away to gather belongings. Pack car. Re-enter for goodbyes.

10:10pm: pull away from house in blissful silence of car. Remove shoes. Wonder why people move in December. Contemplate interesting correlation between physical and mental exhaustion and mood swings. Feel guilty. Cry a little. Drive in complete wonderful silence for one hour. Listen to Christmas music for remaining trip.

10:47pm: Jack begs off via phone, citing stomach issue.

Sometime after midnight: arrive home. Silent night. Holy crap, are my feet swollen. Drop all belongings upon entry. Crawl into bed, grateful for a big family full of love and faith and good cooks and cute kids and sarcasm and humor and generosity and varying degrees of insanity… and a day off to enjoy with all of them, even when I feel guilty for leaving and for being glad I don’t live there.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

My best wishes to all of you for a beautiful season of peace, love, happiness, warmth and absolute mind-bending family time. Thank you for reading!