muffled steps outside

“In the Christmas Night” by John Bauer

The snow is lying very deep.
My house is sheltered from the blast.
I hear each muffled step outside,
I hear each voice go past.

But I’ll not venture in the drift
Out of this bright security,
Till enough footsteps come and go
To make a path for me.

~ Agnes Lee
(The Second Book of Modern Verse:
A Selection from the Work of Contemporaneous American Poets

a single evergreen sapling

“Helga Ancher Sitting by the Christmas Tree” by Anna Ancher

Even though the use of evergreens dates back to the Greeks and Romans, the use of the holiday tree is said to have originated in the eighth century Germany. Legend has it that the Christian St. Boniface was trying to convert a group of Druids. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t convince them that the oak tree was neither sacred nor invincible. In desperation, he finally cut one down. When the tree fell, it crushed everything in its path but a single evergreen sapling. Boniface declared it a miracle, then proclaimed that the fir tree belonged to the Christ-child. After that, trees were brought into homes as holiday decorations. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century, however, that the Germans thought to decorate the branches. Some historians say that the first ornaments — fruit, nuts, and cookies — were used as offerings to thank the spirit of the tree.
~ Dorothy Morrison
(Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth)


just before take-off
just before take-off (Dec. 20)

Parents of very tiny humans have a delightful way of inventing new words. Snarfelly is one, new to me at least. Katie had a cold when she embarked on her first trip by airplane to visit both sets of her grandparents in Connecticut, and other assorted friends and family. The breathing through her congested nose was dubbed snarfelling by her attentive parents.

When Larisa emailed me this picture from the jet before taking off my already high levels of anticipation of holding my granddaughter intensified tenfold. We were getting ready for our solstice gathering, which turned out to be the biggest one we’ve had in years – twelve adults, two teens and  two babies. And Larisa, Dima and Katie arrived right in the middle of the festivities.

We had Katie and her parents here for three wonderful days, even though everyone except for me was sick. One night Katie’s parents went out and Tim & I got to babysit. When I was changing her diaper, Tim gently jiggled her little rib cage and Katie laughed! She looked so surprised! We’re pretty sure we were the first ones to hear her laugh – what a gift!

Katie's parents help with opening her gifts
Katie’s parents help with opening her gifts (Dec.22)

The day before they left my sister and brother-in-law came down and we had an early Christmas. Then Katie and her parents were off to visit her other grandparents and great-grandmothers for a few days. Larisa sent emails and pictures saying Katie was getting less snarfelly every day.

less snarfelly (Dec. 25)
less snarfelly (Dec. 25)

It was such a joy to hold my little Katie so often during those three days. And once when she was taking a nap I just lay down next to her as she slept. I was going to read, but never actually picked up my Kindle, I was content to watch her sleep. Lost in awareness, thinking of my last baby becoming an amazing mother to her first baby. I love that Larisa is careful to keep as many carcinogens as possible away from her little one.

A first child is your own best foot forward, and how you do cheer those little feet as they strike out. You examine every turn of flesh for precocity, and crow it to the world. But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after – oh, that’ s love by a different name.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
(The Poisonwood Bible)

just before take-off on her trip home (Dec. 28)
just before take-off on her trip home (Dec. 28)

I have not been active in the blogosphere these past couple of months – I know I’ve missed many of my friend’s posts – and responding to comments on my own posts I’ve woefully neglected. I had surgery to remove a benign but bothersome cyst on my middle toe on November 12. Recovery seemed to be going well for a week and half when I woke up one morning in a lot of pain because an infection had developed. And the infection turned out to be a very stubborn one. The antibiotic I was given made me queasy much of the time. Not being able to keep a shoe on my foot for very long made decorating for the holidays and even routine household chores difficult. It was a good thing I had seeing Katie to look forward to to keep my spirits up!

When WordPress sent me my blog’s statistics for 2014 I was startled to see how long it had been since I posted anything. Laurie, Kathy, Sybil and Diane turned out to be my four most active commenters – thank you so very much for all your thoughtful comments over the year!

The post most viewed was Cat Cataracts, even though no one commented on it this year, posted back in 2011! And people from 114 countries viewed this blog. It makes me wonder about them – were they just passing through or do they return for more? When you think about it, the internet is an astonishing thing.

asleep with new toy in hand (Dec. 30)

I am so grateful for family. Tim & I had fun spending Christmas morning on Skype with Nate, Shea and Dominic, all the way down there in Georgia. And also Christmas afternoon here with Bonnie, Kia and Khari. We saw the third installment of “The Hobbit.” We’re planning a trip to Germany, Norway and Italy. Zoë loves to sit between us , purring contentedly, when we watch TV in the evening. And we have plans to see Katie in January.

Happy New Year!

fourth day

12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia
12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia

…we heard it was snowing in Connecticut, but alas, we were in Georgia…

12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia
12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia

Our car ride from Virginia to Georgia was long and grueling, but we finally made it to our destination very late Thursday night. It was so wonderful to see Nate & Shea again, and the rest of their multi-generational family: Shea’s mom, Angie, who so generously gave us her room for a few days, and Shea’s sister Sarah and her two little boys, Julius and Dominic. It is a full house, but a big house, and we thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality we were shown. Angie is a fabulous cook and kindly catered to our food quirks!

12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia
Dominic and Nate ~ 12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia

We brought the little guys some Lego bricks sets as a gift. Dominic adores his Uncle – and the feeling is mutual – so we got a kick out of watching Nate help him build his little Lego helicopter.

12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia
Dominic ~ 12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia

Dominic loves bugs and animals and I enjoyed reading his dinosaur book to him. Thankfully it had a pronunciation guide. Little ones have so much energy!!!

On the fifth day of Christmas Nate, Shea, Tim and I drove into Florida and ate lunch at Bahama Breeze, a Caribbean seafood restaurant in Jacksonville – the food was great and the atmosphere was tropical. Then the four of us went to see Life of Pi in 3D – it was the 3rd time for me and the 2nd time for Tim, but not in 3D before. The 3D experience was better than I thought it would be!

After we returned to the house we were treated to a spectacular sunset, Georgia style, which kind of made up for missing our snowstorm…

12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia
12.28.12 ~ Kingsland, Georgia

On the sixth day of Christmas the guys watched football while Shea read her new Nook, a Christmas gift, and I read my old Kindle. Later Tim & I sat up late (late by my standards anyway) into the night with Nate, talking about the movie, interplanetary travel, quantum physics, gun control, and assorted other existential and scientific topics. I am always amazed by these conversations because Nate seems to have gotten his logical side from Tim and his sense of wonder from me in perfectly balanced proportion.

On the seventh day of Christmas we started the long journey home, from southern Georgia to northern Virginia. Lady Zoë was looking for me and let me pet her again, but still was not ready to sit on my lap.

On the eighth day of Christmas we drove from Virginia to Connecticut, resisting the urge to stop by Dima & Larisa’s, but thrilled to find snow still on the ground in Connecticut! Winter is finally here and I hope it plans to stick around for a little while this year. And our Christmas tree was still standing and looking as pretty as when we left – we had been afraid that a week without watering would be the end of her. All in all, it was a wonderful trip!

second day

12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia
12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia ~ an impressive Santa collection

Driving from New York City to northern Virginia the day after Christmas is something we probably will never do again! We were stuck in crawling traffic in the rain and wintry mix of precipitation most of the way and were so relieved to finally reach our destination! We enjoyed a lovely evening out at a new restaurant and at the home of Tim’s brother and sister-in-law we found a very lovely white pine Christmas tree, decorated in red and gold.

12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia
12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia

This is my friend, Zoë, (below) taking her morning sun bath as we were getting ready to depart the next morning. My sister-in-law has a very kind heart and has opened her home to a feral cat and three of her kittens. (They have all been spayed now.) The mother won’t come inside, but the younger ones have learned about the comforts to be found in human dwellings. But Zoë, perhaps taking cues from her mother, is not friendly and had some insulting names given to her, which I won’t mention here.

12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia
12.26.12 ~ Woodbridge, Virginia ~ Zoë

For some reason, when we were visiting in November for Thanksgiving, Zoë decided she liked me and let me pet her and then started to purr! She seemed to like the name Zoë so I renamed her. My sister-in-law was astonished because even though she treated this one kindly she had never warmed up to her like the other two eventually did. When I returned on this trip a month later Zoë remembered me and let me pet her again. I felt very honored! I invited her to sit on my lap and she considered it, but decided she wasn’t ready for that much contact yet. Who knows what might happen when we meet again?

The longest leg of the trip was next, northern Virginia to southern Georgia!

winter solstice

12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut
my new reindeer ornament! ~ 12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut

We will be doing a lot of celebrating this holiday season, planning to enjoy family and five different Christmas trees, including our own. Tim has a vacation this year so we’re off to visit our children and siblings soon. But first we had our winter solstice gathering here, enjoying candlelight dining, music and good conversation with dear friends on the longest night of the year.

12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut
12.22.12 ~ Groton, Connecticut

On Saturday Tim & I and Dima & Larisa went to celebrate with my sister, brother-in-law, aunt and father at their little house in the Connecticut woods. My sister has been dreaming of a boxwood Christmas tree and this turned out to be the year she found one! Isn’t it pretty? So simple and sweet. I think she may be planning to plant it outside in the spring.

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

The ancient ones were delighted to see Larisa and seemed to be enjoying the festivities, but we didn’t stay too long because they do tire out from all the bustling excitement of having company. The four of them will be having a quiet Christmas dinner on the 25th. We’ll be heading for New York, Virginia and Georgia.

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Auntie and Larisa ~ 12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I brought Dad some clementines and fondly watched him enjoy peeling and eating one. Sometimes I hesitate to share pictures of him because part of me wants to remember him the way he looked when I was a child…

12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Papa ~ 12.22.12 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After my mother died Dad and I used to drive up to Cape Cod to visit her parents, my beloved grandparents. He always brought along a little supply of fruit. As I was the driver, he would cut the fruit into bite size pieces with his pocket knife and share them with me, popping mine into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to take my hands off the steering wheel.

Most of the time Larisa was with us, riding in the back seat, and sometimes Auntie would come, too. One summer day when we were using the air conditioning in the car, Larisa had brought some chocolate with her. We stopped at a rest area to use the facilities and she left her chocolate in the car. When we returned to the car she was very disappointed to find her chocolate melted into a gooey puddle. But not to worry! Grandpa took that glob of chocolate and held it out close to the air conditioning vent in the dashboard for many miles until the chocolate had hardened up again. If his arm got tired he never mentioned it. That’s grandfather love for you!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!
~ Charles Dickens
(The Pickwick Papers)

a house full of little ones

12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts
Lizzie, 5, made this drawing, a Christmas gift for me ~ 12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts

Viktor and Aneta Urich of Grande Prairie [Alberta, Canada] welcomed the birth of their 100th grandchild earlier this month – newborn Henry Urich, ninth child of Tatjana and Heinrich Urich. Heinrich is one of Viktor and Aneta’s 16 children.

How does he keep them all straight?

“Good question,” laughs Viktor, 62. “Sometimes when I look, I say ‘What’s your name?'”

(The Canadian Press)

And we thought we were confused!

12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts
Clarice playing hide and seek with unidentified imp ~ 12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts

Yesterday we went to visit Tim’s cousin in Massachusetts, who was hosting a family Christmas gathering. Four generations, ranging in age from 2 to 75 years old. Twenty-seven people in all, including one aunt, four cousins, nine second cousins, two third cousins, and not to be overlooked, six spouses and significant others and five foster children. Or, using another method for sorting the gang out, fifteen adults, three teens and nine little ones. We had but two hours on our way home to sort out the numbers and connections… Not as impressive as the couple in Alberta but…

We did our share of asking, “What’s your name?”

12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts
Dima & Larisa, familiar faces ~ 12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts

We weren’t there two minutes when little Delyah, 2, inquired “Who are you?” and then put me to work brushing her pony’s hair and fastening barrettes on its tail.

In a little while Nova, 4, sporting sparkly temporary tattoos on her arms, introduced herself and asked me where my tattoos were. (Both her parents have visible tattoos.) I regretted having to disappoint her.

As the afternoon went on, a little one of uncertain age kept saying,”Thanks, Santa,” when Tim would toss one of the balloons her way. Do you think it had something to do with his whitish beard and all the red he was wearing?

12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts
Santa? ~ 12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts

It was wonderful seeing everybody again, and meeting new additions to the clan. A clan that adores its children!

Tim & I got ourselves a new camera for Christmas and it was our first chance to use it. So far we’re very pleased with the results and we have so much more to learn about using it!

Hannah, 9, made this pet rock, a Christmas gift for her dad ~ 12.31.11 ~ Athol, Massachusetts

O Christmas Tree

12.16.11 ~ Old Mystic, Connecticut
Christmas Trees at *Somewhere in Time* (our favorite restaurant) ~ 12.16.11 ~ Old Mystic, Connecticut

Christmas trees are like the moon, best enjoyed with the naked eye. After failing to capture an image on camera that came close to representing what our tree looks like to me, I realized that Christmas trees posses the same mystery and aura as the moon. Lovely Luna is one huge light-reflecting orb who never shows up on the camera the way she looks to us here on the earth. And evergreens brought in for decorating hold in their arms many small lights and orbs (and birds and garlands), radiating an enchanting glow which also never shows up well on the camera. Sigh………. A gentle reminder to stay in the moment and put down the camera… I can’t help wondering if painters have better luck capturing the magic of it all!

12.28.11 ~ Groton, Connecticut
12.28.11 ~ Groton, Connecticut

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Your boughs are green in summer’s clime
And through the snows of wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!

We had a delightful winter solstice party here, eight of us around the dinner table for hours enjoying the tree, the candlelight, the food and music, the conversation of friends and story-telling.

Christmas day we went up to my father’s home. Every time we see Dad (89), Auntie (96), and Bernie (the cat) they seem to be shrinking in old age still more, if that’s even possible. Dad and I had a few quiet moments sharing a few clementines for a snack. I brought them because I know he loves them. Simple precious moments I will cherish forever. Bernie didn’t want to take a walk with me, so I sat with him at the top of the stairs for a while, petting his thin and bony body, talking to him. Then I went out for a walk in the woods by myself before it got dark.

12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
long midwinter shadows on the moss ~ 12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
somehow we managed to ice-skate in this swamp when we were kids ~ 12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
shortly before sunset ~ 12.25.11 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

If the weather cooperates we’ll go to Massachusetts this weekend for still another gathering, this time with Tim’s aunt, three cousins and all their children and grandchildren. It will no doubt be a lively day. How different holiday celebrations can be from one place to the another!

Hope your holidays were merry and bright!