Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retrospective 2009

In contrast to the preceding four years, 2009 was perfectly ordinary, undramatic and almost sleepy in its tenor. It was a good year...

January: On Chinese New Year (January 26), Josh and I made it legal at the Ramsey County courthouse. It was a Monday, bitter cold, and Charlie had some nasty stomach bug, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
February: A squirrel broke into our front porch through the broken storm door and insinuated himself into the bag of bird seed. He stayed until spring.
March: Ellis turned six. Alaska grandparents stayed for a month. My 1993 Honda Civic was stolen from in front of our house.
April: I moved to a part-time schedule at work and got two extra days a week at home with Charlie. With the help of a conscientiously maintained budget, we managed to stay in the black and even purchase "the Ax Van," the sweetest ride for a family of five there ever was.
May: We got the garden planted. We enjoyed our first crop of rhubarb and resisted harvesting the asparagus to give the plants one more year to take hold.
June: Charlie turned one. Nate turned fifteen.
July: We foraged for wild black raspberries all over the Twin Cities. I found I couldn't stop planting this year, so I added perennials in the front yard and planted late crops in the vegetable bed. We traveled to Chicago to say goodbye to my brother-in-law's mom who died early in the month.
August: Note for next year - plant more tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, larger ones sliced and salted or made into salsa were like directly ingesting summer to store up sunlight for the coming winter. It was never too hot so we got outside as much as we could.
September: Alaska grandparents stayed for two months. We snuck in a quick trip to Lake Superior's north shore.
October: I turned thirty-six. Work got crazy for Josh and me at the same time. It snowed and then it got warm again.
November: Josh turned forty-four. He and I started working out regularly and found that we yelled at the children less.
December: We got lost in a wave of holiday-induced nostalgia. It snowed a lot. Josh and I were so grateful for each other and for the life we have together with the kids.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis a good snow...

This is the kind of snow that makes me love Minnesota. Big, fluffy and wet with mild temperatures to go with it. It's the kind that makes me smile even knowing that I will be up in the morning digging out the cars to move for the snow plows. Even knowing that this much snow means that my six-year-old may be stuck in Wisconsin with his dad and grandparents instead of back here on Christmas morning and I'm not really sure what's "Plan B." This is the best of winter - inconvenient and beautiful. You could spend a bunch of time thinking about the former, but if give yourself fully over to the latter, it seems like yet another one of those strange miraculous things. Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas Eve.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quiet House

St. Paul schools are in session through the end of today, Josh is at work and Charlie is at daycare. It's a Tuesday morning and I'm in my house alone. Outside there's a fresh dusting of snow and the sky is a soft, sleepy gray. I've filled the bird feeder and retreated to a quiet house to listen to the laundry turn over and over in the dryer and the sound of my own breath. I have never appreciated silence as much as I do right now.

There is a part of me that is seldom nurtured these days. The times when I am alone are brief - in the car during my commute, working out at the Y or running errands without kids in tow. At each of these times, I still encounter other people, so the solitude is not really complete. The times when I am alone in my own house with the whole world shut out border on never. So I'm using some vacation days to give my inner hermit her due - the part of me that yearns for a house in the woods with a narrow bed, a woodburning stove, some good books, and days and days in between instances of human contact. I want to hear my quiet mind, I want to hear my inner voice, I want to hear nothing.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Ellis woke up with an ear infection on Saturday. I had something funky going on with my sinuses. This was the day that we had planned to make Christmas cookies. We did, but the vision I had in my head about how it would go wasn't quite what happened. The holidays have been like that for me since I was a kid. Expectation and excitement that turns into disappointment and stress. I can say that by this point in my spirtual development, I am at least aware of this pattern in me and can turn it around when I see it happening.
The vision for Christmas Cookie Day 2009 was one of the kind loving mother providing her kids with a holiday experience that would be etched in their memories as an example of the Norman Rockwell-like existence they grew up in. We would make perfect beautiful cookies and laugh and talk together. Instead, I was Cranky Mom with heaping helping of Control Freak Mom. As is often the case, the strength of my vision was directly proportional with my inability to play well with others. I caught on to what I was doing, but it was certainly difficult to come out of the spiral of negativity. On the up side, Ellis said that it was fun anyway, even though I was sharp with him about dumping out a big pile of sprinkles, and everyone enjoyed eating the cookies (or as Charlie calls them, "cahcos").

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Monday, December 14, 2009


Everything about this holiday season is evoking my grandmother, and I'm pleased that it's causing my fondest memories of her to surface and fill me with a strong sense of gratitude for how she influenced me. It's the truth about family that they are your best friends and your worst enemies, and as much as I can conjure up horrible memories of things she said to me that were unkind, I am also able to hear the voice of love and to admire her strongest qualities. She was an artist (though an unrecognized one) and she knew how to make things beautiful. The dreams I have at Christmastime are dreams she planted in me. It seems that every year as soon as the calendar turns to December, I begin craving the foods that she made. I remember those long dark nights with her cooking in the kitchen feeding me treats from the planned feast, and when I got older, a little peppermint schnapps. Every year, it was a smorgasbord - a tradition adopted from her husband's culture - a feast of great variety, eaten and imbibed on a beautifully planned out table. And then there was the generosity. December was a month full of presents, starting with opening one on the day we put up the tree. She couldn't wait to give and to see the excitement on our faces, and I think of her when I can't resist buying one more gift for my dear ones. I will forever think of Christmas as a time for new makeup and perfume and beautiful clothes (as well as art supplies, stuffed animals, and the inevitable post-Christmas trip to buy books to read on the break from school).

I am grateful for being raised by her, although I don't readily admit it. She was my window into a generation that had many foibles, but was indeed a more glamorous and genteel than my own. Because of her, I understand lost social mores and references from popular culture that precede the onset of television. When I take Ellis to a play, I think of how she first introduced me to movie musicals. When I watch the PBS News Hour, I remember the constant consciousness of politics. Even if eventually I didn't agree with her particular politics, she gave me the tools to be an educated citizen. When I buy clothes or cook a meal or decorate my house, I think of her. Even though I did so many things that were decidedly "unladylike" in her mind, she taught me that being a woman could be an incredibly powerful thing and that things that are considered feminine are the heart and soul of our everyday lives.

So in homage to her, I share with you Mary Lundgren's Christmas Smorgasbord (what I remember. Note to my sister: please add to this):
Swedish meatballs
Homemade baked beans
Shrimp cocktail
Pickled Herring
An array of cheeses and crackers (including Boondoost - an excellent Swedish cheese)
Vegetable tray
Egg Nog

And let's not forget...special for Christmas breakfast:
French toast with a mixture of cherry pie filling mixed with maple syrup poured over it and topped with sour cream.

Thank you, Gram, for my sense of luxury!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heading towards the solstice...

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Box of Memories

Today I received a package in the mail from my sister. It was a box full of Christmas tree ornaments that my grandmother used to decorate her trees when I was a little girl. Oh wow! And even though I can only hang my ornaments in the top two-thirds of my tree this year because of grabby little toddler hands, I immediately put on some of my favorites:

I vaguely remember my sister and me joking about the floating disembodied Santa head. Its fluffy beard is awesome!

This little blue guy was my absolute favorite when I was little. It took my breath away when I saw it in the box.

I find that nostalgia is one of my favorite Christmas emotions.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Green

It's a long way to planting season on this side of the winter solstice, but there are a few things that keep the green alive during the long cold season. I found this great evergreen swag at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis to use as a holiday door decoration. It's locally made and fully compostable, so it will have continued life in my garden next year.

Indoor bulb forcing is another one of my winter favorites. The amaryllis (center) is such a decadent rich red flower that reminds me of crimson lips on a starlet or valentine hearts. I also love the strong fragrance of paperwhite narcissus (left & right) that makes the house smell great while they are blooming. Add to that, cool glass containers and earthy stones or sand used for planting, and you add a great tranquil design element to your house. That little bit of peace is added motivation to keep the dining room table clear of all our family junk.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Burger Meister

The Menu...

The Waiter...

The Chef...

Josh and Ellis concocted the idea of turning our house into the finest burger restaurant in St. Paul. If you come to Burger Meister, best to order the "Create Your Own Burger" - a steal at only 50 cents. It'll save you money when you pay for your $17 drink. The service is excellent and the chef is charmingly surly.
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