The annual year-end recap

This is my third year doing Sundry's year end recap. If you care, here's 2008 and 2009.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Watched my child lick an airplane toilet seat.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I made a single word vow: SLOW and called it my Doomed Personal Initiative 2010. It was helpful and difficult and I will be attempting to move slower and be more present for the rest of my life.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Two college friends JUST had their babies. YAY!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes, sadly, we lost both my father-in-law and my cousin suddenly this year. It was a rotten year, in terms of loss. We're hoping for a reprieve in 2011.

5. What countries did you visit?

Sadly, none, though we have plans for a big family trip to Jamaica in February!

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

This is what I said last year: "A sense of connectedness to my new life here in VA. A really good friend here who I can call up and cry/giggle/kvetch with."

I now have have one great friend who I can call and cry/giggle/kvetch with. I'm still searching for that elusive "sense of connectedness". I would love to feel more like a "Virginian". I want this house, this town, this state to be my home and I know that just takes time and effort.

I want to feel part of a community.

I want to feel like I belong.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

July 6th, 2010, the day my father-in-law suffered an aortic dissection. The next day, instead of me flying to Massachusetts for my cousin's funeral, CG flew to Arizona to be with his father for the last time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Accepting that all my hard work, all my daily efforts, were not enough to keep me on an even keel. Acknowledging that I was not the parent, or person, I wanted to be and starting to take an antidepressant. It was a big step for me. And the right one.

(It's been two months. I didn't mention it before now because... I wasn't ready I guess.)

9. What was your biggest failure?

It is always the same: losing my temper. Each and every time it happens I think: who is this monster?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing major for me this year, though my body feels older, sag-ier and creak-ier with each passing year.

11. What was the best thing you bought?


12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I'm thrilled by the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (one of the worst legacies of the Clinton administration, IMO).

Jon Stewart, especially for the Rally to Restore Sanity and his championing of the First Responders Bill.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I'm sorry to get all political on you but what has happened to John McCain? Is this really the legacy he wants to leave behind?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage, insurances, preschool, Wegmans, Target. (and, I will shamefully admit, Amazon. Amazon prime has been my downfall. It's just too easy and fast to get everything and ... I'm lazy.)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The girls. Oh, the girls. They are starting to really and truly play together and the love is so there and WOW. It blows me away.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

Cee Lo Green, "F%ck you". I sing it at top volume and think about my dad's cancer.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Oh, I'm definitely happier. E is sleeping better, for starters. Well, I can actually pretty much start AND stop there because I become someone I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley when I don't get enough sleep.
b) thinner or fatter? um. Same?
c) richer or poorer? Same.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Here's what I said the last two years: "Danced. Cooked. Gardened. Hugged. Written letters. Made phone calls. Reached out."

I am cooking real food more and we started our garden bed this year. I hug the girls as often as they'll let me and my husband as often as we remember that we're living, breathing human beings who love each other, not just snack-procurement/bottom-wiping machines. I still want to reach out more to the people I love, make phone calls, write letters. And make new friends in VA. As an anxious but needy introvert, it's not easy to get my relationship fill.

And doing more dancing has proven to be a big problem. Z and E aren't into dance parties at the moment (Well, not my free-form dance parties. Z wants to hang on me, E wants to be up in my arms and that kind of dancing isn't really dancing.) and not enough people are getting married to quench my hunger for the dance floor. I think the single worst part about moving to a small, rural town is that there is NO place to go out dancing at a club - let alone take an adult modern dance class -in a 50 mile radius.) (Unless you count seedy biker bars with jukeboxes.) (Which I don't.)

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Same as last year: "Lost my temper. Curled inward instead of reaching outward."

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Here, in Arizona, with my husband's family, desperately trying to reconcile the shrieks of joy from the girls and the sad cloud of grief that lingers over a holiday when someone you love is missing.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?

Not with anyone new.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

We've watched so little TV this year. Like almost none. And I'm not sure if that's something I'm proud of or depressed by.

But we always watch Mad Men. And we're getting ready for Big Love.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don't really go for the word "hate".

24. What was the best book you read?

Oh this is so hard. I simply cannot chose just one.

Best literary fiction: a tie between "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan and "Olive Kitteredge" by Elizabeth Strout.

Best romantic romp: "One Day" by David Nicholls

Best feel good read: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I'm always about three years behind every trend (I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans.) (I hate the term "skinny jeans".) so I am delighting in Cee Lo Green at the moment.

26. What did you want and get?

A weekend away with my husband.

27. What did you want and not get?

My dad to be completely clear of cancer. Fucking cancer.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Dude. I saw NOTHING this year. (For anyone who wonders how I read so many books this year: THIS IS HOW. I don't watch TV or movies. AT ALL.) Thinking carefully (and looking up the top 50 movies of the year) I think I can safely say I saw exactly one of them: Toy Story 3. Which was cute, I guess. (LAME.) (MUST SEE SOME MOVIES.)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 38 this year and spent it at home with family. It was simple and wonderful.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not losing any family members.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

So Far From The Juniors Section, It Isn't Even Funny.

32. What kept you sane?

Quiet time spent not cooking, cleaning, emailing or folding laundry. Quiet time that was truly quiet (usually). It all made sense after reading "The Highly Sensitive Person" this summer. I need significant down time, alone time, quiet time, every day. If I don't get it, I lash out. Giving myself that time was amazing. I always lay on my bed. Sometimes I slept, but more often than not I read. And was inspired.

Then, of course, I have to give a shout out to SSRIs.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

My thing for Paul Rudd continues unabated.

And my thing for Jon Stewart has grown.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Marriage equality/DADT.

35. Who did you miss?

My father-in-law.

My cousin.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

My newly medicated self.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.

Taking antidepressants doesn't mean you're weak or crazy or stupid. In fact, in can be the strongest, sanest, smartest thing you've done in a long time.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Don't believe the things you tell yourself so late at night. You are your own worst enemy. You'll never win the fight."- Ingrid Michaelson, Parachute.


Making Christmas more like Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving Bowl

I have always loved Thanksgiving. It's the one holiday that is about food and family and giving thanks for all we have. That's it. No religious squabbles. (Though I imagine it's only a matter of time before we'll see billboards exhorting vegetarians to "Keep the Turkey in Thanksgiving".) No presents to buy and stress over. Nothing you're supposed to do other than eat and be with friends and family. The to-do list is short: Buy good food and spend some time making it. Sit. Eat it. Eat some more. Talk about what you are thankful for (with the help of our Thanksgiving Bowl). Clean up while chatting. Unbutton top button of pants. DONE.

Every year, it seems like it's easy to make Thanksgiving meaningful and simple.

Christmas is a different story.

Every year I wrestle with how to make Christmas as delicious and precious as Thanksgiving. How to keep it focused on our blessings and our abundance. I want our children to have warm memories of this time and yet I want to stay sane and keep it simple.

Between the nonstop wants that emanate from my oldest child, the internal pressure to get it all "right", the desire and guilt about wanting to spend time with EVERYONE, it feels like an uphill battle.

Unfortunately, many of the things that feel like they would make Christmas meaningful are most decidedly NOT simple. "I know! This year I'll MAKE everyone a present!" (Because I have so much free time?!) "I know! This year we'll make multiple batches of several Christmas cookies from both sides of the family! It's our heritage!" (And our heritage will take all my time and patience and leave the girls hopped up on sugar and us needing a whole new wardrobe to accommodate our new bellies). "I know! Let's forget presents this year and hide under the covers!"


("Yes! Let's!")

So we're doing what we always do: we're taking baby steps in the right direction, hoping that as we get closer, we'll get faster and the way will get clearer.

This year, we found a little farm right outside of town and cut down our own tree. They had horses and hot chocolate and we froze our tails off. It was a far cry from getting our tree from a vacant lot in LA and it felt like we were getting a little closer.

We walked into our little downtown on Saturday and watched the holiday parade. Cub scouts handed out candy canes and shivering beauty queens waved and Z and E danced to the marching band playing Feliz Navidad and we felt a lot closer to what we wanted for our girls around Christmas.

CG's family is only doing stocking stuffers for the adults so that we can all pitch in and donate a lump sum to a charity that was close to my father-in-law's heart. That feels clear and right.

We will sit down with Z this weekend and let her chose which charity to donate the money that has been accruing every week in her "charity" piggy bank. She will also pick out and buy a present for her sister from her "gifts" piggy bank. That's getting closer and closer.

What about you? What brings you closer to the kind of Christmas you want for your family?


The 2010 Book Roundup

If your holidays are at all like our family's, there are a whole lot of flatish rectangular packages under the tree. Basically, we see holidays as a chance to give each other books. Lots and lots of books.

So, in case you are like me and like to give (and get!) books and haven't finished (or, ahem, STARTED) your holiday shopping yet, here's the roundup of books I've read in the past year. Perhaps you will find something for someone on your list. Perhaps you will be so moved as to tell me what to give to the impossible-to-buy-for people on my list! (PLEASE!)

I set out this past year to keep track of every book I read. The running ticker to the lower right on the blog over there lists them. And without further ado, here is what I thought of them all. I will not cheat and flip through them, I will write only what I remember. Since I have a terrible memory, this should be interesting.


"The Middle Place": This best thing about this memoir is the concept of being in "the middle place": managing your relationships with your children and your parents at the same time. There are unique challenges to this time of life, especially if your father has cancer like me and the author, and you do too, (like the author, NOT ME). I did, however, find myself wanting to punch her several times and I'm not a puncher.


"The Bean Trees": I love Barbara Kingsolver but had never read this, her first novel. I remember liking it fine. But I wasn't wowed and now I can barely remember it. (Sorry, Barbara! Love you!)


"Olive Kitteredge": I LOVED THIS BOOK. Olive Kitteredge, the character, is at the edge of some of the chapters/stories and in the center of others. I often wanted to strangle her (perhaps I am actually quite violent!?) I often didn't like her. I ALWAYS understood her and believed in her as a character. She was a living, breathing person to me, as real as anyone I've ever met. I loved the perfectly defined characters and dialogue. Such a gem of a book.


"The Book Thief": Well, this was a bit of a rough transition after Olive Kitteredge but I liked this Holocaust centered young adult novel. Very creatively written, heart-felt and touching. (I totally cried. Several times.)


"Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children": I remember totally LOVING this book. And now? I completely forget everything it said. I will go back and reread it soon. I remember enough vague goodness to recommend it as a good gift for the wanna-be-zen mama in your life.


"MommaZen": Ditto above.


"A Homemade Life": Do you all read Molly? Oh, you should. This is her foodish memoir. Some of the recipes are TO DIE FOR (Try the chocolate chip banana bread with crystalized ginger and see if you can ever go back to plain banana bread. Go ahead, I DARE YOU.). Her writing is crystal clear, spare, lovely. A great gift for the twentyish/early-thirty something gourmand in your life.


"Devotion": I liked this, I think. But I barely remember it. Mom memoir, "family of origin was religious so where am I now?" , working motherhood, child was sick at some point making her question her faith.... Yeah, that's all I got.


"Still Alice": HOLY CRAP. This novel still haunts me. For someone who reads, and promply FORGETS, a lot, I am shocked by how many specific details I remember from this book. I was so rocked by this book that I still lie awake at night thinking about it. The narrator is a successful professor and mother who finds out she has early onset Alzheimer's. If that sounds like a downer, it is. It's also beautiful, uplifting and thought-provoking. A great one for book clubs.


"The Curse of the Good Girl": I liked this book and found it thought provoking. As I read, I tried to file things away for when the girls are older but since I can't remember much about it now, I obviously need to read it again. In a few years.


"Manhood for Amateurs": This is personal essay writing at its best. Michael Chabon is simply a divine writer. This would make a great gift for guys who like to read great prose.


"Bel Canto": I read this for a book group years ago and then again for a book group this year. I remember liking it then and I was pretty wowed by it this time as well. But it's not so current, if you're looking for new novels to read or give, look on.


"The Host": This book pissed me off. Really pissed me off. I actually laughed out loud at several plot points and moments of dialogue and not in a good way. But I finished it, which I don't always do with books that I'm annoyed by. Stephanie Meyer ain't no poet but she's got a knack for making me turn pages (sometimes to skip some of her ridiculous prose, sometimes to find out what happens next.) Your twenty-something babysitter who loved Twilight would love this book.


"The Kids are Alright": (PSA: Not at all related to the movie of the same name that came out this year. ) Holy moly, the poor kids who wrote this memoir were most certainly NOT alright for a long time and I kept wanting to go back in time and retroactively adopt these siblings who lost their parents and found themselves adrift as children and young adults. The youngest, poor child, was adopted by some less-than-loving couple who cut her off from her siblings and any love of any kind. SO WRONG. Great gift for the "Angela's Ashes"/"Glass Castle"-loving reader in your life.


"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"- The feel good novel of the year! Lovely! Two thumbs up! Read it with someone you love! Give it to someone you love! I am!


"Making Toast": Grandfather loses doctor daughter to sudden heart event, moves in with her family (including 3 young children). Makes toast. Writes a memoir of his year with them. Simple. Profound. Probably not the kind of book to give to anyone, unless they've been through something similar or just love to read this kind of tear-jerky memoir. (That would be me).


"Testimony": An intriguing beach-y read, this novel is set in a New England private school. From the beginning we understand there has been a sexual event between students, questionable in origin and consent, followed by a cover-up by the school administration. Catastrophic fall-out ensues. I was put off by the first chapter, wherein the sex-act is described in graphic detail as the head master views a videotape of it. But I'm glad I kept reading. Other chapters are completely riveting as each one tells a slice of the story in a different character's voice/point of view. I remember going to bed super early to read as much as I could several nights in a row.


"The Thirteenth Tale": Two ladies in olden times. Old books. Missing tale that told a hidden story. ....... ehhhhh......That's all I remember.


"Every Last One": SCREW YOU Anna Quindlan. I love you, normally. Really, I do. And it's my own fault for not even glancing at the synopsis of this novel before reading it which is unlike me. I picked it up at the library on a whim and started it that night only to be BLINDSIDED by the horrific act (yes, truly horrific) and I really wanted to not read it anymore but the damage had already been done and now I'm depressed again just thinking about it and it didn't even actually happen. GAH. NOT a gift book.


"The Art of Racing in the Rain": This was a great palate cleanser after the last one. A novel told from the point of view of a dog (Wait! Don't run away!), it follows the dog through the last few years of its life with his owner and family. Touching, beautiful. Cry, laugh, CRY SOME MORE (but in a GOOD way!) Give it to the dog-lover in your life. Also good for guys since it includes a lot about car racing which I don't really know anything about or really even care to know anything about and yet now I feel like I almost both care AND know something about it after reading this book.


"Nurtureshock": OH SO INTERESTING. We're talking about this in my book club TONIGHT. Find out why your baby is racist (yes really!) Consider up and moving to Neptune New Jersey! Buy for the parenting-book-reading friend/loved one in your life!


"Marriage and Other acts of Charity": Read it for the title alone, though you might want to cover the title up when reading around your husband. Beautiful, wise memoir about the power of truly charitable love in the marital relationship.


"It Sucked and Then I Cried": It was okay and then I read another book.


"One Day": OMG. FUN ROMANTIC NOVEL. Perfect for those who liked the Time Traveler's Wife or any other almost-literary romantic-type books. I can't wait for the movie. BRING ON THE MOVIE. Buy for your sister or sister-in-law or sister-from-another-mister.


A Visit from The Goon Squad: Tied with Olive Kitteredge as my favorite novel of the year. Intensely good. So well crafted you will marvel. Buy it for the literary reader in your life, male or female.


"The Year of Magical Thinking": Joan Didion is a goddess. Never cared for her novels but her personal and critical essays are unparalleled. This memoir of the year after she lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack is beautiful and it has been very helpful to me and CG's family after losing my father-in-law this summer.


"Millionaire Babies and Bankrupt Brats": This book started us on the road to giving Z an allowance in an attempt to help teach her money management. Ask me in twenty years how we did. (I'm hoping for a millionaire! GO MILLIONAIRE!) It's not a prettily printed book and therefore, not a good gift, IMO.


"Little Bee": Bestselling novel about two people, one a black African girl, the other a white English woman, whose lives intersect in devastating ways. This is a brutal novel, not one for the faint of heart. But very well written, compelling and thought-provoking. Good for the "Kite Runner"-lover in your life.


"The Highly Sensitive Child"/"The Highly Sensitive Person": These were SO important to me this summer in trying to understand Z and, then, myself. We are highly sensitive and it explains SO MUCH. If you or someone you know is highly sensitive, these books are helpful. But here's a tip: it might not be a good gift for someone who is, you know, SENSITIVE about being highly sensitive.


The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay: This young adult novel triology = crack. PLOT with ALL CAPS. Violent but fun.


"Hunting and Gathering": French novel about four strangers whose lives intertwine. I HATED this book for the first 50 pages. SLOW GOING, nothing happening, WHY SHOULD I CARE. And then, I REALLY CARED. And wept at the end. Don't know why I hated it so much at the beginning. (Could have been that I had just read fun, PLOTTY PLOT PLOT Hunger Games....)


"A Girl Named Zippy"/"She Got Up off the Couch": These memoirs of the author's childhood in a tiny Indiana town are magic. Unique, quirky, funny. Great for folks who love memoirs and poetic prose and the good old days.


"What Should I Do With My Life?": I have a crush on Po Bronson. There, I said it. He is co-author of NurtureShock and I read this book in full on crush-mode.

I still have the crush. Interesting book about the different paths people take to making a life/career for themselves. Would be a great book for the soul searcher in your life.


"The Forgotten Garden": Longish novel by Australian author. I've already forgotten it and I just finished it two weeks ago.


"Dead Until Dark": Oh yes, I will be reading ALL the Sookie Stackhouse novels now. Bring on the True Blood!


"Unbroken": I have not finished this yet but I must include it because OMG it's amazing and would be a great gift for the men in your life (are they not the HARDEST to buy for?!?!). This amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner, courageous WW2 survivor will have you gripping the edge of your pillow.

Well. That only took me two weeks to post. (OY.)

Now: your book suggestions, please!


The missing husband

We hosted CG's family for Thanksgiving, the first major family holiday without my father-in-law. We were predictably sad about his absence, though happy to be together. With our house full to the seams, Z slept in our room on the floor leaving CG and I little time to speak privately and we mostly bustled about separately, tending to children, meals and family.

After the long weekend, CG left for a four-day work trip and my mother-in-law stayed with me and the girls to help out. Our lives were quiet and normal. Morning preschool for Z, grocery shopping and cooking for me and E. At night I would retire to my big empty bed, listening to every creak and groan of the house, missing the safety and weight of a slumbering husband within arms reach. I couldn't help imagining my mother-in-law doing the same, every single night.

My mother-in-law and I cooked food to share, picked up after ourselves and each other, asked one another if we'd like a cup of tea "since I'm getting one for myself", the kinds of things you ask one another when you're part of a home, a couple of people living together. I was conscious of how I could rest assured that my husband was coming home to do those same things for me once my mother-in-law was gone.

Despite her company, I found myself missing my husband a lot, wishing I could consult with him about the girls, the house, the minutiae of life you share with a partner. I talked to my mother-in-law about her minor surgery that is scheduled for next week, and wondered about how to manage such a thing when one no longer has a partner to rely on to drive you, be in charge of food and household matters, talk to the doctors and make sure you get to appointments on time.

On Friday, I drove my mother-in-law to the airport and said goodbye with a teary hug. I imagined her navigating the plane by herself, arriving home to a dark, empty house. A cold, empty bed. Without anyone on the other side.

That afternoon, CG arrived home, lay down on the bed next to me, filling his spot. Added weight and substance where I need it. We talked a little, looked at each other, listened, supported, asked, cared.

And, for a moment, I didn't take him for granted. I was so thankful my missing husband had come home to me and wished with renewed vigor that the same could be true for my mother-in-law.

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