Christmas #2


Boxing Day afternoon was Christmas Eve #2, since Karen’s kids came home from their dad’s at noon. At six I came home from picking up Ashak at the train station to see all five Advent candles lit in the dining room, and the table full of people well into the pizza.


The next morning I was up at 6:30 to enjoy a quiet tree with presents in order, and Ace came down at 7.  We enjoyed more than an hour together as he opened all the things in his stocking and got started on the nanoblocks I had given him. The others came down a little after 8, and order disintegrated. The first present the boys opened was the game Labryinth I had given them and it was very satisfying to see them immediately want to play it. They played it again and again over the next few days, even though the old game of Life is also a favorite.

I tried to keep the trash together and wondered at our “American Christmas” as the presents kept coming.

In the afternoon, after Tom and I had taken a walk in the garden and sat on the porch a while, and while the children and their friends were outside playing in the beautiful, warm sunshine,  and Karen was in the kitchen making chicken noodle soup for the crowd, I sat down at the piano.  I played the pieces I’ve been learning over the fall:  Ave Maria, O Holy Night, The Entertainer, and numerous Christmas Carols.  Ashak was sitting in the family room with me and listening and appreciating the music, and he started singing!  It was the magic of Christmas, to hear him enjoying the songs that I realize are so deep in our souls. Ashak, from the Caribbean, singing O Holy Night!

After dinner Tom found the new Jungle Book movie on Netflix and we all settled down to watch, while Karen supplied all the kids with popcorn.  Tom and I were amazed at the computer graphics that had produced such lifelike images.  It reminded him of the making of Avatar.  I had never watched or read the whole story and was struck with the image of “the red flower” as the defining  possession of mankind. I couldn’t help thinking of its evolution into nuclear weapons, which can destroy the whole of civilization, not just a jungle habitat.

Van was the only kid who stuck with the whole film, still sitting and watching, wide awake, as the credits rolled.

All in all, another very good Christmas.


Christmas #1


“Oh, this is my favorite book!” exclaimed Giselle, as she snuggled up next to me on Anna’s sofa to listen to The Night Before Christmas.  Tom and I were spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at their home.

“Oh, this is my favorite book of carols!” exclaimed Anna, as she sat down next to me after Luis and Giselle and I had been belting out carols from the sofa while she and Tom chatted with Sebastian in the next room.  It was a well-worn Little Golden Book of carols with just the first verses. My voice had cracked and I didn’t keep some of the tunes, but we had had a ball going through the Christmas books and songs. Sebastian had got to share with Tom some of his concerns about his aging mother.

I retired at 8PM, since I had got up at 4 to bake. Tom got the kids settled in bed by instructing them how important it was to keep Foxy’s routine, since Foxy would be in their room.  Foxy likes to have her dinner, go out to take her pee, then come up to the room with a treat and settle down at the same time as others are settling down, lights out. So they did go down and out and Tom got to bed by 9.

“You can’t come to Antony’s in your pjs,” I declared to Giselle at 12:15 the next day.  She had been too busy playing with her new Paw Patrol to be bothered about changing. “Luis is coming with us and there’s not enough room in the backseat for you with Luis and Foxy.”

But in the end Giselle did come with us, fell asleep in the back seat with Luis and Foxy, and spent the rest of the day at Antony’s in her pjs.

“Isn’t it dangerous?” Karen wondered at the dinner table.  She was asking about Anna’s plan to take her kids to do inline skating this week. I learned that “roller blading” is a brand name. “We’ve done it before,” Anna explained.  And in the end Karen made plans to bring her kids with them today. I learned that Toni had grown up ice skating on a pond near their house since she was in pre-school. So her kids have grown up doing it also. “Ice skating is actually easier than inline skating,” commented Dexter.

“This is a very good book,” exclaimed Toni, as she opened The Underground Railroad. Of course she had read it already.  Imagine trying to get a book for Toni that she hasn’t read.  Antony was happy to get Hillbilly Elegy, Jubilee was ecstatic to get Sorcerer’s Stone, illustrated, and Dexter seemed very happy with March, volumes 1-3. Jubilee was thrilled to get the book about the making of Hamilton,  for her birthday.

“Yoga will help you stay upright.  It’s all about lifting yourself up,” said Anna, as we reviewed a quick zumba combo I had tried to follow her with. She had used a little wireless speaker, which I had never seen before, connected to the playlist on her phone. We also discussed the various advantages of squatting.

“Karen has a squatty pot,” Antony commented. “Isn’t it in the way?” I asked Karen, and she assured me it wasn’t. “It’s designed to scoot back under.” I didn’t know Karen had one, though my physical therapist has recommended I get one. Antony had seen Karen’s when he spent the night a while back. “I’ve tiled the shower since you were there,” she told him. “Classy orange glass.”

“I get a little per lesson; enough to make it worthwhile,” Anna replied to Antony’s query about her teaching at the Y. “That’s about what I get by teaching,” commented Antony about his graduate course on activism. I was glad they are both teaching their passion.

Back and forth. ordinary comments, easily shared. The way family get-togethers should be, I think.  No put-downs,  nothing too deep or isolating for some, nothing controversial,  but information shared. We learned from Antony that Monopoly was originally designed to help people realize how bad capitalism is.   Karen didn’t know that Hamilton is the rage on Broadway, so Sebastian played one of its main songs for us, from his phone.

“I play Balderdash with my friends on the phone all the time,” Dexter commented, as we sat down for a game after Karen and Anna’s family had left. I came in last, since it took me a couple of turns to catch on, like voting for my own definition and stumbling on reading out the words of Antony’s definition, thereby giving away that it was not correct. I took some flack for being an English major and having trouble with some of these strange and weird words in the English language.  I thought I had learned some new words, but now I can’t even remember any of them.  It was fun, though.

Dexter kept some of the apple pie and brisket I had brought, and we came home with bits of the rest of the feast. “We’ll do the white elephant gift exchange on Monday the second,” Toni said as we left.  “Karen and Anna and I worked it out.”

“Nobody got up angry and left the room,” commented Tom as we reviewed the day on the way home. “A good Christmas.”


Tom and I watched the dawn come in this morning. We were drinking our morning tea in the family room lit only by Christmas tree lights. He was saying he didn’t remember any Christmas trees growing up, or any Christmas presents except his dad giving them a brick.

“What about at that church you went to?” It was the American church in Santiago, where he was elected president of the youth group.  He went on to tell me he’d gotten into that church by being invited by some of the girls that partied with his American friends from the Grange School.

“Once, I was invited by an American family that had just arrived in Chile to introduce me to that church.  They invited me to breakfast and then we went together to church.  Their daughter was good-looking, and as I walked in, Sally was there and I saw her do a double-take.”  He had broken up with Sally at that point.

“I remember the pastors approaching me and wondering how I managed to get all these interesting people into the church.”

“We organized speakers,” he told me when I asked him what kinds of things the youth group did.  “I got a speaker to talk to us about business with Japan.”

Today we will go to CBC for the Christmas music program. It’s raining, but much warmer than the icy blast we had yesterday, our first snowy day of the season.  It was a good day to stay inside, finish the Christmas cards, and rest.


Christmas Greetings


A bouquet of spruce, laurel, and berries from our garden marks the season. Here are some more of our favorite photos from this past year:


First grader Van hosted us at Grandfriends’ Day.


Anna, Giselle, and Luis helped celebrate Jane’s sister Julia’s birthday, with Tom, Sebastian, sister Roy Ann, Howard, and Karen looking on.


Maya, Van, and Ace showed Nana their carved pumpkin.

Dexter and Jubilee were a lot of fun at card games.


Anna, Luis, Giselle, and Sebastian tried out one of the gates.


Poppa and Foxy’s morning walk to the bus stop.


Two tables full at Thanksgiving – Toni Vahlsing’s niece Stephanie is sitting next to Antony.  So much to be grateful for! We wish you and yours all the comfort and joy of the season!

(Scroll to the top right column to browse more stories and pictures on this blog.)

Special Days

“Papa, what kind of toast do you want for breakfast?” Ace poked his head into our bathroom, where Tom and I were getting dressed.

“I’ll have English muffin,” said Tom, and Ace disappeared.

The night before, Ace had told me he was going to make breakfast in bed for Tom’s birthday, and I had cautioned that Tom preferred to come downstairs.

“What’s the kindness word for today?” Ace asked, when I was having my tea.

“Today we try to say as many times as possible, ‘thank you.'”

Van overheard, and he looked up at his mom and said, “Thank you for all the things you did for me this morning.”

In the afternoon, Anna and family came for birthday lunch, and we had the Seven Stars brisket  and accompaniments Tom had requested.  Afterwards, we had Irish coffee with the Baileys Anna brought and I made strawberry ice cream with berries frozen from the garden. Karen and her kids joined us when the bus brought her kids home. It was raucous and fun. Karen’s gift of fortune cards and “Smugging Sage” fit right in with my gift  of essential oils, Tom’s latest passion. The room and everyone in it ended up smelling really good.

The day before, Ace asked me at breakfast, “What’s the special day this week?”

“Well, in addition to Papa’s birthday, a lot of people will be remembering that this is the day Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was destroyed. That was the beginning of World War II, seventy-five years ago. It was a terrible war. And we’ve been having wars ever since.”

“We have?” queried Ace.  Of course he sees little evidence of it.

“America is lucky that it’s pretty hard for other countries to hurt us since we have oceans on either side. But we are hitting a lot of countries all over the world.”

“How do we do that, if the other countries are far away?” he asked, following the logic.

I explained how we have bases all over the world where the airplanes and weapons are stored. “That’s bad for all those countries, and bad for us.” he concluded.

Special days, special times.

Still Fall

img_6637It’s not like all the leaves are gone.

Gold still flashes in the hollows by the creeks

and big oak leaves blow around in the wind.

True, beds are being covered with leaf mulch

or straw, or half-made compost,

the butterfly  bush with hoops waits for a tarp.

The patio furniture. due to be stored.

already lost its pillows to the attic.

But every now and then I see a dandelion flower

gazing from the grass as if it were May.

And Anna’s Gerber Daisy, from Mothers’ Day,

refuses to stop blooming,

Reminders that we’re summer side of the solstice.

The storms are still of rain,

The roads still clear, the gardens yielding greens.

No ice, no snow, no biting wind.

Decembering, we celebrate Winter before it comes.

Hoping to convince ourselves of something

When all around us we can see that

It’s still Fall.



img_6812“Without Luis here, nothing is fun,” announced Ace grumpily as he sat down at the table this morning.  Luis and Giselle had to go home Saturday afternoon after two overnights following Thanksgiving. We had commented to each other how well he and Ace played, in fact, all them finally on the last day, when they included Van. Giselle had kept up with them all along, just running along and doing whatever they were doing. They played outside for hours, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It was a wonderful followup to a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.


img_6756Already on Thanksgiving evening they were ready to start decorating for Christmas.  Maya had the boys carry her round table down to set the tree on and move the huge and heavy elephant out of the bay window, before Mom postponed the rest of the decorating until the next day. Friday dawned to immediate plans for the tree, which we left to get mid-morning.  Excitement was palpable as we piled in two cars and drove the two miles to Yeagers’ Tree Farm, where the six-footer was quickly chosen, carried to the tying machine, and put on the car, where Papa had installed the roof rack.

The five cousins lost little time in bringing the tree in and setting it up in the tree stand. All the children helped with the screws while Karen held the tree for Maya to tell if it was “plumb.”  Then the fun began, with all the bins brought down and opened and their contents immediately put on the tree, all five of the children finding and commenting and wondering and fixing, and it all went without

bickering, the best part.

“Nana, why is this Dexter?” Giselle asked, holding up a little framed picture of baby Dexter. “It was a photograph of him that we put in that tiny frame,” I answered.
“Oh,” she said, satisfied, and hung it on a branch.

Today being the first Sunday of Advent,the children got to open the first window on their Advent calendars.  They seemed pleased to have their own calendars, which they could study. “I have three blue numbers and five yellow numbers, and four black numbers,” Van noticed, and Ace came up with similar calculations. They both had a verse from Isaiah in window #1, which was convenient since it was part of the lesson I would teach them at church. The first thing we did at church, though, was we decorated another tree. Ace and Van went with me and got right to work making the paper chain.  When Roxanne arrived with boxes full of decorations, they got busy putting on balls and when Julie brought up boxes of decorations made in years past, they continued putting those up.  In the end they also got to carry the paper chain around the tree as Alana and Jake settled it in place.  A worthy tradition, worthily completed.


And tonight we lit the first Advent candle and read the first two stories from Light in the Lantern. Advent properly begun!

Mateo was here both Saturday and Sunday. He finished cleaning the gutters and worked the rest of the time gathering, mulching, and spreading leaves and straw on the beds. He even started painting the frame in the raised beds, covering the glaring white with a muted green – Karen’s idea.  There are still leaves, but we’ve dealt with most of them.  Let it snow!