Monday, December 31, 2012

Peace Out 2012, You Were Good to Us

What a year.

I'll try to be brief, but really, so, so, so much happened this year that it'll be tough.

1) Life changed drastically

The best things in the world happened. I married one of the loves of my life, and I met the other:

2) Travel was abundant

We went to the Dominican Republic for our babymoon.

I went to California to see my dearest friend Cyndi, her beautiful family, and some wonderful friends I don't get to see nearly enough.
We visited family in Massachusetts. (Twice!!)
Somehow though, I have no photographic evidence of our first trip when Little Man was just three weeks old. I was a sleep deprived new mom. We drove there. Crazy? Perhaps. Worth it so that Beau's entire family could meet the little guy? Absolutely!

This fall we visited the Outer Banks with my family.

Little Man and Grandma waited patiently at the bottom of the Currituck lighthouse as mom, dad and PopPop climbed to the top for some amazing views of the Sound.

 Not all of our travel was to a beach. While in Massachusetts the second time, we snuck away to check out the foliage in New Hampshire. It was stunning.

We also fell in love with the mountains of West Virginia. We traveled there three times. This view, as well as the kind people we've met keep drawing us back.
And, since Grandma and Pop Pop live near Williamsburg, we decided to get a little Colonial up in here.
 (Blurry, but you get it, right?)
3) Milestones came and went
It is hard to believe that Little Man turned seven months just two days ago. In those seven months we've watched him grow and change from a sleepy cuddle bug
 to an alert, smiling, chattering extrovert.

 On Thanksgiving he got to taste (and wear) solid food for the first time.
He looks good in sweet potato.
We use mooshy Cheerios to work on fine motor skills.
It's a work in progress.
At this point (seven months and two days), he's rolling, scootching and saying "momomommomoomoomm", "baaaa", and "daaaaa" lots. He loves to laugh and be social. And he loves bath time.

(And not just because of the stylish post-bath garb.)

4) Superstorm Sandy hit

Sandy could have been much worse to us. She was devastating to much of the country. We just got a little wet, but being our first big storm with a baby at home and living in a flood prone neighborhood, we were on high alert.

5) We love to learn

Little Man's mom is an English teacher, Grammy is a librarian, and all three aunts on dad's side were English majors, so the poor kid is going to be forced to read. He seems to love it so far.

Since he seems to have an early love for learning, when we were in New Hampshire we subliminally planted the seeds of an Ivy League dream into his little head. (Though Beau refused to let me buy the "Dartmouth Medical" romper. Spoilsport.)
As a true product of the 21st century, he seems to love technology. Especially to discuss stock trends with dad.
6) Sophie
When you've got a Great Dane in your life, you know life is good. Carter loves his Sophie.

Uncle Andy ain't so bad himself. Shoot, he's pretty cool. He's got an awesome wife, a cool boat, and a dog that can work as a horse in a bind. Carter thinks spending time here is the bee's knees, so we try to do it as often as they'll let us.

7) Love was everywhere

More than anything, 2012 showed us what pure, sweet love looks and feels like. Sometimes it is a reassuring hand on your shoulder when you need a pep talk.

Sometimes, a fierce (?) lion and tamer.
Or, friends and students going out of their way to throw a amazing showers to show how loved Little Man, Beau and I really are.
I know I've left out so, so much of this year. There are so many moments where we just lived and neglected the photographs. There's something to be said for that.
It doesn't make for good blogging, but it does make for a good life.
All in all, this year was by far the best year of my life. I'm not sure what 2013 has in store, but I imagine it'll be interesting. These guys have my back,
so I'm pretty confident that it'll be a good year.
Even if Beau and Little Man are stuck with a crazy person.
Are you guys sad to see 2012 go, or excited to usher in 2013? Or maybe a little of both?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thoughts on Life

I think by nature, bloggers tend to write about the good in life. Heck, I think most humans tend to want to share the good in their lives. I've been accused (by Beau) of writing cheesy posts. This one in particular was too sunshine and butterflies for him. Understandable. (Looking back at it, I see it is a little gag-worthy...)

I'm not one for airing my dirty laundry for the blogosphere to read. When I have a bad day I don't need to share to get maximum sympathy. My sleepless nights (which are blissfully few and far between) don't need to be broadcast. I don't need to vent to strangers. With that said, I am aware that this mindset leads to a somewhat inauthentic representation of the life I live.

I figure most of my readers know I'm human. I also figure they don't want to read about diapers and spit up, stress and drama. (Which is thankfully not in abundance. Well, the stress and drama, anyway. Spit up and diapers I've got aplenty.) I want this place to be a positive place and I have done my best to keep it that way. Fortunately for me, my life, while not all sunshine and butterflies, is exceptionally positive.

Today, however, I have a heavy heart and I want to talk about it for a few minutes. See, I attended a funeral of a former student today. Sadly, it wasn't the first one I've attended. Nor, I assume, will it be the last.

This particular student, E, was a wonderful young man. Smart. Funny. Talented. Kind. Above all, kind is the adjective I would use to describe him. His life ended when it should have been beginning. E was 143 days away from graduating from college. He was in the honor's program at school and worked so incredibly hard to be successful. I could count on E keeping in contact with me. He'd often  come back to my classroom to say hello and let me know how his classes were going. Most of my former students come back that first year of college at either Thanksgiving or Christmas, but then grow out of it. E didn't, and I was always genuinely pleased to see him.

In a nutshell, he was a wonderful person and his presence made an impact on me.

But this is not a memorial post. At least that wasn't my intent when I sat down to write this. I don't feel that I can do justice to E's memory on the Internet because I didn't get to know him as anything other than a student. I didn't know him as a brother, son, friend, boyfriend, teammate, roommate or any of the other numerous roles he played. I only have my own memories of him. I am thankful to have them.

The funeral was a nice celebration of E's life. The homily addressed the importance of making the most of our time here on earth (which E genuinely did), and touched on the absolute tragedy of a parent losing her child. E died one week after the Sandy Hook shootings and so the entire nation can feel the sting of that particular concept.

There is one image from today that will forever be with me. After the offering of communion, E's father was back in his seat in the front row of pews right next to E's casket. He reached over and rested his hand on the top his son's casket and left it there. It didn't seem to be a deliberate act, instead it seemed instinctual. Had this been a normal Sunday at church, his hand would have rested on E's shoulder in a loving, proud gesture.

Now that I am a parent, I feel things much more than I did before. Seeing E's father's hand resting on his casket was the most intimate, sweet and devastating gesture I've seen in a long time. My heart hurt just thinking about what his family might be feeling.

On that awful Friday of the Sandy Hook shootings, I held my Little Man close and told him I loved him hundreds of times just in case. A week later I learned of E's death on Facebook as various former students posted their RIP messages. Again, I held Little Man close and smelled his baby smell as I quietly cried. I imagined the unimaginable and that thought made me feel ill.

Today, after E's funeral, I got to come home to my Little Man and I got to hold him. E's parents will never get to do that. The parents of the children shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School will never get to do that. The parents of the too-many students who have passed away over my thirteen years of teaching won't get to do that. I won't belabor it any more. You get it.

Like I said at the start of this, I want this to be a positive, upbeat place, yet this post is exceptionally melancholy. We all have those days where sadness reigns. These thoughts of mine, especially the ones in the previous paragraph, make me want to shout the good Father's message from the rooftop. We must all make the most of the time we are given. We must love as powerfully as we can, give as freely as we can. We must be kind, compassionate, strong, deliberate and intentional in our lives.

As the year comes to a close and I contemplate what I hope for next year, I will take E's life and death to heart. For those of you who knew him, I hope you do as well. For those who didn't know him, I think there is still something to take. I think we all have E's in our life at one time or another.

Thank God for that.

Thank you for letting me share my melancholy thoughts today. Sometimes a moment of serious reflection is necessary in a world of sunshine and butterflies-or croquet and cocktails.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Very Merry Christmas

I hope that your Christmas was as merry and sweet as ours.

I actually had a really hard time finding my Christmas spirit this year. I wanted it to be there, but there were unnecessary stresses, tragedies, and some very sad news about a beloved former student that made joy seem impossible. I was kind of nestled in this feeling of melancholy and just wanted to hold on to my husband and sweet baby for dear life.

But then something clicked. All of the stress and sadness could either get to me, or I could make the most of every day I'm blessed with and make the most of the holiday. I chose to do that.

What ensued was a wonderful first Christmas as parents AND husband and wife. Beau even went shopping for gifts!! Perhaps I pushed him out the door to the near-by mall with a "one stop gift idea list". In retrospect, it was a really good idea. I didn't expect everything on the list, but I knew he was at a loss as to what to get me. I tried to be specific without being demanding. My last item was something like:
  • Really anything you give me melts my heart (cheese, ugh, sappy)
What found its way into my stocking?

Yep. Cheese.


MMMMM Jalapeno & Cheddar blend. His favorite.

But back to finding my Christmas spirit. Instead of a trip to Past, Present and Future, Beau, Little Man and I ventured back to West Virginia for a few days before the holiday. Remember when I told you we had a little something in the works? Well, it is still (painfully) in the works. (So no big reveal yet. Keep your fingers crossed, because things aren't looking great in that field.)

While there, I did get to experience winter storm Draco. (This California girl was chill-yyy!) The freshly fallen snow was absolutely stunning, even if the skies were gray and bleak. (I didn't edit the first photo at all, life just looked a bit like a black and white photo at the top of the mountain--maybe it was a trip to Christmases past...)

 Though I don't think Starbucks has been around long enough for that.

Anyway, here are a few more images from our holiday. As usual, I took few pictures of the meals, family or general mirth and focused only on the little person who is so much more photogenic than me*, or, say, the ham we ate.


*especially pre-shower, pre-caffeine, in my jammies as the first photo depicts. I'm not pretty in the morning, but my little guy is heart-breakingly cute 24-7.

How were your holidays, dear readers? Anybody else have a hard time finding the spirit until last minute? Or realize that a little bit of grooming is important when making memories?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Broken Hearted

Unless you live in a bubble, you know about the latest mass shooting tragedy.

As a high school teacher in Virginia, the Virginia Tech shootings really shook me up. I had former students there--lots of them.

But this hits me on a whole new level. It sounds so cliche, but motherhood has changed me. With the news reports coming in with new numbers of fatalities, I think of the sweet boy napping in the next room and I can't help but cry for those parents who are not going to be able to hold their babies tonight or ever again.

Schools are supposed to be safe places, for God's sake. We live in America, not a war zone, so we should be able to send our children out the door to school with zero fear that something can or will happen to them. And yet, with what seems like frightening regularity there is breaking news about shootings, or abuse, or whatever.

I'm just venting I guess. I'm scared for us. By us I mean humanity. I'd like to see more care and concern for others. I'd like to see people who were raised to know right from wrong, who can and do get the help they need.

For now, though, my prayers go out to everyone involved. For the families who won't get to hold their babies tonight. For the families who will be holding their terrified and forever scarred babies. For the teachers and administrators who paid the ultimate price to try to keep their school safe, and for their families who will feel the loss painfully this--and every-- holiday season.

I hope that tonight, and every night, we all hold our loved ones close and let them know how loved they are. That is perhaps the last truly safe place.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sweet Smell of Success

In our house these days success is measured much differently than, say, a year ago. Frankly, if I'm showered by noon and have checked a few little items off of my perpetual to-do list, I consider the morning--heck, the day--a rousing success.

I just need to take a minute to share my latest, not-baby-related-I'm-as-pleased-as-punch success.

Remember when I talked about loving bread and how I found this book at the library (here)?

Well, I tried my hand at baking one of the overnight recipes (a couple of times obsessively) and had absolute, beautiful, delicious success.

One of my new favorite things is baking and gifting these lovely laves. Basically, if you live in my neighborhood you will get a hot, crusty loaf at some point. If you live in the vicinity, you will get a hot, crusty loaf. In part it is because I want to share the goodness. In larger part it is because I love the process of making this bread using my own hands, but my thighs can't cope with the carb overload.

The difference between the loaves I've baked using this book and the loaf I baked the week before is astounding. Check out the after and before. (The after photo should have been better, but over half the loaf was gone before I was able to take a shot of it. Note: It was on Thanksgiving. I did not devour over half a loaf in mere seconds. Sheesh. The before is just ugly. No amout of styling--even if I was capable of food styling--would have made it pretty.)

I used basically the same ingredients (the dense, heavy loaf of before used more wheat flour because that's what I had on hand), same amount if time. The difference? The amount of care and intentional effort put into the process. Also, there was a little more understanding of the chemistry of bread making.

By intentional effort I don't necessarily mean work. I simply mean that I've learned to respect the reactions that are going in with the ingredients and work with them rather than against them.

I didn't spend hours kneading the fluffy loaves into shape. I stretched and folded them a few times and then left them to do their magic.

And, now I want to be a baker.

Except for the whole early morning thing they have to do.

I guess I'll just continue to bake small batches and systematically attack the thighs of the entire neighborhood.

There might be a loaf proofing right now. And another waiting in the wings refrigerator.

How do you measure success these days? Has it changed drastically because of some life event? Do you want to be my neighbor?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fifty Shades of Crimson

I have a confession.

I honestly feel like I might be the only living female who hasn't read the Fifty Shades trilogy. (Except for my mom. Please, mom, don't say you've read it...)

I wasn't going to do it. I start books and feel like I have to finish them. No matter how badly characterized or created, I always wonder what happened to the characters. I am sometimes (OK, frequently) guilty of starting sentences with "I have this friend who..." only to taper off and realize that "friend" is actually a fictional character in a book I just finished. Nerd problems, I guess.

I had heard Fifty Shades was a series of absolutely terrible writing. Who wants to immerse themselves in terrible writing? Well, besides the gazillion Twilight readers. (I read the first two, so feel that I can say that with no fear of perhaps being mistaken.)

But, there Fifty Shades was on my Kindle because Cyndi, my best friend in the whole wide world and Kindle account sharer, had purchased it out of curiosity a while back. (For the record, she couldn't get past the writing either; she never finished it.)

I started reading it last night. I haven't gotten to the dirty bits, but I do have to agree with those critics who have warned me against it. I'm not sure if I'll finish it or not. At this point I really don't care what happens to Anastasia. Or Gray. Neither one has made an impression on me despite steely gray eyes and those lips. Ugh.

Admittedly, though I have been trying to cast the characters. Right now Ian Somerhalder is in the running for Gray in my mind movie. I have Anne Hathaway as Anastasia, though I don't want to. She's in Les Mis right now for goodness sake. Why would she want to do this film? (Since it is being cast in my head I don't think it matters.)

So here I am contemplating if I should read it or move on to bigger and better things. Part of me wonders how so many readers can be wrong. All three of the books are on the New York Times' bestsellers list. The first book has been there for 37 weeks. Do you realize how long that is? There are only 52 weeks in a year, for Pete's sake. She's slowly creeping up on a year there. That should be reserved for good literature.

How is it that Louise Erdrich's National Book Award winning The Roundhouse isn't even on the NYT bestseller list? (If you've been paying attention to my little reading widget down on the right, you've noticed that it has been sitting in the "To Read" placeholder for a while. I'm ashamed that Fifty Shades pushed it aside in  my actual reading. I'm leaving the widget there; no one needs to be taken to Fifty Shades on Amazon with my help.)

I'm relieved that my copy of Fifty Shades is digital and I can hide that I'm reading it. In fact, I contemplated not confessing to anyone that I'm reading it. (That is why my title is "Fifty Shades of Crimson", though  I'm certain if I do decide to read on I'll have other valid reasons for this title.) The Kindle allows readers to read lovely prose or crap anonymously. When I see a Kindle reader I always assume they are reading something smart. That's the beauty of not having a cover to mar strangers' opinions of your tastes.(Oh, goodness, what if people see me holding my hot pink Kindle case and assume I'm reading erotica all the time. That thought had never crossed my mind.)

I digress...

 All of this "do I read, do I not read" thinking has really got me contemplating how we as a society spend our time. How is it that books like this and Twilight, TV shows like the Honey Boo Boo show (which I have not seen due to not having cable), Jerry Springer, etc. and music like the annoyingly catchy new Alicia Keys "This Girl is On Fire" are the big sellers? (All due respect to Alicia Keys. She's a good musician. She just needs to fire her lyricist for someone who can write something with a little more substance.)

Are we getting dumber as a society? Is that why these things are so, so, so successful? Or, are we a society of people who need to escape? Do these mindless books, TV shows and songs let us escape our own existence long enough to take a mind vacation? These are serious questions, dear readers. I really do worry that we are getting dumber. I like to think that bad media in general is escapism at its finest, but what if it isn't?

Am I just a snob? Am I the only one who worries about these things?

What is your mindless pleasure? Is it escapism for you? Did I successsfully plant "This Girl is On Fire" in your head? (You're welcome. I've had it in my head for days.)