12/30/2011 New Year’s Eve (sigh)

I am rather frustrated at the moment. I wrote my usual letter, but was really tired last night, so figured I could finish it in the morning- hit “save as draft” and went to bed. When I came back to it this morning, it was gone. Darn. Years ago I’d lose hours of work because computers didn’t automatically back up your work as you wrote. When I complained, Ælfwine wrote a program to do it for me, and now computers come with that built in. There may be something wrong with my mail program though- it has frozen several times when I tried to put in the addresses. In theory Macs don’t get viruses as easily as PCs, but it probably needs some sort of check- I need to figure out how and what to do.
Meanwhile, I have to reconstruct the letter. Poot! It was late already because I forgot what day it was on Wednesday. Oh well.
The weather has been intermittently cool and cold- what’s seems warm now would, no doubt, have seemed cold a few months ago. It’s funny how I keep checking thermometers to see if I’m cold. That’s ridiculous because if you feel cold, you are, and if you don’t, you aren’t; but some how a reading on an instrument validates your personal perception and gives you permission to feel the way you do. I have great admiration for the people who can accept the way they feel without needing external validation. I love my thermometers- the numbers give me a ‘handle” to attach to the temperature. Perhaps it’s because while 68 degrees may feel great to one person, too cool for another, and too warm for a third, it’s still the same reading for them all, and at least they can agree on the reading. Other things are open to discussion- it was gorgeous when we headed down to the Taylors about noon Wednesday, so I grabbed a warm fuzzy shawl, but there was a lot of dramatic wind (perhaps a new front coming through?), and Willow gave those of us who’d come out without coats a hard time. It’s not like we had a long tramp through the chill- just to and from the car.
The cats (both Zoloft and Freya) continue to be overly eager to get and stay on our shoulders. Freya is quite nimble and if you pass within a foot of a chair on which she’s perched she will leap onto you. Zoloft will leap straight up as far as my thighs and then run the rest of the way up, so I don’t even need to go near a chair. We would love to know what has created this change in them. The other day we saw some small beastie (a chipmunk? flying squirrel?) go tearing across the floor and scoot under the piano. After trying several approaches Zoloft climbed up me and stared me in the eye (with a dust kitty hanging from her ear) clearly demanding that I move the piano that she couldn’t get behind so that she could continue pursuing the interloper. I am never sure whether they get in themselves or the cats bring them in to enjoy chasing them in the warmth of the house. We have often prevented them from coming in with a live rodent squeaking in whichever cat’s mouth, but only in the cold months. Still, it’s possible that some get in by themselves- I don’t want to malign our cuddly killers. I have to wonder if this has anything to do with frequently closing the cupboard doors and then discovering that we’ve trapped Freya inside them.
I am, however, perfectly willing to gripe about the several scabs from scratches on my chest and shoulder, when they try to keep their perches. The other day Willow amused us all by doing front and back bends, and other contortions while Freya just kept shifting to stay on the highest point no matter what position Willow took. As I more “shelf” on my chest than shoulders, and that blocks my view of the computer screen, I have moved one of our cat towers next to my computer to dump whichever cat onto it when they invade. Sadly, the other day I got enthralled with a two episode Dr. Who story, and as Zoloft was already occupying the tower, I left Freya on my shoulder, and it is still sore. I can’t really blame her for not getting off- I didn’t TAKE her off, and she was comfortable- I was the one who wasn’t.
It wouldn’t be quite so bad, but Freya has developed dry skin, so we’ve been rubbing her with fish-oil- which makes her fur look like an otter’s and stink. Having that near your nose is not appealing.
Next year the Solstice will be on Friday, so I expect we will stay up all night. Back in my college days I started having the solstice feast, and started the tradition of lighting the solstice candle (about 6″ diameter- and 8″ tall) at sunset on the longest night of the year, blowing it out again at sunrise. That original candle lasted about 20 years, and then I melted what was left into several pounds of bees wax (and more red coloring) to create its second incarnation. The girls and I were late getting back from errands, (we’d gone to Peterboro to get Dad a basket of fun food) so John lit the candle for us- we had a lovely quiet supper and went to bed. I was up in time to see the sun come up- oh so far south on the horizon! We didn’t bother blowing the horn- which I’m sure the neighbors would have appreciated if they’d known it was a possibility.
Thursday and Friday we did more pre-holiday stuff. Willow did most of the wrapping- it was amazing. This year she seemed to run out of paper (with just enough paper left for the package she was on), once or twice is funny, but I think it happened over a dozen times. We have lots of paper because after I got past the early years of marriage when we saved (and sometimes ironed) paper to re-use, I’d buy a lot of paper when I found it on sale. I liked being able to have a different wrapping for every present. My favorite was plain or simple (narrow or wide striped, polka dotted) colored paper with fancy contrasting ribbons (like one sees in pictures) and when the kids were younger we often had the presents color coded- Dan had blue, Willow pink (or silver), Star red, and Kat purple while I had Gold, and Ælfwine green. I think most of those are used up, (although I’d pick them up whenever I found them), but we may still have four or five dozen rolls of wrapping paper in the attic. So running out of any given design was not tragic.
Honour called- last year she’d put her credit card in the freezer to avoid using it, and it had disappeared. She’d ordered a new one so she could use it to drive over to spend the holidays with Alex, Zon, and Nicki, but since it hadn’t arrived she settled down to process the two turkeys she’d been given.  So as soon as they were thawed- the card arrived by special messenger. So I went over and helped her vacuume pack and freeze their parts- and left her to finish packing and head out. On Christmas Eve we got a call from Alex, worried because she hadn’t arrived, but we had no idea what time she’d actually gotten off- or how often she’d have to stop, since she was driving by herself. It’s amazing how quickly we get used to everyone having a cell-phone and being immediately available to us. Luckily, she did show up within a few hours after that.
So we did final wrapping, sending cards, baking cookies, watching specials- and the usual cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, and other stuff that fills life. I worked on my website. Willow made herself a new green wool skirt. When it came to putting the ruffle on the bottom, Kat had to help her because she knows how to use her ruffler attachment- but as she said, if you don’t have the needle exactly right it breaks. I think they broke about a dozen. One frighteningly, shot up into Kat’s nose, but it didn’t even bleed- on the other hand it scared the snot out of me!
Christmas Eve the Richards clan always gathers- since Dad and Liz moved out of Winchester, we go to Nancy’s in Reading. Theoretically it’s central. I’ve always wanted them to come here, but Boston really is like the hub of a wheel, Dad, Liz, Trish and Dana would have to come all the way down from Maine nearly to Boston, around 128, and then back up Rte 3, the NH spoke of the wheel, so it’s functionally farther even though it’s closer as the crow flies. Kitty comes from Taunton, and I have no idea where the various Julians have scattered. Kate no longer lives in the other half of Nancy’s duplex as she’s working on her third child, but Jay’s moved in, so I am terribly jealous both of Nancy having grandchildren to play with, as well as their proximity. Nancy’s sister Mary and her husband also joined us- the tradition now includes more shrimp cocktail than one can imagine. I brought cookies, but almost no one ate them. My girls and I brought our cards and told fortunes (a traditional Christmas activity) up until the lasagna and salad came out.
After eating we had a “Yankee Swap”. This is a way to enjoy presents without having to get one for everyone. Kitty, on the other hand, is the modern version of a “hunter gatherer”- she loves going to yard sales and flea markets and getting incredible bargains, so rather than give up her joy of finding these deals, she instituted this. While each of us brought one donation for the swap, she brought one for each of us, so each of us could go home with two. If you haven’t heard of it, what happens is that each person is given a number and they each unwrap an unmarked present in order. When you open yours, if you want to, you can trade it for any other gift that’s been opened, so as you can see, bigger numbers are better. Willow had picked ours and gratifyingly, people kept claiming the cocoa sets she’d bought. I had picked one present- a set of plastic mini-marshmallow “guns” along with a bag of the mini-marshmallows, and a little dustpan and broom to clean them up. I was pleased to see that the young me also wanted that. The lesson for next year is- chocolate is king. After the yankee swap, we did our usual “ritual”: Dad read the Christmas story from the Bible, we all chanted T’was the Night Before Christmas (in unison- Kat said we sounded like cultists trying to raise some elder god), someone reads King John was not a Good Man, and then we sing “Rudolf the Red -Nosed- (point to your nose) – -Reindeer-” (make antlers with your hands). John may have started a new tradition when he sang We Wish you a Merry Christmas and we all joined in.
We never did find our (ugly but) traditional Christmas stockings, so when we got home we went to my sock collection and each got a fairly normal long stockings to use instead. Since the only mantlepiece in the house is in the library- WAY too buried in books to get at, we put the stockings on hooks over the microwave. Along with notes to the Hogfather telling him what we wanted in the upcoming year. Willow threatened us with grievous bodily harm (or something similar) if anyone were to try to wake her up early. (The best thing in the stockings was a mini-Cthulu. Avi has been making them this year and Willow slipped the one we got for Kat into a green plastic easter egg. It is so wee and cute my throat closes up and I start talking an octave higher just thinking about it.)
That being the case, we slept in, relaxed and didn’t come down until fairly late the next morning. We had a leisurely traditional breakfast: scrambled eggs (this time duck eggs that Honour had brought us), a pound of bacon, OJ, cocoa, and fattigman bakkels (aka polish donuts). By the time we were done with that and ready to open presents, Steve arrived.
We did manage to keep our presents down to a reasonable level this year. Kat got a fine new pair of shoes, and medieval Sims, a collection of Lovecraft stories, and a Dr. Who “Sonic Screwdriver” (it flashes, makes the right sound, and best of all, really has a screwdriver in it), Willow got some action figures, and a ketar (keyboard-guitar) and splitter so she could play rock band (although they’ll need a new power cord), Jon got a nintendo (“thumb exerciser”) and a poka-walker, and some videos. Kat made me three new winter slips- I’d gotten the flannel and lace, but not gotten around to making them. Willow fixed my wind chimes that had finally died after 15 or so years, also two cool books, Froud’s World of Fairies and  T. H. Green: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Political Philosophy. So I think we did well- not too much, nor in any way deprived. (oops, looks like the link to Amazon was imbedded- trust me I did NOT buy the book at full price! used books are good!)


We had a lovely rib roast for dinner, with our tiramisu for desert, and our Christmas Crackers were pretty good (as we celebrate our English heritage). Willow got a little blue man with a parachute in hers and for once it worked- we blew him back and forth for most of the meal. Willow dubbed him Weagle McFeegle. We also had leftover mead from solstice- if anyone comes by for new year we’ve got plenty left. We got a bottle of a local wine (cranberry- from Amherst NH) which we took down to Christmas Eve. We brought it back as there seem to have been about 10 open bottles down there- almost everyone brought their favorite I think. And we had egg nog, so that’s a lot more than I generally imbibe. We pretty much relaxed all day. It was good.    
So many things we forgot or couldn’t do this year- we spaced getting our “boxing day” traditional one box of sugar cereal a year. It was more important when they were kids, and I controlled the shopping. Now they do the shopping more than I do, and could get it if they so chose (and don’t). It’s still hard to give up traditions.
I spent too much time this week watching Flash mobs and other links on the internet. I worked on my websites, and signed up for events- sent in proposals to speak, and Arwen reminded me that since the holidays are over she hopes I get started on the next book cover soon. I looked into 
Wednesday we went down to Steve and Vicki’s farm for the gathering of the Taylors. There were less people than we’d expected- Tracy brought Charlotte from her place in Worcester, but Jan was working and I’m not sure where Leif and young Charlotte are. Jenny and Niles brought their boys up from New York and OMG have they grown! I think it was Isaac who’s now taller than his grandmother! Sue came too- but not Anne and her kids, so there weren’t many children. It was the first Christmas since Alva died, and that made the whole thing pretty subdued. Since forgot Willow’s phone with it’s lovely GPS directions, we used the google directions and as usual, got lost in Barre, so we didn’t get there until about the time dinner was ready to eat. I did get a chance to chat briefly with Charlotte- she was not happy “My memory is not what it was.” She didn’t recognize Kat, but I’m not sure I would have recognized Jenny’s kids if I saw them in a different context, and Kat has gone all the way from a blonde kid to a woman with black hair, so while disappointing, it may not be as surprising as it could be. It was Steve’s week to cook and he made goose and duck, and I was very impressed. I was never able to cook goose so that I liked it, but his was good- not too greasy. 

We didn’t get home late, but I spaced that it was Wednesday and forgot to write the letter until Thursday- and didn’t finish… but we’ve already covered that fiasco. I had a heart stopping moment a second ago- my mail program “quit unexpectedly”- luckily, this time the file was recovered.

Final thoughts include mentioning that as I putter around the kitchen I’ve been watching romantic comedies. The thing I liked best in Maid in Manhattan– your basic Cinderella story- was that at the end of the movie they mentioned that it was a year later, and the maid and rich candidate still hadn’t decided to get married. While You were Sleeping was a lightweight but charming story about a woman who had no family being adopted by a family due to a misunderstanding and liking it too much to admit the mistake. Being a romantic comedy, it all comes out right in the end of course. Personally, I prefer happy endings. I streamed the collection of Dreamworks Christmas specials. I liked the one off of How to Train your Dragon, but not so much the one based on Madegascar– the penguins remain psychotic, but that’s not enough to make it funny, and the Shrek one was a music video. Nothing special. I’ve been enjoying watching episodes of Dr. Who (the 9th one). I decided to watch the David Tenant one, but then wanted to see what led up to his adventures- and now I rather want to see the 8th one, but I think I’ll finish this batch. An Awfully Big Adventure was a serious movie- Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant gave wonderful performances (the cast and crew of a theater group doing Peter Pan), but frankly, it was so depressing I’m going to stick to comedies and romances for a while.
I’ve finished The Accusers– I’ve only got three more of the Falco series, and then I’m done with it. I hope that other writers of series I like write new installments soon. I’m going to start on Scandal Takes a Holiday, but first figure I’ll finish Thomas the Rhymer. It was written by that lovely lady from Darkover, and I like it, but like any soap opera, it’s more fun to find out what people you “know” are going to do next.
I haven’t started a new course yet, rather I’ve gone back to finish the Pimsleur German course. I’d lost track of that and want to start Spanish. I’m please with how much of the German I’ve retained, but I’m thinking maybe I should go back and review the Japanese since I find it hard to remember any of that. I think it’s more likely that I’d be able to practice Spanish than Japanese, but I’d like to justify having spent the time on it. I don’t think one actually really learns a language until one gets a chance to start using it- and to do that I’d have to travel. Well, who knows what will happen next? I have to admit that I’m getting into the classical studies.
On the other hand, my new book on T. H. Green is intriguing. I got it, of course, because of his metaphysical bent. He was a 19th century philosopher, in the British Idealist movement. The problem with philosophy, as I see it, is that it has all the usual requirements for vocabulary that any specialty has- but so much of philosophy is defined by talking about arguments that have been made by other philosophers, so you have to have a basic understanding of which one argued what, and we don’t study that anymore. Whether we should, whether philosophy has value in our daily lives or not, isn’t the question- we don’t have the tools- the vocabulary to discuss it with the “specialists”. Since I’ve studied some metaphysics, I know a bit about Kant and Hegel and Schopenhaur and some of the others that  influenced him, but not nearly enough. He was working to counter the empiricists who wanted to explain everything logically, and developed not only a spiritual component of how the world works, but also included an ethical component- that once you’ve developed your philosophy, it impels you to do things to help the community.
I am not trying to become an expert on anything, but I do like to learn about everything and see how it all fits together, and this philosophy seems to embody that. If only it could be spoken about without requiring special training and vocabulary. Everybody should be able to talk about the nature of the universe and ethics, but they just think they shouldn’t be able to.
Well, I best finish up and get this sent. Because I haven’t even done the Thursday errands yet- one thing gets behind and it all goes to heck. I wonder if things close early on New Years Eve? Wait- that’s tomorrow. I lose track of what day it is when holidays disrupt the week!
There are pictures on my flickr account if you are interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22256634@N08/
Well as a finale for the year, here’s a link to Kat’s year end video.

Pain is your friend, it tells you when you’ve done something stupid.

– wisdom of Ælfwine
“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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