Monday, December 31, 2012

End-of-Year Accounting

First things first:

This year I am

happier - definitely, although I am aware more than ever of how temporary a state this can be;
richer - no home improvement projects embarked upon this year, always a bonus for the wallet;
fatter - probably. I don't really keep track. I've been running the same miles as ever, but my metabolism is slowing down. Also for the first time ever I've been buying half and half on a regular basis (it makes oatmeal so yummy).

Other notes:

My symbolic activity for the year has been building rock walls. A) It's my new hobby: give me a pile of rocks, a loose slope, and a free day, and I'm perfectly happy, and B) it's the best-fit single concept for how I've approached life this year. Let the world do its terrifying thing outside: I'll slather on sunscreen and retreat to the back yard to build some walls, or self-soothe by admiring what I've already built. I'll straighten up after a morning of sorting and shaping and realize that I am what can only be called happy, and it's the best I've felt in weeks. It works against cancer, dumbass politicians, tense elections, kids growing up, mass shootings, global warming, too much baseball - really, anything.

Also, less symbolic: this has been the hobby that has tempted me toward stealing: I don't really covet many possessions of other people, but I do covet their rocks (and they're just lying out there! in the yard! neglected!) So far I have resisted. We did pick up some rocks that had been dumped in a vacant lot by the people doing construction in the lot next door: this felt morally okay. (Silas, in the back seat: "Are they stealing?" Helen, in tones of angry resignation: "YES.")

Report on previous year's activities:

I. Resolutions - verdict 2012

I started the year with these resolutions:

1. Remember birthdays and note them. Especially extended in-law relatives.
Success. That reminds me: Uncle Dick's birthday is approaching soon.

2. Check all investments quarterly; also check credit card balances monthly. Make changes on investments when it seems necessary.
Welllll...this one started off well but tapered off in June.
3. Make the phone calls. Last year I had at least three projects in which I had the contacts all lined up, but I never made contact. This year I will make contact. In other words: FOLLOW THROUGH. I’m going to show FOLLOW THROUGH.
Success and not, in equal measures. I managed to make phone calls and follow through enough to write an article for a national publication (go me), but the elation of this was tempered by some notable areas where I did not follow through, both with later writing opportunities for this same publication and for other obligations. I'm almost wondering if what I need to do is strike a balance between following through, which is good for my karma, and just accepting the fact that I am less ambitious and driven than I sometimes wish I was.

4. Hike once a month.
Hiked every month but May. Did count my runs on some months, though (which, since I ran in May, probably means that I "hiked" in May, too).

5. Print out more photos.
Hmm. This is one of those resolutions I forgot until I looked them up just now. So: fail.
6. In general: connect more; reach out more. 
Definitely better on this front - I went to a handbag party, a wine party and a jewelry party, three things I would have just turned down without thinking two years ago. I looked up a couple of old friends and took them out for dinner. Tried to get in the habit of emailing people I care about more regularly. We've started having dinner/ drinks with a couple neighborhood families on a monthly basis: this rocks. Even if there's a little too much back room celebrating of new legislative freedoms granted by the people of Colorado among some of the other families.

II. TBR Challenge

A. The Journals of Lewis and Clark, edited by Bernard DeVoto - The highlight was Clark's spelling, of course, but the journey itself across an absolutely unknown (to them) continent was pretty interesting, too.

B. Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose - Provided excellent context for (A), and was enjoyable in its own right.

C. The Ohio Frontier, R. Douglas Hurt - Exhaustive, particularly of public-record-type information, but slightly.

D. Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville - I liked this, but it kicked my butt. I ended up reading Little Heathens instead.

E. Little Heathens, Mildred Armstrong Kalish - memoir of growing up in rural Iowa during the Depression. Think Farmer Boy crossed with Cheaper By the Dozen. Fun and informative (although my dad, who grew up in rural Iowa a decade later, was suspicious about some of the details, esp. regarding lack of indoor plumbing and electricity).

F. The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen - Sleeper hit of the year, for me. The first two chapters have always put me off, but once I got used to their patrician rhythm this story of a man trying to come to terms with his wife's death by heading into the Himalayas in winter.

G. Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America, Alan Berger. The epigraphs were the best part. The book itself was poorly produced, so that it started falling apart as I read, and the text was both insipid and incoherent ("with drosscape, a new paradigm is cast" - what does this even mean? How do you cast a paradigm? Is it like dice, or a porcelain figurine?). However, luckily I own the book, so that I can comb through the epigraphs and use them as a reading plan.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


The holiday is (almost) over, the relatives have gone home, I've started to think a little too panickedly of work issues: must be the eve of the year. Today M. and I sat down and put all the baseball, violin, work and ski events into the calendar, and that pretty much brings us up to July, schedule-wise. Sigh. I'm grateful, of course. How can I not be? But it wears me down.
Christmas Eve fondue.
This week has been a nice respite, however; my parents and sister made the long bleak drive across Kansas (a big shout-out to them - thank you, family!); many other relatives came by, and with just a little before-hand phone coaching and quiet admonitions to self to Calm It The Hell Down, we emerged on the other side of the holiday without any scenes, storming-outs, bitterness, or hurt feelings. That I know of, anyway. And everyone still seems to be speaking to us. So, toasts all round!
Fondue add-ins.
We all went to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum - our first foray into Culture as a family since last year's trip to the Theater. It was remarkably successful. The kids listened to the audiotour obediently; they looked at the pictures; when I took a quick spin through the rest of the museum with Mr. Silas he was reasonably attentive, although he kept saying "i don't get it." We were in the contemporary wing, though, so I didn't get most of it either. "Listening to your feelings as you don't get it is basically the point, I think," I told him.

Totally unnecessary additional cookies (eaten with relish by all).
I am starting to taper down my daily feats of eating, mostly because we have eaten all the pies, stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, cheesy onions, sticky buns, roasted nuts, candy and so forth that were left in the house in the wake of the festivities; we still have some Christmas cookies, but we should be through with them soon. The wine is a different issue altogether but at least it is bottled.

Stockings are hung.
After everyone left, we went to see the Pompeii exhibit at the nature and science museum. It is spectacular; you walk through the informative but tame front rooms, filled with artifacts and culture and the operations of daily life, and then you hit the floor-to-ceiling video screen showing a video-cam of the city of Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius - starting out with sunny blue skies in the morning, the first eruption at noon, and the gradual destruction of the city in the hours that followed (the sound track! my god! the dogs barking and the babies crying - and then everything not barking or crying anymore, just rattling and wind sounds). Then the room full of plaster casts of people and animals caught in the ash. Coupled with reading about the French Revolution and certain events happening nationally and personally, my mind has been focused lately on mortality and the Sudden End of Everything.
Even Santa waits spellbound for Christmas to arrive.
And so: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Or, happy new beginnings, again. One of my resolutions - to be posted shortly - is to post more. Likely this will fall by the wayside eventually, but I like writing here and find it useful.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Better just post

It's been a busy coupla weeks. You too, you say? Not any kind of excuse, you say? Sigh. I know it. But still.

First, I went to Spokane for work. I managed to get three hour delays in both directions  -which, sucky, etc, but on the other hand I always overpack in the book department and so I managed to finish one book (Four Souls), get halfway through two others (Parrot & Olivier and Little Heathens), and finish all of the editing I brought along and draft the report article, all while sitting in increasingly uncomfortable airport chairs and borrowing airport Wifi.

Pretty much the moment I stepped off the plane in Denver it was time to go to this:

Run kitty.

And then almost immediately after we drove to this:

Our Christmas tree in its native habitat.
The photos don't really give a sense for how bloody cold it was up there, especially since the day before it was 50 degrees and we were wearing T-shirts (the day before, that is). OUR BODIES ARE NOT READY.

All things considered, though, I'd rather cut a Christmas tree in wintry weather than in shorts and a sun hat.

Nine degrees. NINE.
Luckily you don't have the audio, which is big brother offering a lot of unsolicited advice.
So we hauled our guy home and set him up and also got the outdoor lights up and now it's all lovely and festive. I was hoping to get a photo of the dressed tree in here, too, but - well, I thought I'd better just post.

So Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.