Friday, December 30, 2005

Important Firsts

What a busy week it's been! My nieces came over on Wednesday afternoon and stayed the night. They were very excited because this was their first over night in the new house. They are both quite taken with the idea of firsts. When Isabel made one visit to the house, I told her that she was the first person to ring our doorbell. Now every time she comes, she is sure to ring the bell and remind me that she did it before anyone else. On this visit, they were both the first (at the same time because otherwise there would be trouble) to take a bath in our bathtub. They both thought that was pretty amazing, and now they may want to have a bath whenever they come over. I haven't had the heart to explain that other families lived in this house, and took baths, long before we ever came along...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pictures of Christmas Past

Christmas 2005 was a great success in our house. We had tasty food, a beautiful, sparkly tree, lots of presents, and some great company. I'm sorry to always sound like a Pollyanna but I am just a lucky person I guess. I know I posted pictures of the tree before, but this picture has the presents all laid out under the tree. Much to the disgust of my eldest niece, I did not actually count the presents. However, I think I can safely say that everyone did very well. As per family tradition, but again to my niece's dismay, we were very disciplined about not opening our presents until the actual holiday.
We started our day by unpacking our stockings together. My mom and my younger brother were there, and of course everyone had their own stocking. This year, Santa favored edible gifts of an international flavor. For example, some stockings included cookies from Sweden, chocolates from France, marzipan pigs from Germany, and mango pickle from India. Mmmmm.
Mark did manage to get the largest package, and he did not hesitate to riiiiip! We have a running debate out unwrapping carefully versus the making of confetti.

Mark's big gift was this big, blue coat. During the cold snap we had a few weeks ago, I noticed that he only seems to have light coats suitable for the usual temperatures in Seattle. I decided that he needed a "snowman" coat. He may have trouble moving quickly, but he will definitely not be cold. More on my presents later.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Eve from Thandi and Steerpike. They are both so caught up in the holiday that it makes their eyes glow! That or they are possessed by the devil, we're not sure which. They plan to spend the holiday rushing from lap to lap, getting in all the boxes, and trying to eat tape. They recently discovered that two fat squirrels live in our backyard, so they spend a lot of their time peering out of windows and chittering like mad. Sometimes they get REALLY brave and actually go out in the yard. Still, they always have to rush in again as soon as something scary happens. The window seat is still one of Thandi's favorite places.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Recently, someone told me a joke about reindeer. It was one of those very bad email forward jokes, so I won't bother to repeat it here. However, it did get me thinking about reindeer and the santa lengend and all that good stuff. I never intended to blog about it, but when I went looking for info I found pictures that were just too pretty to resist.

This picture is from the Alaskan Arctic Reserve; the very place that Bush and co. are so excited about. It turns out that there are many different kinds of reindeer-like animals, and that the ones in Alaska are probably quite different from any Northern European ones that Santa would have. One source says that only the ones found in the wild, in North America are technically called Caribou. The rest are commonly called reindeer or Rangifer tarandus if you want to be really specific. There are quite a few reindeer kept at a zoo near here, so it is always fun to go see them around Christmas time. Let's hope Santa's bunch are up to the task tomorrow!

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I feel a bit silly about even posting this one, but I so liked the picture that Mark took. Believe it or not, there is actually water in the tank. The all white fish, Quin the Quintessential Koi, is one I've had since college. When I moved in with Mark, he was concerned that Quin might be lonely (can you be lonely with only a neural bundle instead of a brain?) so we had to get another fish as company. Thus we have Rooifis (Red Fish in Afrikaans I am told, but I think he may be playing with me when it comes to the spelling). Both of the fish have grown to capacity in this tank, so they won't get any bigger unless we cave and get them more space. The kitties love to drink out of the tank, but they have learned from wet experience that it is not a good idea to fish.

Christmas Tree

There was much discussion in our house about the correct time to get the Christmas tree. In my family, we were allowed to get the tree anytime after my mother's birthday on December 5th. Being absolute Christmas hounds, my brothers and I made sure that we had a tree by the following day. In Mark's family, the tree arrives much closer to Christmas. He even admires the tradition of waiting to put up the tree until CHRISTMAS EVE!!! The horror! The long and the short of this is that we finally got a Christmas tree yesterday. We had a few friends over last night to help with the decorating, and our house actually feels festive now.

I couldn't find the last box of ornaments, so the tree looks a bit different than usual. Still, I think it really did end up looking beautiful (but then again I always think that). I wondered if people would actually take the time to do the decorating, but one friend started right off by putting on the lights. Another friend spent quite a bit of time artfully arranging the string of wooden beads. We try to buy a new ornament when we travel, so it is always fun to get out that box and look at all the different ones we've collected so far. The new ornaments for this year are the beaded ones we got in South
Africa, and the metal-dipped acorn we got at the Smithsonian.

Once the tree was up, the food was eaten, and the songs were sung, we went on to presents. These were just the presents between the friends, but it was a nice little exchange. This picture reminds me of a six-year-old, but his extra special gift was a wine opener.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas List

Winter in Seattle is wonderful. Mark and I drove into town recently to do some Christmas shopping, and we were strongly reminded of how beautiful the Pacific NW can be. It was a clear, sunny day (rare for Seattle!) and we could see the Olymics in the West, Mt. Rainier to the South-East, and the Cascades to due East. This time last year we had very little snow in the mountains, so it's especially good see them covered in their winter blankets. The lakes sparkled in the sunshine, and we could see the Space Needle with it's special light display. Overall, it was quite an impressive sight.

Nevertheless, our real purpose was not sight-seeing, but rather the pursuit of valuable and important (ha! ha!) gifts for others. The Christmas list this year, including all his family, my family, and our collective friends got up to 34 people. Granted, many of those people just get little token gifts, but it is still quite an undertaking to get it all done. Don't get me wrong, I love to find those special little treats for people. We walked up and down the ave looking for the quirky, the amusing, and the surprising. I know many people get upset about the consumerism of Christmas, but I just can't help enjoying the giving part of things. Once you get to be an adult, the giving gets to be much more fun than the getting. Finding that perfect present, making up a nice little parcel for someone far away, or getting little, silly things for stocking is so much fun. Even after our trip to Seattle, I still have ten or twelve things left on my list. I don't mind though because it just means another chance at the hunt.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Lesson on Scrooge

In honor of the holiday season, my students are reading "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Now, you may be asking, how can I get away with something so blatantly Christian in a public school. Well, it turns out that story is right there in our district approved Language Arts textbook! The argument is that it represents classic literature, and is therefore okay. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories, so I am delighted to do it every year. In our text, the story has been re-written into a short play while preserving the original wording. The kids all get parts, and we run it sort of like a radio play. No props, but we still do voices, get the actors up on "stage," and try to produce the appropriate sound effects. Most kids seem to enjoy themselves immensely, and the resulting performance is better than you might expect. At the end, we watch the Patrick Stewart version as a reward. All in all, this is one of my favorite times of our school year. Yesterday, I came across an article discussing the origins of Ebenezer Scrooge. It turns about to be a bit of a misunderstanding:

Monday, December 12, 2005

Carol Fest

I absolutely love this picture of an Edwardian ladies choir. I heard a radio piece recently about the popularity of choirs over the years. The first push to improve singing occurred as early as colonial times when church leaders wanted to improve the sound of the hymns. Itinerant choir masters roamed the country forming choirs and teaching basic musical skills to regular people. This strikes me as such an interesting image. If you lived in some tiny village where nothing ever happened, the arrival of the choir master might have been quite an exciting thing. Sort of like an updated version of the medieval bard. Of course singing as entertainment fell in and out of favor after that, but it always seems to have a place in the community.

Singing is also one of my favorite entertainments. My mom always used to sing with us in the car to amuse us on the long trip to town. She had quite a broad range of songs, and we covered them all from one time to the next. On the way into town we might sing spirituals such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" or "Amazing Grace." On the way home we might sing some selections from the Beatles catalog or perhaps a few folk songs. She knew a hundred and one children's songs, and she never seemed to get tired of singing them with us. At one point, my older brother got a book from the library, and decided to teach us ALL the verses to the National Anthem. Thus, I grew up singing away and having a great time at it. Unfortunately, the part I didn't realize is that I am not a very good singer. My timing is off, I have trouble recognizing tunes, and my only real skill seems to be in remembering lyrics. Now I mostly limit my singing to when I'm alone in the car.

However, I do get one chance every year to really enjoy singing Christmas songs. One of my friends holds a ladies-only Christmas party every December. All the girls bring tasty treats, handy crafts to work on, and their best holiday mood. I think we are on year four, and it gets better every time. The hostess plays along on the piano, and this time we went through the entire holiday song book. Two of the girls can really sing, two more are decent, and then there are a few of us who sing veeeery quietly during the high, squeaky bits. Hugely entertaining if you ask me. Now if only I could find a wandering choir master...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Okay, so she is actually yawning, not snarling, but it still makes a pretty good picture. The kitties have both calmed down considerably since the move. They seem to like the new house very much because it has much more room for chasing each other around and finding new places to hide. I knew Steerpike was truly over the shock when he started biting my toes through the covers again. Another fascinating thing about moving is the large number of cardboard boxes. Of course each box must be thoroughly inspected inside and out, and any loose packing tape needs to be shredded. Last week I caught Steerpike with a big ball of packing tape stuck to one of his paws. He was frantically trying to shake the paw and run away at the same time. It was so funny that I have to admit I watched for a minute before going to help him.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Picture at Last

Finally I got the chance to get some of the pictures off of the camera. This is a shot of the house taken last Thursday at the height of the snow. We actually got accumulation of about two inches or so. It was definatley enough to blanket the yard and sidewalks. It even caused some trouble on the road. If you have a Subaru or some other sensible vehicle, there was no problem at all. However, if you happen to have a silly car like me, you were in for some trouble. I had to park my car accross the street, go inside and find the one rake that we own, rake some of the snow off the driveway, open the garage door, turn my car around, and make a dash up the slope of the driveway. As it was, there was some slipping, but I did manage to get into the garage without taking off mirrors or paint. Once my car was safe and sound inside, I really did not want to take it out again soon.

I put on my hiking boots and big puffy coat over my school clothes, and I went outside to enjoy the scenery. I just love the quiet of a snowy day and the crunch of shoes on new snow. As I was standing in the yard, taking pictures and enjoying the scene, my friend arrived unexpectedly. She was in the neighborhood anyway, so she thought she would stop by. It was such a treat to have her visit AND the snow still falling outside. Pleasant things that are unexpected are often much sweeter than those that you plan.

That night it was still snowing on and off, so I just thought I would have to stay home from the dinner we had planned at our friends' house. Missing dinner was the only thing about that day that dampened my spirits. Then, when I sent out the email to say I couldn't make it, both the friends and Mark offered to come and pick me up. I was so touched, it's not a short trip, that both would be so willing to go out of their way. Mark ended up coming home early to pick me up (he is so sweet) and we had a great time at dinner. By the time we left for home at 11:00, it was easy to tell from the roads that we were probably not going to have school the next day. Sure enough I got a call at 5:00am, and it was another wonderful, unexpected treat.

10 Things I Love About the New House

(in no particular order)

1. The rose by the front door
2. The banister post (is that a newell post? what is a newell post?) where I can throw my coat
3. The cove window with my cedar chest/bench in front I can curl up and read or blog away
4. TWO pantries
5. The little window where Thandie likes to sit and watch the joggers go by
6. The mantle piece and fireplace where I can put seasonal decorations and such
7. The garage where my car gets to live inside!
8. The landing where the kitties peak around to see who is home
9. Our cute little office with room for two desks
10.Our beautiful, cozy, pale yellow bedroom

I know, I know I need to take pictures AND actually get them off the camera and onto the blog. I will one day I promise!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tiny Cold Crystals of Loveliness!

It snowed at school today. There was excitement, there was jubilation, there was dancing on the sports field. The kids were pretty happy too! I know, I know that is a terrible joke, but truthfully, I was excited right along with them. It really started to come down in ernest around 1pm, so I took my afternoon class outside to enjoy the first real snow of the year. Before we went out, I gave them a serious lecture about keeping quiet and being careful not to disturb any of the other classes. They all agreed very solomnly, and then we went outside and they forgot completely. There was running, screaming, throwing, and so on. In short, they forgot everything about being aloof teenagers and reverted to early childhood. It was pretty cute. I don't know what will happen tonight, but the snow today was definately a special treat.