Holiday Lights

The last few weeks have rushed by. Work continued to be busy straight up until I closed my laptop on the 23rd, long after everyone else in the house had eaten dinner.

Other than a single day next week scheduled to play catch up, I’m on vacation until the new year, and so is my family. Christmas Eve, which would normally be centered around visits to family and friends, dinner with my parents, and food preparation for a big Christmas dinner, is even quieter than we thought it would be, while we wait for someone who has potentially exposed us to Covid-19 to get test results back. We’re all fine, just waiting.

My son has started talking about the things he doesn’t want to end after the pandemic does. Mostly he wishes I could be home like I am now. I do too, and I’m working to limit my travel after this ends. We know we have months ahead of us yet, but everyone seems to instinctively also know that this, too, shall pass.

Today is for baking – my friend Claire’s gingerbread cookie recipe is a requirement for Christmas for more than 20 years now, maybe a few more sugar cookies too. And Eli will try his hand at Pierogies, a warm reminder for both of us of our childhoods. That, combined with homemade apple sauce, kielbasa from a polish shop nearby and a few other items will be a fun meal and homage to our shared Polish ancestry. Even in our quarantine, we will celebrate.

I hope all of you have a warm and merry holiday filled with love. From our home to yours, happy holidays.

Taking Stock

Early mornings are my favorite time. Before everyone is up, there I am, with a book or my computer and my cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet of being alone before the world starts up around me.

Yesterday morning after I put a pot of eggs to hard boil on the stove, I sat in the living room, which was still cozy warm from the previous night’s fire in the wood stove, and illuminated by the lights on the Christmas tree. With just a few days to my favorite holiday, we are starting to slow down. There’s still much to do – I am late to getting the last few packages in the mail (this is true every year), we still haven’t gotten much wrapped and there’s some baking to be done. But all of our shopping is complete, Eli continues to create Elf on the Shelf magic with our house elf, Elphidelphia, most nights and other than a lot of wrapping still to do, which I actually enjoy, there’s just not a ton left to manage.

This year we will not spend our Christmas Eve with my parents or Christmas Day with my former in-laws. We can’t – we made the decision a couple weeks ago to put the kids into a school that is open and in-person 5 days a week, and so all semblance of assured safety for those around us is gone. It was the right decision, but it comes tinged with regret. Our cozy 9 month long bubble popped, and now we go out into the world again, just as infections rage all around me. I can’t say it doesn’t worry me, but I also know it’s what the kids needed. So we rolled the dice, and the outcome is now one of crossing our fingers and hoping that the other families there are as careful as ours.

So Christmas will be simple, with a lovely cheese board and a ham and some simple, pre-prepped side dishes for lunch. Eli, I, my ex and the kids are the sum total of the humans we will be with, and for this year that’s just fine.

Our winters are always quiet, but this one will be so much more so. But as much as I miss our people, I intend to enjoy it fully, with long peaceful walks and runs, time spent in the kitchen, Friday nights spent with homemade pizza and movies, and books. My garden seeds – although I need very few this year – are ordered because I know there will likely be shortages again this year, even though I am several months away from the potting bench taking up residence in the living room.

After re-engineering our spaces last summer to make room for more kids to arrive in our lives in 2021, we ended up with a lot of clutter in various places. Little by little, I’m going through and clearing it out. This week I tackled the top of our bureau, which has long been the resting place for unmatched socks, outgrown kid clothes, and various things that we don’t quite know where to put. Now it has just a few items on it, all carefully placed, and it’s a serene view for when I sit propped in bed with my laptop on chilly mornings. Of which there are a lot of these days. Decluttering – it’s what’s for winter.

Yesterday I did all my ordering of groceries from various locations, and stopped off at the Asian grocery store. From now until February 1, or maybe longer, other than milk from the local dairy, which we pick up 2x a month, and our Misfits Market deliveries, we’re on a grocery store & spending freeze. No going, no ordering. I stocked up this weekend because our holiday meals are important and there’s a pandemic on, but at the end of the day it’s time to get some daylight into the pantry and freezer, and one does that by eating it down.

Covid-19 is also spreading really, really fast in Massachusetts and everywhere, and we’re hunkering down for the next few months as much as possible, so having less coming in from the outside world while we eat through our stockpile is a good idea.

This year we have done so very much. As I look at the patched, and still to be painted walls in the bedroom, I think about the gift that new pipes throughout was to us and the house. There’s still more trees to take down, and I get a little sad about each one as they are removed, but the 7 trees we took down posed danger to the house and us, and now we have the start of a clearing that might eventually become something. An orchard? We don’t know yet.

And then there’s the RV, which sounds like a way too big investment until I tell you how very much I love it. It’s like playing fort, only for adults (and the kids, but mostly it’s for us, ha!). The sheer coziness and contentment Eli and I felt in the mountains over Thanksgiving weekend was not something I think you can put a sticker price on, as we lit candles at the little table after a day of hiking, and sat down to a delicious dinner of homemade enchiladas that he had prepped at home. Moments like that, when you realize you have everything you need and then some, are an amazing gift. Twenty years from now I imagine it will feel exactly the same.

And there’s been so much else. The pleasure of knowing that an entire bed of garlic for us and our neighbors is tucked away under the snow in the garden. The freshly painted walls in the living room and a comfy couch that will seat all of us and then some. The fact that we are moving along in our adoption journey. Our kids. One another. 2020 has been a hard year to sit with, with illnesses and mental health issues and job challenges for so many we love, plus a pandemic and so many people at risk and in need. We have been incredibly lucky, despite me getting sick and our work and life load having exploded in intensity. This meant that Eli and I had to team up on a whole new level, ruthlessly prioritizing our time. We’ve settled into most of a routine based around our various strengths and weaknesses, and I think we’ll just continue to refine that over time.

Since this year we tended to some very expensive items, next year will be a little different. Our focus, other than replacing the super crappy electric stove in the kitchen and adding a few needed implements like a leaf blower and chain saw, is savings. We have our RV, which means for us now travel is cheap and awesome and comes with our own private bathroom, which is wonderful in a pandemic (we love tent camping but communal restrooms are a no-fly zone for us right now). We are a few months away from being adoptive-parent certified, we hope. And we’ve been taking steps to get a better handle on expenses, cutting as many as possible. We’re also knee-deep in a refinance, dropping the mortgage down to 20 years at 2.25%. Our target is to pay it off in way less than that, but carving off a full percentage point and dropping the term from 30 to 20 years for effectively the same monthly payment will save us a ton of interest over the life of the loan.

We still have a lot of big goals ahead of us – an eventual renovation, kids to college, and a lot of expenses to evaluate and cut over the next several months. That includes some recurring expenses but also our grocery spending, which is a little uhm….well…never mind. More on that later.

But the name of the game for 2021 is using and enjoying what we have. We have spent the last several years building the life we want, and now it’s time to slow down and live in it for a while.

Thanks Giving

I woke up yesterday morning to rain, that turned to snow and wind later in the day. I was up early, as I always am, but this time with purpose – yesterday was our little family’s belated Thanksgiving dinner. Combined with tree and house decorating for Christmas, the first Saturday in December is a big deal here.

December 5th was Thanksgiving here because the adults in the family banded together several weeks ago to isolate, get all of us tested and exercise extreme caution so that the kids and their Dad could spend the weekend with his parents, both of whom are at risk due to age and medical conditions. We all figured since it was both Thanksgiving and Grandma’s birthday, better that than not at all.

That meant that Eli and I were alone, and deciding that an empty house wasn’t our thing, took the RV up to Maine for 3 days. We prepped and cooked all our meals in advance and were pretty isolated other than passing hikers at a distance as we climbed to the top of Old Speck Mountain, a piece of the Appalachian Trail about 270 miles south of it’s end point at Mount Katahdin. It was snowing at the summit, and wet and slippery both up and down, but an experience we both loved. Time alone without chores to talk, sleep and be outdoors is rare f or us, and we relished every moment, despite the chilly weather and missing the kids.

Thursday I went to BJs and stocked the house with everything I could, from candy canes and Christmas candy to groceries and bows. Other than occasional trips for milk and fresh fruit and veggies, we need nothing, and won’t for quite some time. Friday I stopped working a bit early and we took off to find a Christmas tree at the tree farm that long ago was my next door neighbor. It was a gorgeous, sunny and warm day, and the fresh air and the tradition of cutting our own tree was good for all of us.

And now, other than the new school the kids will start to attend on Tuesday, we’ve battened down the hatches. Covid-19 is spreading out of control here and almost everywhere in the US. From now until Memorial Day, we’re tucked in tight.

Which brings me back to that Thanksgiving dinner, and our celebration at home. To get through a winter of relative isolation, a level of coziness combined with periodic celebration is required. Settling in for a family dinner of Turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings while the wind blows and the rain comes down is important for any number of reasons, but most of all that traditions are comforting, and they ground us. Our traditions adapt and change over the years – this year just us 4 together, but our table expands and contracts as our family changes. But enough components stay the same – the cheese-filled mashed potatoes, the cranberry raspberry sauce, the deliciously brined turkey, the us – that they are touchstones in our lives, the things that make home.

In a cold Covid winter, when hospitals are overwhelmed and the best thing we can do is stay home, making home the place we want to be is important.