My friend Deirdre is still posting 2014 roundups so I decided I had a few days left before February rolls around and 2014 becomes 2000-late.
Oh, 2014... you taught the Dillows many things. Character-building things, lessons about patience and adaptability, the importance of breathing to avoid frustration-induced head explosion... but many happy things, too. Here is an incomplete list of some of the more lasting lessons we learned:
1. If you see tracks that look like little pig feet at a nature preserve, turn around and go home.
We hiked at the Red River Natural Wildlife Preserve last January and we're pretty sure "Natural Wildlife Preserve" is a euphemism for "place you'll encounter feral hogs." I have seen bits and pieces of those horrid nature channel shows about feral hogs, and all I can say is that my family better be really thankful we only saw their fresh hog-prints and not their fresh hog-selves or else I would have pushed them all down in my shrieking sprint to the car. Also, there were 50 million burrs so we had to carry the dog after we finally gave up trying to pick the burrs out of her paws every six feet. She ended up with a tick as her prize for gracefully surviving the indignity of being carried. It was not our finest outdoor adventure.
1a. We should be far more aware of FORESHADOWING.
2. The optimal Dillow Commuting Distance is 15 minutes from work/school/gymnastics.
Anything more than that is grounds for meltdown. I think we put as many miles on the van in 2014 as we did the previous three years combined. Different decisions will be made in 2015, I can assure you.
3. Sometimes you just can't change things, even if you try really, really hard.
That's all I'm going to say about that here.
4. Mardi Gras is a season, not a day.
Where I'm from, Mardi Gras is a day. Maybe, if you remember. In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a season—one that begins in January. People decorate their houses, schools decorate their buildings, and people dress up their pets. Seriously, this was eye-opening new information to us.
4a. Gracie is always first, and always holds the prize. (This was a confirmed lesson, not a new one)
She caught the special Mardi Gras doll at the Krewe of Harambee parade as well as the baby in the king cake at our friend Heidi's house. Of course she did.
That's pretty much all I'm going to say about that too, though Matt would add that a well-timed TimTam direct from Australia is a powerful thing to comfort one's soul. : )
6. Silver linings are still real.
Thank you, Jill's Gymnastics, for being the most silvery-silver lining we could ever hope for.
7. Texas is the place to go.
Well, in 2014 it was: I went to Texas five times in the first half of 2014 (and once in 2013). It's a land of extremes, I've decided, but once I got where I was going I had a fantastic time every single trip. (Thanks, Texas!)
8. Do not hike in secluded parts of Louisiana.
It's a story best told in person (if you're really lucky) but I'll sum it up this way: Matt was stung by something akin to a Giant Asian Hornet (a European hornet? A Giant Cicada Killer Wasp?) in June. It was awful and horrible and all the nightmarish things you might think getting stung by something this big would be. We took to calling it his trackerjacker sting, because it was just that surreal and scary.
(Actually, maybe just give up hiking in Louisiana altogether what with the chiggers and the feral hogs and the ticks and the trackerjackers).
9. If you're going to Disney World, you should have Nancy Marquette plan your trip.
Because Nancy Marquette planned our trip, we had 3000% more fun than we would have had if we had tried to do it ourselves. On paper, a group of four adults and six children moving through Disney World for an entire week in JULY sounds like the worst idea ever, but in reality it was perfect. The worst thing that happened? I lost my beloved prescription sunglasses that were totally worn out anyway. Well, and Molly got a little sick the last night (but recovered quickly). Tackling Disney pictures/ephemera is on my list of unfinished projects to tackle in 2015.
10. 4th grade in Alabama is no joke.
Gracie is getting a PhD in 4th grade. Her sisters look wide-eyed at her project load and breathe a sigh of relief that 2nd grade and 7th grade are full of regular, expected workloads. This will no doubt be a life lesson in 2015, too. She has to make it to May first though.
11. Check the weather and the water temperature.
12. Books and friends make the world go round.
These are the albums we (or Bono) added to our collection in 2014—kind of a surprisingly small music year for us this year (I know... but really). Pictured, from left to right:
Foo Fighters Sonic Highways
Various Artists Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War
Old Crow Medicine Show Remedy
Big Head Todd and the Monsters Black Beehive
Trampled By Turtles Trouble
Jack White Lazaretto
Taylor Swift 1989
Black Pistol Fire Hush or Howl
Bob Mould Beauty & Ruin
Queens of the Stone Age ...Like Clockwork
Jason Isbell Southeastern
Weezer Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Various Artists Frozen
St. Paul & The Broken Bones Half the City
Reno Divorce Lover's Leap
U2 Songs of Innocence
Wolfmother New Crown
Various Artists 111 Tchaikovsky Masterpieces
It was also the year of the single song. The girls got a lot of iTunes gift cards from various sources for Christmas last year, and they went wild redeeming them one song here, two songs there, etc. It was kind of painful to my album-loving heart. I fear I am a Luddite (with an iPod?) for reacting this way, but there you have it. I'm still a big believer in the whole package, the song story that was arranged in a way for a reason, the getting-to-know-you part of buying music. I guess I consumed music much the same way in elementary school via the radio, but by middle school I was definitely saving my money up to buy albums on cassette. Ah well. Old lady. Hmph.
+ I'd say the Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways album is among the coolest projects of 2014—they visited eight big music cities around the U.S. and spent a little time digging into the culture and music scene, which culminated with writing a song to record in a famous local music studio. The experience was turned into a documentary on HBO which Matt watched all of and I watched a lot of; each week a new song was released on iTunes after the episode aired. I may have been weepy over the last episode, because it was so sad and beautiful and struck a chord with my album-loving heart. That's right: Dave Grohl, you made me cry. It was really well done if you're ever looking for a new show to watch.
+ Matt intends to retire from the Air Force, grow a giant beard, and follow Old Crow Medicine Show and Trampled by Turtles and Jason Isbell and Drive By Truckers and Steve Earle around the country on tour. Heh. Just kidding. I think.
+ The most under-listened to album of the year: Black Beehive by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. I don't know what that's about, but I actually forgot I had purchased it when I went back looking for the album art.
+ I never heard of Black Pistol Fire until I put this collage together. We clearly need to communicate better when we buy an album, ha. It's pretty good, though.
+ Oh, Taylor Swift. Who didn't buy your album this year?
+ Ditto Frozen. Bridget knows every song frontwards and backwards, in case you wondered. However, we've only seen the movie once (well, twice for the girls), which makes us violently skew a statistic out there somewhere, I'm pretty sure.
+ Weezer is a perennial favorite, though if I hear Back to the Shack one more time when I turn on the car radio I might scream. It's catchy, but holy mackerel, 104.9.
+ St. Paul & The Broken Bones was the only impulse buy I made this year. I don't remember where I heard them, but I liked them enough to buy this album pretty much on the spot. I'm not sure I love it, but it's good.
+ Reno Divorce: not my favorite. Or in my top 500. [insert Matt eye-roll here]
+ Uhm, thanks Bono! I haven't listened to this U2 album yet. It's been a while, me and U2.
+ Classical music continues to be the best bargain in the universe—I think I bought this 111 song Tchaikovsky album for like $4.99 or some crazy thing.
+ My album of the year is Lazaretto, hands down. Here is where Matt likes to point out how little I liked The White Stripes when they first came onto the scene, and how ironic it is that Jack White has eked out a spot in my top ten of all time. Seeing him live sealed the deal for life.
How about you? What did you listen to and love this year?
It's time for the 2014 recaps! January blogging! It never gets old.
I did it, I did it—I read 31 books this year! This is truly scoff-worthy by most of the reading company I keep, but it's been my goal to break 30 books for the last few years and I've come up short every time. Now granted, I counted a very short play in that total, but I don't care as I get to make my own rules and I'm counting it : ) I'm going to set a very lofty goal of 35 books for 2015—this might be foolhardy since we're moving yet again to a location yet to be determined, but there you have it.
I'm especially proud of how interesting and diverse my books read ended up being in 2014. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I was invited to play in an online book bingo group by a friend who knew how despondent I was to have moved away from my beloved book club in 2013; while I had complete freedom to choose whatever titles I wanted to read, the genres or types of books were varied on each bingo space. I completed my bingo card in late November (with my least favorite book of the year). Bingo categories ranged from a book of non-fiction to a book outside my comfort zone to a graphic novel, etc. and I read 25 books to fill up my card.
So, notes on the best of the best!
+ I have a tie for my favorite book of the year: A Man Called Ove by Frederic Bachman and Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. A Man Called Ove was recommended highly by Jill (who read nearly 100 books and ended up picking it as her favorite book of the year, too). It was just so wildy satisfying. Originally published in Swedish, it's the story of an elderly man whose plans are foiled by life. There was a lot of Willis Smiling Disorder while reading it and some bawl-babying at the end, too. Rooftoppers is a jFiction book, and it was weird and suspenseful and dark and light and completely other-worldly and believable all at the same time. I couldn't convince my fantasty-loving children to read it (yet), but it was definitely the book after my own reading heart.
+ I think it is well-established that I love John Boyne's books. This one was about a boy during WWI.
+ The Good Lord Bird was a wild, fast-paced, painstakingly complex book about John Brown's escapades throughout the U.S. told through the eyes of a fictional character named Henry (but who poses as a girl nicknamed "Onion"). It made my head spin, all that research James McBride had to do to pull this one off.
+ Can you guess which book was out of my comfort zone? I chose well, because while it was WAY out of my comfort zone, I feel smarter and more well-rounded for having read In Cold Blood. I read Old Grandpa's first edition. Fascinating and totally compelling in every way.
+ I read Whistling in the Graveyard right after we moved, and it was the perfect summer book to distract me from boxes and the dearth of friends in a new place.
+ Malcolm Gladwell: write whatever, I'm sure I'll love it.
+ I don't know why I waited so long to read A Thousand Splendid Suns. Khaled Hosseini is a truly excellent writer, and I loved this book from beginning to end.
+ I am embarrassed to admit I had never read A River Runs Through It and Other Stories until this year. Norman Maclean might be the most underrated American author (or maybe he's not underrated at all, I'm out of the literary critic loop) but wow, A River Runs Through It is a true American masterpiece of a story. I am of course quite familiar with the story because of the movie that came out IN 1992 (!) and having carried a big piece of Montana around in my heart SINCE 1995 (!). Reading the book with Brad Pitt, Craig Sheffer, and Tom Skerrit in my head only enhanced it. That movie was really, really well-cast, I thought to myself no less than 20 times while reading it.
+ A Thousand Mornings was quiet and lovely.
+ West of the Moon was odd and magical and lovely.
+ The Lions of Little Rock told a story that I was completely unfamiliar with—most everyone knows the story of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957-1958 but this book examines the 1958-1959 school year, which is far less known about but no less interesting. jFiction is the best.
+ The Express Line is the very short play I (re)read. It is perfect in every way, and I giggled to myself how much of it I could recite from memory as I read it. It is beloved to me, as one of my wildly talented speechies from Montana won the 1998 state championship in Humorous Interp performing it.
+ Fictitious Dishes is the most clever book ever. If you like reading/food/photography you'll love it.
Other great reads that I rated with four stars: This Time Together by Carol Burnett, Fairy Tale Comics, The Great Gatsby (can you believe I never read it? I liked it a lot, but I still haven't come to the conclusion that it is THE BOOK of the 20th century and probably never will), A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, Big Fish by Daniel Wallace, Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen.
I awarded more three star books than normal, and awarded The Best American Essays of 2014 as my least favorite book of the year, ironically. Ugh. I love, love essays (usually) but now I'm gunshy about picking up another one of these anthologies. I know, I know, it's the editor that counts... maybe the 2015 editor will be someone a little more of a kindred spirit. Or maybe I should stop being an essay sissy.
And how about you? I don't care if my "to-read" list at Goodreads is 5000 books long, so tell me your favorites, too!
I took the girls to see Annie on Monday, our last day of vacation. (We all liked it very much, please make more live-action family movies that I can enjoy with my girls, Hollywood.) This isn't about Annie, though—this is about The Buckwheat Boyz, whose song Peanut Butter Jelly Time made a quick appearance in one of the more ridiculous scenes in the movie (while I liked the movie very much, I've never been much of a Cameron Diaz fan even when I used to draw Seventeen magazine cover models in my sketchbook for fun)(oh yes I did).
I associate The Buckwheat Boyz with everything that is right about education.
As far as I can tell, this short-lived group (that apparently disbanded tragically when one of the members was killed in a police stand-off in 2002) only had two songs that reached any kind of fame: Peanut Butter Jelly Time and Ice Cream and Cake, which this story is about. Before the fame of being featured in Annie or Regular Show or Family Guy (two shows I have never seen) or a Baskin-Robbins commercial in 2009, they captured my heart in Arlington, VA at a back-to-school picnic in 2008.
Imagine the scene: 200 or so kids, teachers, and parents dancing to Ice Cream and Cake cranked up to public noise disturbance levels, as the principal (superstar administrator, veteran, grandma, and Marine Corps marathon runner) Dr. Piehota, pictured behind Gracie, teaches them all the moves. Everyone laughed, danced together, smiled at their principal while their principal beamed back. Those kids started the school year knowing that the school and the school family was both a welcome and fun place to belong, and that learning is optimized when the tone is set—and maintained—by extras that make everyone feel special. There were so many extras. Potlucks, auctions, enrichment activities, 5K races, more. No one ever seemed put out or put upon to provide or attend any of it.
Who knows where someone even acquired the song to play as I've only ever been able to find it in YouTube video format—I have tried. Here you go—the dumbest video ever for the song I love.
Welcome to the Unfinished Interviews! Each month in 2015 I'll be chatting with a new maker/do-er/creative type who knows a thing or two about unfinished and finished projects alike. I'm excited to kick off this series with inspiring creative coach, Tiffany Han!
Tell me a little about yourself and the work you do with creative women.
The official answer: I am a business coach who helps highly-creative women take bold, inspired action.
What I really do: For some women, this means that I help them start and get something launched. For others, it’s about re-designing their existing business so that it becomes something that they love.
The work that I do is always about setting boundaries, getting clear on what you really want for yourself AND what you really want to say, and finally playing a bigger game.
Based on your coaching experience, what are the reasons you see well-meaning people abandon projects?
Fear and a lack of resonance are the two biggest reasons. Over-commitment is also a huge problem.
Fear—the things are big, so we tend to focus on the easier tasks with known outcomes first. I’ve been talking about writing a book proposal for years now, but it’s hard. Instead, I focus on the things that feel easy, the ones that I already know how to do.
Lack of Resonance—sometimes, we have good intentions, but when we get into a project, we just aren’t feeling it anymore. This is usually a case when it’s okay to walk away instead of powering through. It’s like reading a book that you just aren’t into. You can simply put it down and find another book to read. It’s as simple as that, but we tend to put pressure on ourselves to finish.
Is unfinished work always a bad thing?
No, but unfinished work that people can’t move on from is almost always a burden. So many people come to me for help with productivity and procrastination without seeing that they just need to let certain things go. (see above: lack of resonance) We all tend to have projects floating in the ether and if they are unfinished and unresolved, they just become stress.
What is your strategy for helping others sort out what’s worth finishing from everything else—and resolving the potential guilt that might result?
I like to have people start with figuring out the long-term vision of what they want from their lives. How do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning 5 years from now? By recognizing what they want and focusing on their values (rather than specifics), you can use this information to inform decisions.
Also, it’s important to be able to differentiate between fear and lack of resonance. If you’re dragging your feet on something, is it because fear is involved or are you simply over it? Being able to discern this can help make huge progress with letting things go so that you can make space for the new things that you really do want.
Are there specific habits you see in friends, family, clients, and colleagues that lend themselves to better “finish power”?
Boundaries with other people AND social media. Creative commitment, creative habits, and the ability to do the work without waiting for inspiration to hit.
There comes a point, usually towards the middle of a creative project where you have to keep working and powering through even with no end in sight. This is the point that most people give up on themselves. People I’ve seen be successful with creative endeavors are the ones who are able to keep taking those steps forward. No matter what.
On the flip side, these people are also the ones who are very deliberate about what they take on. They don’t have a million projects happening at a time. They have one or two that they’re able to focus on.
Human beings are hard on themselves when it comes to their shortcomings. What advice do you share with people to overcome what’s holding them back and stay motivated, especially when it involves finishing something?
Again, I like to bring it back to vision. If you know how something fits into the bigger puzzle of your life, it’s easier to stay inspired and focused especially when you hit the middle of a project (the part I like to call the slog.)Also, I like to remind people that wanting to give up and doubt are both parts of everyone’s creative process, even though it feels very isolating. We are all the same.
How about your own personal projects? Are you pretty good at finishing things up or do you let things lurk for longer than they should? Any plans to finish a lingering project in 2015?
Both! I’m constantly trying to refine my own creative process and keep moving. I let a lot of little things go in 2014 and I’m excited to start the year off with room for finishing. I’m hoping to get my book proposal done this month so that I can start pitching it to agents soon. Wish me luck!
Tiffany Han is a business coach who helps highly-creative women take bold, inspired action in their businesses...and their lives. She's been called a Professional Yoda and helps her clients—ranging from bloggers, illustrators, and graphic designers to cubicle jailbirds who are tired of putting their creative dreams on hold—raise their hands and say yes: to those things they've always wanted to start, to those ideas that feel crazy, and to themselves. You can find her at her website, The Tiffany Han, and listen to her podcast Raise Your Hand. Say Yes. available via iTunes and Stitcher.
I'm excited to share my 2015 project today: Unfinished! Here's the story:
As I was casting about for a project (because we all know I love a good project) not long ago, I made an offhand comment about how finishing up all the stuff that's lurking around this joint might be a good project for me. Uncomfortably, this offhand comment started to feel a little convicting—like maybe I ought to actually think about the many things I haven't finished over the years (yes, years) and see if they'd amount to a sizeable to-do list. Ahem.
Then I got a little excited about examining my project sloth slackerdom inability to complete a task when something shinier comes along skill set, and decided it would be well-worth the time to figure out why the HECK I set aside so many things in the first place. I suspect I am not the only person in the world who does this... or at least I hope I'm not. This is why I've decided to turn it into a little accountability series this year. It's not like I don't get many things done (I do!) but I've definitely become a little less accountable when it comes to finishing things in the past couple years. Matt pointed out (rightly so) that perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on myself—and it's true, we have had a ridiculously crazy couple of back to back (to impending back) moves, so I decided that whatever I do in 2015 will be infused with gentle accountability-kicks in the rear vs. hard, unpleasant ones. And I'm not just talking about creative endeavors—garden variety household tasks fit neatly into this as well.
As I began sorting through the many unfinished things I'd like to tackle around here, I sketched out some reasons why they're unfinished:
1. Actual, real-deal busy-ness. It is hard to accomplish 100 things when realistically, the minutes only exist to accomplish, say, ten things. But then, of course, it's also easy to throw one's hands up in the air without a good system in place to tackle those ten things.
2. Sloth. Painful, but true. Sometimes I just don't wanna, even if I know it will make me happy and I know it's something I want to accomplish. I guess I should change that to sloth + crazy.
3. Unfinished thing not on fire. I am very good at putting fires out, and completing tasks both great and small when things are in the smoldering/burning down category. What I'm not good at is reviving things in the interim.
4. I'm a starter who loves shiny things. Also painful, also true. I am easily distracted. Some people call this a "monkey mind." Sigh.
5. Directional challenges. Sometimes I want to finish something, but I'm so stuck on a dead-end of how I've chosen to do it that I can't correct the course, eventually leading to total abandonment. Once a project moves into dormant mode, it's not like you can just jump right in—it's still a process to evaluate, tweak, and fix the problem while regaining creative momentum. And you know what? Sometimes it's OK to let dead-end dormant move to dead-end dead. I'm not really good at that either, even if it makes the most sense.
6. List-less means listless. I know, ironic—after spending the past year working on lists as my project... but it's true: when I don't have a real-deal functioning to-do list, I'm listless. Renee and I used to challenge each other to list it all out and share with each other so we'd be on track about what needs/wants to get done, and I seem to have lost this ability on a regular basis of late.
So.... what does this all mean?
Starting this month, I'm going to commit to finishing up ONE (I know, aim big) project that remains unfinished for one reason or another. If I finish up more than one, fantastic. If I start something new afterwards, that's OK. At the end of each month, I'll share what I worked on and provide a place for anyone who wants to play along to link up to their own unfinished/finished work. (So play along, please!) It could be anything from filing tax paperwork to sorting school tubs to completing your eldest's baby book—whatever is lurking counts. Unfinished things are especially good at doling out guilt, so that means a minimum of twelve giant sighs of relief by the end of the year.
On the first Monday of the month (except for this month—which will be exchanged for the first Tuesday) I'll be sharing an interview with an expert maker, photographer, do-er, crafter, artist, writer, etc. so anyone reading can really think on this unfinished business with new and interesting perspectives. If January's interview is any indication, this is going to be a super-fun little feature. (Yay!)
Are you in?
It's time for December All At Once™! If you don't like posts with 80 billion photos, just move along. : )
Unlike last year, we a.) didn't have a weekend of precious downtime early in the month and b.) spent most of the month sick as dogs, though not all at once. Ironically, only Ellie survived the month in perfect health, haha.
The weekend after everyone left from Thanksgiving, we headed to Mobile for the 2014 Alabama State Compulsory Gymnastics Championships!
Gracie competed on Saturday; she earned a silver medal in the all-around in her age division, as well as the gold medal on beam! It was a wonderful finish to the season—especially since she fell off the beam for the first time in more than two years at the previous meet, as she had a mouthful of blood and a molar that decided to come out WHILE SHE WAS ON THE BEAM.
Maddie competed on Sunday and earned a gold medal finish in the all-around, making her a state champion in two different states in the same calendar year! She and Gracie actually tied for the highest score on beam in any age division at their level, which is pretty darn amazing. They were super excited to share that news with their coaches in Shreveport, especially.
We only had minimal time to sight-see in Mobile (a whole lot of homework accompanied us to the hotel and in the van) but we did get to gawk at the Mobile Middle Bay Port a little, which is a fascinating place.
The big football announcement was made the weekend we were in Mobile, so we spent a lot of time gleefully getting excited for Ohio State to beat Alabama, hee. That was actually true for the entire month. So glad we had the foresight to take this picture just in case when we were in Tuscaloosa in November!
Gracie completed a ginormous book report project (pictured) as well as the first 80 pages of her Alabama State History Portfolio (not pictured). I've said it 50 times but I'll say it again: 4th grade is no joke at her school. Whew.
I accompanied Bridget's class to DeSoto Caverns, which was a long full-day field trip and lots of fun. I am kind of amazed by caves. This was not the crawl-on-your-stomach variety of cave, but rather a large and cavernous cave with a hokey lighting show. The cave itself was something to behold, though, and I'm so glad I went.
On the way home I took a quick detour and drove out to a very isolated grist mill (the Kymulga Grist Mill), one of the only mills in the area not to have been burned to the ground in the Civil War. It was at this moment that I took this picture on the covered bridge that I decided it was super-creepy out there and I hotfooted it back to the van. Heh. I'm sure it isn't creepy all the time, but on this gray afternoon it most definitely was.
The same day as the cave/mill adventure I had to race back to school (two hours of racing) to pick Gracie up at a 4th and 5th grade dance. This is a terrible picture, but I am sharing it because I want to remember how much fun she had—apparently she and her two besties won the dance-off between the 4th and 5th grades. I wish I could have seen it : )
We got our tree decorated, finally! It was Maddie's turn to put the topper on this year (we have to use the photo record to determine whose turn it is each year). Whoever puts the topper on wears the tuba caroling hat.
Bridget won honorable mention in a writing contest sponsored by the public library! She would have been happier if she had won first place but it was still lovely : ) The library did a fantastic job making the awards a fun big deal, I thought.
On the same night as the awards ceremony, Maddie had her band concert. They sounded pretty amazing, and not at all like what I know many middle schools can sound like.
There is always a lot of driving downtown at all hours of the day and night no matter what month it is, but I'm glad we made a quick detour to check out the Capitol Christmas tree one night.
It wouldn't be December without Gracie's school birthday cookies. I'm telling you what: chocolate chip cookies are nothing exciting until you stick a stick in 'em and wrap them up in cellophane. Then everyone raves and gobbles. We've been fooling people into thinking this is an extravagant treat for years. Hee hee.
Gracie had her two besties from school over for a birthday gingerbread house decorating party. She is the shorty of the trio, ha. Gingerbread house decorating is not for the faint of heart even when there are only five girls participating, but it was great fun.
And then she turned ten! Her birthday deserves a post all of its own. We had a delightful Mama-Gracie date in Birmingham.
Matt and I made a small batch of chocolate-covered cherries for teacher gifts, but never got back to making more this year. They turned out beautifully, though, unlike last year's disaster.
I went to a Christmas tea in a very fancy and Christmas-y house. I wanted to take real pictures but decided that would be rude. Matt's seminar at school has an Australian in it, and the Air War College Australians have been cared for by the hostess of the tea for 30 years (which means the non-Australians get the same lovely care!).
Our traditional Christmas mail mess was made a number of times....
...and we made a whole lot of Christmas gifts. Kind of at the last minute, because that's how we roll. I have plans to share more details about this particular project later in January!
Christmas cookies didn't get made until Christmas Eve, because, see above. We delivered two surprise batches to local friends late in the day.
The sunset was absolutely stunning on Christmas Eve. And much-needed, as there weren't too many minutes where I just stood and stared at something in December.
The day after Christmas we piled in the car with our sweet dog (who has learned to go with the flow with her crazy adoptive family) and made the 13 hour drive to northeast Ohio. Hello, Cincinnati!
Christmas in Ohio is full of one family activity after another, so we did a lot of visiting and eating and catching up. The kids' table is a lot fancier now that the youngest Dillow grandkid is 7.5.
I think it's been six years since Matt's side of the family has been in the same place at one time.
Nana and Papa transformed their basement into fun activity room central: on various nights of the week, it was filled with Bingo, memory contests, Tripoli, marker-making, cards, and more.
We were able to attend Matt's extended family Christmas party, which we haven't been to in a long time. Pictured: Scott, Matt's first cousin and groomsman in our wedding (plus among the biggest Ohio State fans ever) opening a gift exchange gift. There is usually some stealing involved as the gifts are opened—both Gracie and I ended up with stolen gifts, which was fun.
Christmas celebrations continued with a brunch at my parents' house, where more handmade gifts were given.
We got to see the final chapter of The Hobbit with Grandpa, which means we've seen all three movies with him—in Wyoming, Louisiana, and Ohio. Not too shabby. Gracie and Bridget went this time, too; this is a terrible red-eye photo and Bridget looks like she is crying because she was (she took Thorin's death especially hard). But everyone was very glad to have seen it. Also, we are clearly out of practice for wearing appropriate cold weather gear.
Ohio gets an F for snow. Here is Bridget protesting the lack of snow for snow angels. Hmph.
I got to see Jesse!! Jesse was the matron-of-honor in our wedding and one of my oldest friends. It can be hard to carve out time for visits in Ohio but I'm so glad we were able to make a last-minute lunch happen. It's the best to be able to pick up as if no years have passed at all. Thanks, random Panera diner for taking our picture.
We spent a delightful afternoon in Hudson with Grandma and Grandpa for some bookstore time at The Learnéd Owl.
We spent the first half of New Years' Eve at the Marquettes' house, hooray! It was an aunts, uncles, and cousins party. The second half of New Years' Eve was spent with Dillow cousins, which also made it an aunts, uncles, and cousins party.
And that brings December to a close. It is important for me to keep this record so I will remember in December 2015 that we can, in fact, survive a busy month once again and live to tell the tale.
Hobbling toward the finish line this week in the worst way—between Matt's finals (so much writing! So many deadlines!) and the girls' miscellaneous last projects and long days, we are pretty much D O N E.
Gearing up for my new annual tradition of December All at Once™ (just as soon as we recover from the first three weeks of the month)(heh)
Celebrating our wonderful new ten-year-old, which will require a special post all its own.
Cursing my "new" running shoes which seem to have worn out overnight... And then realizing it is almost exactly eight months to the day on which I purchased them, which is exactly the point I had to replace my last pair of Brooks. And then feeling a little sheepish and apologetic toward my trusty running shoes. (And hey! Just over 300 miles in eight months!)
Racing to the mailbox every day, because, CHRISTMAS MAIL. I love to send it, I love to receive it, and I don't get mad at you if you don't get to it this year. Or last year or next year. But it anchors me to all the places and people I love and so that's that.
Thinking about the implications that additional and overwhelming examination can offer with the conclusion of Serial this week.
Commiting to my 2015 project! It might be a little ambitious, and it is definitely play-along. Check back January 5 for more info.
Wiping tears over the big song finale to The Colbert Report last night. It was touching in the sweetest, most lovely way. Henry Kissinger? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Big Bird? Doris Kearns Goodwin? It was perfect.
Scrambling and spinning to get a thousand things done. As usual.
Enjoying so much the tradition of making chocolate-covered cherries with Matt. We started late and only made one batch last night to cover what we needed today for our little gifties, which included a box for Gracie's and Bridget's morning bus driver per their request; they say he is impossibly grouchy and wanted to do something nice for him. Isn't that what all the scrambling and spinning is all about at the end of the day (er, past midnight on the next day?)