2009 Round Up

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2009 – the final entry [Dec. 31st, 2009|12:02 am]
[FORMAT SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM MY COUSIN CAROL WITH A FEW MINOR AMENDMENTS]
This year’s amazing revelation: that Sophia is growing up
Most favourite part of the year: New York (rounds 1 & 2)
Hottest vacation: Er, none! Sicily – rained. Devon – rained. Venice – some sun, some truly incredible rain. Probably New York, round 1, came closest with surprisingly balmy weather for November. Massive snowstorm, round 2, threatened return journey home in December.
Best restaurant this year: Probably Morimoto in New York; room service (steak sandwich) at Cowley Manor
My best week this year: This one.
Most exciting game this year: Stations on Boxing Day with John, Suzannah, Hilde, Arlo, and John’s parents. Made much more exciting by the fact that one of the twelve stations went missing and caused a burst of Festivus.
Longest walk this year (almost): Devon. Experienced walkers, seeing our lack of gear, warned us to turn around. After seeing how wet it was, we settled for a picnic.
The year’s longest project: hard to pick just one! This house would probably be it. This year saw the bathroom renovation and the installation of a proper bedroom wardrobe. But will draft proofing ever happen? Will dining room chairs ever be purchased? Watch this space in the twenty-teens.
Best events of the year: two book launches – a feat which may not again be repeated
Most amount of time spent on the water this year: does living on an island count?
Most amount of time spent this year living without any females: poor Paul – very little this year
Cultural event of the year: many highlights: The Wire; reading The Leopard: rereading E.M. Forster; seeing Noto in Sicily; seeing Mona Hatoum at Fondazione Querini Stampalia; seeing a Carlo Scarpo building for the first time
Best stupid movie: The Hangover!
This year’s most monotonous job: I know the answer to this one one right away but can’t say here – it involves my job and tedious and dubious bureaucratic exercises – audit culture sucks
Saddest event this year: the funeral of a friend and all-round wonderful person in Normandy
Shock of the year: realizing that I am leaving my thirties
Most hopeful action this year: (following on from the above) Abandoning grand gestures – focusing on little things – spending more time with family
Most absurd situation of the year: On their annual Easter visit, my mother hurt her ankle on a walk in the park. Pam not only gave up her wheelchair for my mother but pushed her too. Quite a sight
Silliest joke of the year:
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Cows go.
Cows go who?
No, silly, cows go MOOOO
Most beautiful sight: Mount Etna on New Year’s Day, my first volcano
Best thing this year found on the ground: shells on the Lido in Venice
Worst thing this year found on the ground: this is London, so take your pick!
Biggest surprise of this year: getting an e-mail from the New Yorker asking for an interview
Greatest technological improvement: An iphone – I succumbed, and it was great
This year’s most studious person: well, me, on good days
Strangest (most convincing?) dream of the year: My mom dreamed she slid down a hill and stained her jacket. When she woke up, she went straight downstairs to clean it.
Most anticipated house guest: Piffy (in Easter) and Charles, of course! My mom – always.
New Year’s resolution: I’ll never tell.
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good bye noughties [Dec. 30th, 2009|10:59 pm]
I am in what seems to be a familiar dilemma. It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, that I don’t even know where to begin. New Haven, New York, then Christmas, New Year’s. So, I’ve come up with a plan. This post is about Christmas. The next, in the spirit of New Year’s/end of the Noughties, will be a “best of”, the format shamelessly poached from my cousin Carol. And then, and only then, if I’m able, I’ll recreate New Haven & New York. Paul thinks I should just back-date it but the historian in me rebels. Imagine if my 19th century diarists backdated? Authenticity counts, at least to me.
So, as you may have guessed from the long silence on this end, we have been very relaxed about our Christmas correspondence this year (read: hopeless) and this has turned into one of the most quiet Christmases – but fun! – we’ve had. I was in New York until the 20th of December and came home to find the tree up, courtesy of my mother, and much of the baking already done. It was delightful to feel as if much of the hard work for Christmas had just ‘done itself’ while I was away!
Last year, we spent much of this period in Sicily which had huge charms, but this year has been about doing nothing much, except organizing our house (mainly Sophia’s constantly growing library – she’s at around 300 books and counting) and doing crafts, including one balsam-wood Irmgard puppet with pipe cleaner hair. Sophia’s main present from Santa was a rocking chair for her room. It came in an enormous box which was wrapped in our one-and-only tablecloth and had SOPHIA written in huge construction paper letters across the side. Sophia was most impressed that Santa had known how to spell her name, but noted that he must not have been very prepared because he’d had to borrow some of her pipe cleaners and markers to write it out. Needless to say, the box itself has now become a rather magnificent house, decorated with the remnants of Christmas cards, wrapping paper, and other bits and pieces. I raided some previous art projects for skulls and crossbones and pasted them above the windows and door. Sophia has a little flashlight in there and rumbles and growls like an animal in her hole.
She’s in amazing spirits these days, thrilled to have her parents both home, plus her Oma, plus our great friend, Charles, from Australia who joined us for Christmas. As I mentioned before, Sophia has found her transition to a state-run nursery tough which really surprised us. She is such a resilient and sociable little thing that we felt she’d adjust in no time at all. But I think that finding herself in a large class (30 kids) with only 3 teachers is very different from the situation she’s been in thus far. Being home now is making her SO happy. And me too. It’s selfish – Sophia is so much fun to spend time with. She is a little entertainer, full of smiles, and plans and play. But there is so much whirring around in that brain. She astounds us sometimes with her comments and connections and wisdom about things. Yesterday, she and I moved from a conversation about Sound of Music and the Muppets to death. It went something like this:
[on the subject of ‘So Long, Farewell’ and little Gretel]
Sophia: That little Gretel’s so cute isn’t she? She’s 5. She has the most beautifullest singing voice.
Me: Yes, but she’s not as cute as a 4-year old.
[Sophia agrees.]
S: I wonder who plays that character? [she means the actress – the concept of acting is pretty new!]
Me: Whoever she is, she must be quite old now. That film was made 40 years ago.
S: The Ghost [i.e. of Christmas Past] in the Muppets [a Christmas Carol] is 100 years old.
Me: Something banal.
S: I don’t like Death in that film. He’s very scary. But you don’t die until you’ve after you’ve become a grandparent.’
Me: uh-huh
S: It’s good that Oma hasn’t died because if she did, who would look after you?
Me: She looks after you too!
S: We look after each other. Papa looks after you, you look after me, I look after you. Moma looks after you and me and sometimes Papa.
This is a pretty typical vein of thoughts as Sophia puzzles out everyone’s place in the world and relationship to each other – with her firmly in the centre, of course. She said something hilarious to me about how I must have grown up very quickly so that I could have her. I liked this idea – like she is the apotheosis of my life – my greatest achievement.
Good Christmas thoughts. Generally, we’re all content. A good amount of socializing with friends, a good amount of newspaper-reading, a good amount of CLEANING (our house is tidy after a huge push by everyone today), and lots of catching up with friends (Francois) and family who’ve been checking in on Skype. Sophia is still cracking up over Grandpa Norm’s collection of wigs which he demonstrated for her. And she loves her Aunty Nikki’s joke:
Q: How do you make a tissue dance?
A: Put a little boogie in it.
We had to explain that this is not one for school.
Charles has been a big part of the fun and fit in like an old hand, making fires, doing dishes, playing with Sophia…LOTS. Paul today said, “That Charles is a gentle soul.” And Sophia piped up from the floor, “And kind. And FUNNY.” Whatever else that kid is, she’s loyal to those who play! We hope you landed safe and sound in New York, Charles. Looking forward to shuffling on off to Buffalo.
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it’s grreeeaaat! [Dec. 18th, 2009|03:41 am]
I am ever amused by the differences between Americans and Brits: being Canadian, I feel I have a foot in both camps. Today I had a very indifferent ham sandwich in Soho in New York, trying to brace myself for the Christmas shopping that lay ahead. The waiter approached, “Is everything great?” he asked. My mouth was full. I pondered the appropriate answer. Finally, I nodded. It seemed easier than the truth. “No, it’s not great, but I needed to eat and this is, at least, edible”. But mostly I appreciate the perpetual perkiness of American wait staff. The eating trends are a little different here too. It’s all about “steel cut oatmeal” (yum) and small-batch beers, i.e. Coney Island Mermaid lager (even yummier). I am enjoying Tribeca and Mandy’s place, a bona fide loft, though time seems to be slipping by so fast. And I did well with the shopping! I’ll say no more for now…
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and then it dawned on me [Dec. 14th, 2009|01:15 pm]
I’ve just had an unusual experience: I saw the dawn. It was very pretty, like being in a shell, all pink and blue. My hotel in New Haven looks out over various steeples and cupolas and I am facing a neo-Gothic brick dormitory. Squint, and I could be back in England.
This view is the up-side of jetlag. The downside is that I am now facing a very full, very packed couple of days on too little sleep. (I didn’t go to bed in good time because I’m reading a good book – E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.) At least the coffee will be plentiful!
The trip has been delightful thus far. My friend Charles and I were blown away by our hotel, the Ace. We drank in the atmosphere of the lobby which is like a great hall, full of comfy chairs, reading lights, and long tables. Day and night it is full of young things with their laptops. It all feels totally switched on yet totally collegial. Charles wanted to do a survey to find out what everyone was doing there. I suspected they were all bloggers. Isn’t it funny? We live in this world where, thanks to personal computing, it’s perfectly possible to disconnect from the ‘real world’ as such, and yet in spaces like the Ace Hotel lobby, you feel that more than ever people are coming to hubs like these, in the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, to plug in alongside each other. Public and private worlds in the conventional sense have really ceased to matter. We are social creatures in the end.
Saturday afternoon and early evening Charles and I wandered around Soho and Greenwich Village in pursuit of a Marc Jacobs store. It was fun but gruelling. By a wonderful chance, we managed to meet up with the Morrises at MOMA the next day in the Bauhaus exhibit and then have lunch. We were so excited to see each other, we made lots of a loud exclamations and got shushed for our pains. Three academics from around the world meet in New York – and get shushed. As Mark said, it feels kind of good – like you’re doing something naughty. The big news? Madelyn’s wiggly tooth, which so fascinated Sophia 3 weeks ago, has fallen out.
Sophia’s big Christmas recital is today so I am thinking of her. I got a private rehearsal yesterday on SKYPE. She sings with real gusto, separating all the words, especially “BETH LEE HAM! BETH LEE HAM!”
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big appled [Dec. 11th, 2009|02:10 pm]
I am taking a few quick moments to write now as tomorrow I’m off to the Big Apple – again.
I shouldn’t complain – and I won’t – but going away has meant that I’ve worked like the devil to try to tie up loose ends at work. 28 tutorials in 2 days really pushes the limit of one’s sanity! Last night at 8pm I laid down with Sophia to read books, fell asleep and didn’t wake up til 8 this morning. It’s ironic because at parent-teacher night last night we were talking about the importance of Sophia’s sleep. Clearly her mom’s sleep patterns could use some attention too.
It’s also ironic to spend my days as the ‘teacher’ to then find myself on the other side of the desk in the evening for my first ever parent-teacher meeting. I find it stressful and am very serious. Paul cracks jokes and has a tendency to tell (long and somewhat off-message) anecdotes which is how he copes with nerves. But this, in turn, makes me more anxious – it eats into our limited 10 minutes with the teacher – and I shoot him ‘stop it’ looks with my eyes which I’m sure registers as some kind of marital discord.
I felt a little tense about the whole meeting anyway because Sophia hasn’t been 100% happy at school and, ever since she got to spend a few days at home, has been begging to have more mommy and daddy days. The teachers at her school have noticed that she’s not enjoying herself as much in general and they asked us last night if she’s had a health problem that we haven’t told them about: they’ve found her weepy and pale for the last few weeks in contrast to her confident start. We all agree it’s getting better now but I don’t know what the solution is.
More sleep, says Paul, and on this, we agree! At least it’s a place to start…
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it’s habit forming [Dec. 2nd, 2009|11:18 pm]
I promise this will be my last Sound of Music entry for a time, but Sophia stayed home with Paul today and, when I came on shift at 4:30pm, she was firm about what she wanted to watch. We had a quite hilarious conversation during the opening scene (can you picture it? aerial views, beautiful mountains, nunnery). “Is that Canada?” “No, it’s a place called Austria.” “Oh.” Sophia thought about it. “Yes, that’s right. Because there aren’t that many nuns in Canada, are there?” Er, no, though I’m not sure there are that many in Austria either – but Sophia had moved on to the next topic. “Do you know, God looks after the nuns, and nuns look after us.” Then, wisdom dispensed, she lapsed into philosophical silence.
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least likely to be…a spy [Dec. 1st, 2009|11:33 pm]
We celebrated Paul’s birthday today. It wasn’t much of show, I’m afraid (how do you top trick birthday candles and cupcakes in New York City?) But I think he liked his present: a small desktop globe from the 1950s, quite an exquisite little object that Sophia and I picked out at an antique shop at Camden Passage. Sophia had wanted one that lit up, but I persuaded her that a smaller one would be a better fit at Paul’s office. She did a fantastic job keeping our “secret” – I suspect she actually forgot about it – until, moments before Paul was going to open his gift, she said, “Mom, don’t worry, I won’t tell papa about his globe. It’s our secret.” Then, when I shot her a look, she said, “What? I didn’t tell him about his globe, did I?”
So, the other reason for it being subdued is that we are now all sick. Sophia has a horrible cough and had to come home straight after nursery. Even Paul has succumbed. There is a serious possibility of us all pulling sickies tomorrow. What will Maria think when she arrives and needs to clean around 3 bodies? The nice thing is that we all cuddled up and watched Sound of Music, all appreciating different parts. Paul likes the yodelling, Sophia likes Doh a Dear, and I like My Favourite Things. We have started adapting it to suit Sophia’s list from yesterday:
Big bowls of ice cream, and full pots of jelly
Packets of chewing gum, and unlimited telly
Candies like Mentos that Grandma Jan brings
These are a few of my favourite things!
I think it has potential…
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these are a few of my favourite things… [Nov. 30th, 2009|10:58 pm]
TISSUES, PACKED LUNCH, CHEWING GUM, ICE CREAM, TELLY
No, not my list, but that of Sophia. I am trying to make up for the neglect of this blog by doing a Sophia-focused entry, recording the current obsessions of our favourite girl. Vis-a-vis tissues, I have often had to wonder: at what point does an obsession qualify as a full-blown mania? Paul and I have more or less given up trying to understand the tissue issue. She absolutely loves the little packets of them, hoarding them away under our dining room table like a miser with his gold. (This morning, I counted 11 packets there in a bag, plus 3 big boxes in her bedroom). She will give you one if you ask – and whatever else she may or may not be, she’s great at sharing – but, in this case, only with a show of reluctance.
The packed lunch issue is both less mysterious in its origins and more complex. The transition to “school” has not been entirely easy – despite our early (and now, I admit, slightly smug) predictions. She sometimes cries when we leave and counts down to “mommy and daddy days” (e.g. the weekends). I suspect her dissatisfaction isn’t something that she can easily articulate, so whenever I try to get at the root of it, she says, “I don’t like school dinners – I want packed lunch.” It comes up constantly, a few times every day at all times. When we were in the cab going to JFK at 5am last week, half-asleep, she said, “Can I have packed lunch please?” I think she dreams of packed lunch. For Paul and me, packed lunch is a nightmare scenario. The school dinners are really nice – we see the menus every week and it’s full of exactly the kinds of food kids love (hot and organic!) roast turkey, carrots, pizza. With us, it would be (likely stale) brown bread, cream cheese, smoked salmon and a box of raisins every time. But how to explain the grim reality?
Chewing gum (and/or Mentos, courtesy of Grandma Jan), ice cream, and telly, can probably all be dealt with together. They are treats, hence much more desirable, and always at the forefront of Sophia’s mind. “What’s your favourite thing?” I asked her (I should know better). “Chewing gum!” “Not cuddles?” I ask hopefully. “No, chewing gum,” she says firmly. The way she can steer any conversation round to these things – or manipulate any argument in their favour – is truly astonishing. Tonight at dinner we told her that if she ate a meatball, she could have ice cream. It was a big meatball. She wailed, “It’s too much.” “That tells me that your stomach is too full for ice cream,” I said. Quick as a flash, she replied, “Well, if I don’t have meatball, then I’ll have MORE room for ice cream!” She ate half, then got her ice cream.
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blogger’s block [Nov. 29th, 2009|09:58 pm]
This month is going to be a record – in all the wrong ways – as it’s the first time since I began this blog in 2005 (yes, 2005!) that I’ve only manage to blog three times in one month. I can’t really understand it as I still have the blogging impulse. About 5 times a day with Sophia, I think, “oh, must write about that,” and then it all disappears in the evening. I have some excuses, I guess. I’ve been continually sick – going on 4 weeks – and lost my voice completely on Wednesday after 14 tutorials in a row. It is quite funny that when you can only whisper, everyone whispers back – even Sophia (who knew whispering was in her repertoire?) Only got it back (60%) today. My students and colleagues are actually being incredibly sweet and, really, on the grand scale, a bad cold isn’t the worst thing that could happen in the world. But – ugh. It does make you feel beat-up and repulsive, sneezing away (and enduring that quizzical ‘do you have swine flu’ look?) and dragging yourself around. Work is hard enough at the best of times.
But how can I gripe when, amidst all of this, like a little oasis in grey snuffly London life, was one of the most wonderful family trips we’ve ever had to New York last weekend? Really, it was magical in every way. At least part of the enjoyment was being able to just hang out together for a few days and, even though it felt pretty relaxed, we somehow managed to see everyone we wanted to see. Our hotel was fabulous, too: a big corner suite with a classic Manhattan view looking straight down to Madison Square park. We were on the 11th floor and could also look straight in at all these poor worker bees in their offices all round us, something which, as I confessed to Paul jr., made my own freedom seem even better! On arriving on Wednesday, we stumbled out to this place called Coffee Shop, hip young cafe with a great vibe, reminded me of places in Montreal. Sophia and I reenacted the scene from Lady and the Tramp, eating from the same plate of spaghetti bolognese, then she had her first ever banana split. We popped by Dominic’s studio/performance space on the way home: he had it all set up in anticipation of a viewer, so it was in nightclub mode. A darkened atmosphere and a sofa is not exactly condusive to conversation when you have jet lag, but we managed. (Sophia was already asleep when we arrived.) Thursday we wandered and shopped, then Sophia had a “play date” with Julie and her son, James, with whom Sophia got on like a house on fire – they pretended to be cats, so I had to do lots of head-stroking. Later saw Paul’s friends, Roy, Ruth, and their son Rafi. Paul’s New York friends are fantastic but so different: from a somewhat misanthropic classical guitarist to a sunny gigantic graphic designer to a brainy, nervy philosophical architect. Great personalities all.
Friday the Ohio crew came. They are always so full of fun and Sophia absolutely loves to tease and tickle Grandpa Bill who endures it (and, dare we say, encourages it?) with great patience and sometimes silliness of his own. I was nervous about the book launch in the evening and the fact that the artist-designed toilet paper I’d ordered seemed to have got lost in the mail. But we trundled off to the WTC site which was remarkable – I’ve never seen building on that scale – before wending our way back to the hotel. The launch itself at Sotheby’s was brilliant: lots of people came, old friends, like Libby, Liza, Mandy, and the Morrises and Kathy, and academic friends who I’ve met over the years. And Iona’s friend Erik appeared! During the speeches at one point, when Sophia decided to tug my skirt up (ah, yes, rather embarrassing – watching Paul trying to pull her away from leg, my coeditor commented dryly, “okay, there appears to be some technical difficulties here”), I could hear Erik laughing louder than anyone. The artist-designed toilet paper arrived and caused a small feeding frenzy. To launch the book in such a venue was a treat – how many times do you find yourself surrounded by 4 Warhols, a Frank Stella and lord only knows what else?
Saturday, we went to the High Line, a new park in Chelsea area which has been endlessly talked about here in London (with envy). The weather we had was out of this world, sunny and 61 degrees. Paul had brought along some bells and musical scores that Grandma Jan had given Sophia for her birthday, and they did several impromptu performances, one on a bench, and the other in an open-air theatre. This is probably my favourite moment of the whole trip: everyone got roped into the bell-playing, including Mark, who managed to look reasonably professorial despite the bell in his grip. How do you top that? Sophia and I sort of crashed out soon after and the group split after lunch – we went back to the Morrises place and the others carried on to Central Park. Kathryn and I lolled about on the sofa and the girls lay down for a while. We then met M&K’s friend, Christophe, for dinner, who had an even more eccentric personality than I’d been led to expect. In fairness, he was recovering from very major knee surgery (and, prior to that, some kind of stem cell injections to hasten his knee’s recovery???) I couldn’t follow it all – Beverly Hills, medical observers flown in by his suspicious European family, a nimbus of incredible privilege, yet all very charmingly packaged up. “Oh, I can’t bother with a menu,” he said, “just get me some duck. And a drink. Something tall.” Sophia, Madelyn, and Mark danced against to disco framed by a view of the High Line at night.
Sunday was devoted to conventional tourism which I enjoyed far more than I thought I would – I sometimes forget (which I shouldn’t do, given my own obsession with Niagara) that tourist sites aren’t actually all hype! Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The former was amazing, perhaps thanks to the gorgeous day; and the latter was amazing thanks to its history and a very good interpretative centre. Paul and Cid impressed me by setting out to try to find their great-grandmother but they needed more information – still, a few searches showed how comprehensive the listings are. A little shopping on the way home, then a final big event (in a weekend of big events!): Grandma Jan had bought Paul and Sophia cupcakes for their birthdays. She had also bought trick candles which relit everytime someone blew them out. They were hilarious, but there was a wreath of smoke around our heads when they finally were extinguished and we nervously eyed the fire alarm. Sophia cried when she realized we had to say goodbye and only the prospect of playing with yet another little friend that evening comforted her. We hung out with Jean-Gabriel and Sarah and their adorable son Arnaud that evening – Sarah was 10 days away from her due date with number 2. Paul and I were prepared to babysit had anything happened. A nice part of this trip was that there was so much companionship for Sophia: James, Madelyn, Arnaud, and, on a bigger scale, Cid and Paul who Sophia adores. She had none of the ups and downs of our last trips (Devon & Venice) and was just constantly happy. And who can blame her?
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another year old and wiser (?) [Nov. 15th, 2009|11:57 am]
I have wanted to blog for ages – so much has been happening. But, as ever, this is a busy time at work, made even busier by a 2-day conference and a really bad cold/chest infection that would not go away. Over 2 weeks of feeling rotten, plus a course of antibiotics that didn’t really seem to work, several missed days of work: disaster! Funnily enough, when I’d gone back over blogs from previous years, I’d seen that I get a cold every October. This one at least had the courtesy to wait until Book Launch no. 1 was over…
Paul has been a champion. I don’t say it enough, so I’ll say it now. He’s a great support, taking on more than his share of the childcare to let me sleep and prepare for classes and write papers and try (and often fail) to make deadlines. He even started to read my book which I’ve been teasing him about for ages. Having spent years observing him falling asleep while reading, with the book still propped up on his chest, I kept looking over expecting him to be asleep – but he didn’t. “It’s easy to read,” he said.
As partial compensation, I “took the hit” as Paul calls it on Thursday, when Dawn had a doctor’s appointment. I went to collect Sophia at school at 3pm. She was so happy. “Yay! Yay! Mummy! Mummy!” and then, “Where’s my snack?” Happily, I’d come prepared. We walked across the street from Sophia’s teacher, Helen, who was picking up her children. “Helen, Helen, I love you!” Sophia called, between bites of cheese. We went to the grocery store and bought stuff to make meatballs from a recipe in Alice’s smashing bday present: Silver Spoon (publisher Phaidon), a cookbook for kids and parents. Back home, Sophia did an awesome job of cooking – really. She cut up parsley with her little scissors, she cracked an egg, she put in pepper, and mixed up the meat with her hands and shaped it into 8 balls. (BTW: this cookbook book is brilliant – it uses the cooking activities to teach math – one whole splits into halves splits into quarters splits into eighths). The only thing Sophia really wasn’t able to do – not that she accepted this! – was cutting with knives. After a brief tussle, I got her to agree to wash veggies instead which she did with great thoroughness. After all that, she had no interest in enjoying the fruits of her labors. “Just plain pasta,” she told me firmly when it came time to eat.
Actually, Alice really came up trumps this year in other ways too. She gave Sophia some classic films – Charlotte’s Web, Little Orphan Annie, and – best of all! – Sound of Music. We’ve been singing “Doe a Deer” for a long time, but Sophia had never seen it. What a wonderful film it is! Sophia was a little bored in bits, but she was riveted whenever “the children” came on. “There are 7 children,” I said to her. “No, 8 with Maria,” she corrected me. “Maria’s not a child,” I said, “she’s the nanny like Dawnie.” “Then why does she have a mommy?” Sophia asked, triumphant. It took me a while to realize that she meant the Mother Superior from the convent!
The birthday in general was a success, though, for some reason, we didn’t manage to take photos of the “big” moment of the candles and cakes. 16 kids, lord knows how many parents. After last year, I didn’t order much wine because I didn’t think it would go. We ran out! A little chaotic but nice to meet other people from the nanny share (some of whom I’ve only ever spoken to on the phone) and bring old friends together with new ones. The big table (and the specially commissioned red tablecloth from SG and Lynn) once again proved its worth by sitting about 16 children all at once for a pizza/veggie dinner with cake. My favourite pictures are of the “aftermath” of the party – it looks like a tornado hit our dining room. After it was over, we sat around for a while with the non-parents and then, I actually had to go straight to bed. Next year, we’ll go off-site!
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trick or treat! [Nov. 2nd, 2009|11:35 pm]
Saturday was Sophia’s 4th Halloween!!!!  Grandparents might recall that 2006 was the year of the kitty kat, 2007 was the pumpkin, 2008 was Cinderella, and 2009 was…Wonder Girl, thanks to a present from Iona, Theo, Nicholas & Daniel in L.A. Imagine Sophia’s delight when she found Suzannah, Hilde and Arlo arrived, along with a crew of kids, and Arlo was dressed as Superman. “We’re SUPERHEROES” she crowed, then they went bounding off down the street. I stayed behind to distribute candy. I thought I’d bought so much, over 100 candy bars, and within 40 minutes they were all gone!  Halloween is catching on here, though some kids still didn’t really understand what it’s all about: I opened up to one little girl standing in her street clothes with a plastic bag. She didn’t say anything, so I said, “Trick or Treat?” and she said, “Treat or Treat to you too!” The way the system works is that people only go to houses which have pumpkins outside – it’s like a secret society. Lots of parents dress up too here. I wore a witches’ hat, Suzannah had a wig. I noticed some people go past with steaming glasses of mulled wine. “Someone’s giving away mulled wine,” one parent said, “It’s fantastic! Lock up your place and go get some.” I reunited with my crew, put the pumpkin in for the year, and we hit a few more homes, then retired to John and Suzannah’s for a drink. They still had candy, too, so we kept going til theirs ran out. As the kids were upstairs, we plundered some of their candy (I know! Bad parents! But they don’t need all that candy) and redistributed it. Then Suzannah took John’s coin jar and gave people coins. The house next door to them was amazingly decorated: tea lights in the garden and a quite incredible pot of Alice in Wonderland-style toadstools which they spotlit.
It was just great to see the kids running around, so happy and excited and conspiratorial! “Come on, Arlo!” Sophia said at one point, after they’d been poking me for a while, “Let’s go get your daddy!”  Can you tell I’m feeling nostalgic on the eve of the little one’s 4th birthday? What a wonderful little bug she is. The other day we were cleaning the dining room table in anticipation of her party tomorrow (the first of 2) and she handed me a folder. “There’s your driving lessons,” she said. My jaw dropped. In just 4 years, she’s gone from just this little teeny tiny creature of mewls and squeaks to this walking, talking – let’s not forget dancing – dynamo who casually passes me back my driving lesson crib sheets (how on earth did she remember what they were for, anyway?) I can’t even imagine what she will be in another 4 years but I have no doubt that she will be amazing me then just as she amazes me now, every day.
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just one of those days [Oct. 30th, 2009|12:36 am]
I left the house for lunch today, held the door open for a moment, thought, “do I have my keys?”, mentally assured myself that I did, clicked the door shut and then, guess what? No keys. No problem, I thought, I’ll call Dawn. Pull out phone (which I did have). No batteries. Did I mention I am sick? Wheezing with a deeply unpleasant chest infection? Plus behind on work. At least it is mild. I go and run some errands at the post office. Then decide to go to Islington to a sweet little cafe there which I’ve always thought would be a perfect place to do some reading. (I did, at least, have some of that with me.) And you know what? It was. Full of others like me, tap-tapping away on laptops, reading, drinking  delicious coffee, listening to Tom Waits and Frank Sinatra, of all people. Reading done, I did some errands just to feel a little less useless. Halloween candy, lots of it, so much that another parent gave me a distinctly reproachful look. Party bags for Sophia. Little books for party bags.
When she came back from yet another Halloween party, Wonder Girl (aka Sophia) was delighted by these.  I went upstairs for a moment, and returned to find she’d cut open her party bags and made a good start on filling each one with a book, candy, and a balloon. (Halloween and her birthday have clearly merged in her mind – no idea how I’m going to get that candy back.) She is very consumed by her party preparations. Tonight she said, just before falling asleep, “Mommy, we have to line up all  the children at my party and count them so we know how many bags we need.” When I told Paul, he commented, “She’s just like Alice – always concerned with the party-goers’ experience.”
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numbers game [Oct. 25th, 2009|10:27 pm]
Watching: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Reading: Tabby McTat and Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats; Vegetable Glue (in honor of the “glue” that was used on her nose on Wednesday instead of stitches.)
This week has been manically busy – we couldn’t have coped without my mom’s dropping off to school, laundry and dinner service, plus the odd wait-for -the -delivery man duty thrown in. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the Halloween costume organization and school bake sale cookies (frozen dough awaits in freezer). I really do wonder how people cope without the help of family, to see you through the busy times.
Why so busy? There were a few late nights for starters. On Monday, another more formal reception for my promotion hosted by the Provost – Paul came too, as one family member is invited in acknowledgment of the sacrifices that anyone related to an academic must make – a gesture he appreciated. We chatted with a physicist about magnoelectricity and then a geographer and his wife about their bus trip from Winnipeg to Jasper. Wednesday I saw a lecture on J.G. Ballard by a friend. But otherwise the whole week was taken up with the organization of the conference/book launch on Friday.  I realize I should probably write about it, but I am actually heartily sick of it!!!!!! There, I’ve said it. Let it just be said that the event was good – a lot of compliments came our way – and the launch was great fun with lots of people – all sorts of colleagues, friends, some book sales even. Sophia was the highlight of the party, telling my mom, “I know more people than you do, Moma,” which we all admitted was probably true. But I’m delighted it’s over – really – and can start worrying about other things.
Sophia’s in excellent form. She seems to be over the temperamental phase which made Venice so hard. Who knows what’s changed? Her new routine? More maturity? But she’s in a good place, being industrious, sweet and generally good-humored about most things and even sharing tissues (which she is inclined to hoard – she has 3 boxes in her room as we speak). She is busy planning her birthday these days: Paul got the job of organizing it this year and has enthusiastically set about designing the invites.  She also spends a lot of time doing (in no particular order):  reading to herself (in English and “French”),  arranging her stuffed toys on a chair and taking their photographs, and waitressing. She is still into big questions. “How big is God?” When I said, “As big as the world, I guess,” she was disappointed. “Oh, I thought he was bigger than that.”
Tonight, my mom sneakily did a psychological test on Sophia to find out if she understood the principles of math. She laid out 2 rows of 3 coins: in one, the coins were far apart; and in the other, they were spread far apart, like this:
X           X            X
XXX
The point is that kids who ‘get’ the concept of math will understand that the 2 lines are equal; those who don’t, think that the top one is bigger (which it is in the sense that it occupies more space). My mom said, “Now, which row has more coins?” And Sophia, quick as a flash, moved one coin into the bottom row, like this:
X            X
X XXX
“That one!” she said, pointing to the lower row, “it has 4 and the other has 2.” “You’re not meant to do that!” my mom complained. I don’t know what it says about Sophia’s grasp of math, but her solution definitely demonstrates good problem-solving skills.
She knows what she wants, does our Sophia. When my mom and I said to her, “You’re going to be a good baby-sitter,” she shot back, “I don’t want to be a baby-sitter. I want to be a mummy, so I can keep them (i.e. the kids).”
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undefinable logic [Oct. 17th, 2009|10:03 pm]
This morning, my mom was in the laundry room (where she spends the first few days of any visit, sorting out laundry and matching up our socks!). Sophia woke up and went downstairs to find her. She put her hand on my mom’s leg and, in my mom’s words, “I was so startled I nearly jumped out the window!” I later asked Sophia what she thought startled meant. She thought. “It’s when you jump out the window.”
Busy times as I am getting ready for my book launch next Friday and organizing the study day before hand. We have a lot of speakers coming, two from overseas, and it is quite a complex event, involving the creation of an ad-hoc cabinet of curiosities. My co-organizer, Anne, and I got together this afternoon in the cafe of the BL to try to work out our introduction to the event. What to say? Every time we’ve tried to organize this, not unimportant, part of the day, we get distracted by everything else. Have we got name badges? Napkins? Who’s doing technology? It’s a little nuts, but we are laughing a lot. We were also laughing at the conversations around us. Several people seemed to be having language lessons. Beside us, two men were working on a letter (I guess) to a colleague. One asked the other, “how do you tactfully say, ‘you’re fired’?”
Then Paul came to collect me – shades of yore – and I cleaned out my locker for my neighbour to use. She’s in the last phase of her PhD and using the BL every day, and it makes me feel less guilty about not using it myself right now if I “sub-let” it to her for awhile. (We’ve swapped actually – in exchange, Sophia gets to go over and bang away on her piano occasionally.) Paul and I only had a few minutes before the building closed, so without thinking too much, I simply chucked away the pile of early drafts of my book. It felt like a good thing to do – surprisingly easy.
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moma is here [Oct. 15th, 2009|09:52 pm]
Moma arrived from the Ukraine safe and sound tonight to great excitement in the household. Dawn was at the doctor’s so I picked Sophia up from school. She came out laughing because the photographer for her school photo had made her say “sausages” instead of cheese, then declared, “I am so excited about Moma coming. I’m even more exciterer than you. More exciterer than anyone!” Moma came looking exhausted – too exhausted to even have a glass of wine (which says something). She perked up in telling us snippets of her very long and very intense trip on the boat from Odessa to Kiev on the Dneiper, from a nice borscht at the Mennonite Heritage Center to the dispensers selling vodka on the street corners. She is now having a well earned soak in the tub.
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can you please tell dad… [Oct. 11th, 2009|08:58 pm]
A funny day today. We went to meet my work colleague, Yeoryia, and her family (3 kids!) at the Royal Academy for the sculptor Anish Kapoor’s show. I inwardly grumbled about the £12 admission price, but all complaints were silenced after being through the show itself which was beautiful and spectacular. A mysterious cave (“for fairies”, Sophia said) built out of rusting steel. A room full of squiggly constructions. A funfair room full of highly polished convex and concave mirrors which Sophia said made her eyes “peel”. A canon shooting pots of wax at a wall. And, best of all, a huge block of wax on a track bed inching slowly through 4 galleries, having excess bits squidging off through the doorways. Amazing – gloopy and ever-changing.
We were just having a drawing break on a bench when I looked up and saw an old high-school acquaintance. Through the St. Kits gossip wire, I knew he was in London, a big hotshot in publishing. But it was great to see him, largely unchanged, albeit much more urbane than in high schools days. He looked shocked when I approached him. “How did you recognize me?” he kept saying. Yet, oddly, I would have recognized him anywhere. (I’m not sure the reverse is true.) We quickly caught up on mutual acquaintances and promised to meet up soon for coffee. Yet another prodigy from St. Kit’s. As my friend, Erica, always used to say upon meeting yet another successful person from my childhood, “What was in the water in your town?”
A busy weekend. Friday night I caught up with Meliss in Soho House and we talked life over 3 bellinis and a salad. Saturday, Paul met up with some of his old co-workers and I caught up on work (ah yes, the days of working on weekends are back), and then went to get my eyebrows threaded, something I do every 5 weeks or so and which is painful but necessary. Ah, beauty.
Sophia seems to be coping better with school. We had crying til the middle of last week, Wednesday, when, suddenly, she forgot to cry. I am hoping she will now settle in now. In some ways, the new routine is better. 8pm bedtimes are easier on us, as is morning prep for school. She knows the drill and tries to help. She is a funny little one, always making us smile, very imperious and dramatic. Yesterday, at Paul’s office, she gave his desk a very thorough inspection (like she often does of my purse) and made comments about everything. Sample: “Two lip balms??? Two lip balms at work???” As if Paul had committed a major crime. And tonight, when I put her bed, she said, “Oh, and Mom, please tell papa that I’d like 4 baby pigs.” “Er, okay. Why?” “Because I’d like them as pets and I’d take them on walks.” “But where would we keep them?” “In cages.”
Looking forward to my mom’s arrival on Thursday. Sounds like her Ukraine trip has been fascinating, but a little harrowing as stories from the past come out. She is now in a modern town the name of which I can’t remember and could never possible spell without the aid of a serious dictionary and is looking forward to seeing our smiling faces too.
p.s. Stieg Larsson is nothing like the Wire!
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as a matter of fact [Oct. 4th, 2009|11:59 pm]
Busy weekend. Arlo’s birthday yesterday. Sophia went dressed as Cinderella. She was so sweet, so excited, but there were only boys there (Hilde was at another party for the first bit) which was disappointing. At one point, Sophia went to the bathroom and told Paul, “You’d better shut the door. The boys shouldn’t see a princess going to the toilet.” How true! And how scary that she already understands how much of femininity depends on those illusions. I always seem to be having this kind of conversation with other parents: we marvel over the differences between boys and girls. I certainly don’t believe it’s all pre-programmed – not by a long shot – but the differences are remarkable. The boys aren’t very verbal, for one thing. They dig holes, they play trains, they crash into each other. The girls like to organize, read books to each other, role play. Sophia has so many elaborate games and fantasies and rules about how things should be. She can be very adult in her sayings. Twice this morning she said to Paul and me: “Don’t fret. It will all work out.” Later, she began a sentence, “As a matter of fact…” And when I checked on her in the bus (I thought she might be napping), she said, “I’m having a rest because I had a tiring day.”
We met with Alice today to go to the movies, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was good, though nothing like the wonderful book on which it’s based. Sophia enjoyed it, though Alice was amused to see that she watches the ads and previews with just as much attention as the film. When we got “scared” in the film itself, Sophia held our hands. After the movie, we wandered down to Otto Lenghi for caramel macademia cheesecake. Sophia was up and down and all over the map. In Loop, she desperately wanted a book about crochet. “I’ll love it forever,” she said, and only put it down with great reluctance. Then, in Waterstone’s, it was something else. Alice handled it with aplomb. She said to Sophia, “So long as you’re charming, you can get away…oh, I better stop there.”
Other big news? The Wire is over. I raced through the final episodes. I couldn’t help it. I feel bereft (Luke told me, “there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel sad that I’ll never get to see The Wire for the first time”). But also, unexpectedly, a little relieved. It was an addiction. Now life goes back to normal. Well, not quite. I bought a crime novel by Stieg Larsson. The Guardian said that the only thing his trilogy could be compared to is…The Wire. The Wire est mort. Vive Steig Larsson.
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Hot Hop Bus [Oct. 2nd, 2009|11:34 pm]
Show: The Wire, Season 5, episode 5 (counting down to the big finale, only 5 more hours to go)
I got caught by Dawn today at nursery. Sophia’s still been a little clingy so I try not to drag out my leave-taking too much. I pass her to one of her teachers who holds her hand as I go. Today, after I left, I ran around to peek in the window and heard, “Stop spying on your daughter!”, turned, and there was Dawn laughing at me. I have to laugh at myself, too, but I’m also amazed that there every day there aren’t a whole bunch of parents, piled up, noses pressed into the glass.
Apart from this hiccup, mornings are easier now. Sophia’s mood has noticeably improved from recent months. (We enjoy Word of the Day, though, I have to admit, I think CAT was a one off. Hot Hop Bus has met with less success.) We had a later evening last night though – a party in the new Dean’s office to celebrate my promotion. A nice gesture on his part. Kids were invited (another nice gesture) and Sophia, with her hair in a plait, and her little friend, Marta, ate the vast majority of the crisps. Sophia was very excited about my office – probably the only person in the history of my institution who has been. She said she wanted to sleep there.
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smiley’s mission [Sep. 29th, 2009|10:23 pm]
My mom arrived safely in Kiev after her unexpected detour. She said that her mission is to make at least one or two people smile back at her every day: there are a lot of sour faces, but it is a beautiful city.
Some sad faces here too as we left Sophia at school. She is trying to be brave, but a few little tears leak out and she wipes them away with the back of her hand. Boy, does it ever make you feel bad. And, unlike the old regime, I can’t call to check in on her. So many adjustments…
But, in the spirit of onwards and upwards, I can announce the BIG news is that Sophia read her first word. Paul wrote out C-A-T as an experiment last night at dinner and Sophia, with no hesitation, said, “Cat!” I tried today with D-O-G which was less immediately successful, but she did figure it out in the end. We’ve instituted Word of the Day. Tomorrow will be HOT.
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popping in [Sep. 27th, 2009|11:12 pm]
I never thought  I would say this, but for the first time, I’m grateful that the rail network is undergoing weekend engineering works. Paul and I woke up to a beautiful day (the 3rd in a row!) and we thought about heading out to Kew Gardens. Alas, with the train down, it would have meant 3 changes and a deadly combo of replacement bus, underground and lord knows what else. So Paul and Sophia ended up going to the playground instead, while I lingered at home with a coffee and pondered what on my scarily vast “to do” list most urgently required my attention. Phone rang. “Barbara?” “Mom?” “I’m at Heathrow. I missed my flight to Kiev. I’ll be with you soon.”
By 11:30, my mom was here. What a lovely surprise! It’s not often (actually, never) in our lives over here that members of our family just drop in.  Sophia was full of “hurrahs! Moma is here!” We took advantage of the gorgeous weather and went to the Southbank – us and thousands of other Londoners. After a pit stop at the Tate to see some art (the whole time Sophia tried hustling us out until, as we were leaving, an interactive map caught her eye), we went onto Thames-side beach and Paul and Sophia built their obligatory sandcastle. Happy days.
We’ve been doing well, but it’s been very busy, as you’ll have guessed by this unusual long silence on my blog. The days are getting shorter, the academic year is getting underway, and Sophia’s been settling in to her new school routine. As have I. It seems to be working out that I take her to school most days, as Paul likes to go in early. I like to go in because I can touch base with the teachers who are all on hand, doing meet and greets, every morning. By 9am, my time is my own (in the “old” routine, Dawn came at 9:10 and by the time we’d discussed this and that, I wouldn’t be out the door til 9:30 or so). But I find it a real hustle in the morning to get Sophia and myself out promptly by 8:45. We’ve moved her bedtime forward to 8-8:30pm and her wake-up to 7:30am, which helps. She’s starting to get the new drill. “After breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, and put on shoes.” Because I’ve been so worried about being late, we’ve been early. Monday we were the first people at school, Tuesday, about the second people there, Wednesday was  better, Thursday was awful, with tears upon parting, and Friday good. More important, she seems to be enjoying it, from what I can tell, though her accounts are telegraphic to say the least. “How was school today?” “Good, mommy. I had pudding. Cake.” She also has a new best friend, Ishara, a cute little curly-headed boy, but, she tells me, she still wants to marry Arlo.
Last weekend was also exceptionally busy socially. My great friend, Sarah, was in town from Como with some of her girlfriends. I met with them on Saturday at Top Shop on Oxford Circus at noon. Unless you know London, you probably won’t know what hell that is  – the busiest corner of London, at the busiest time of the week, at the busiest shop possibly on earth. Predictably, Sarah’s friends were all over the shop (literally) and we couldn’t find them because their mobiles didn’t work underground in Top Shop. As it wasn’t my show and I couldn’t possibly be blamed for the chaos, I felt quite cheerful and, once we’d rounded them up, steered them down the road to Selfridge’s. Such la-la land in Selfridge’s. (Recession, what recession?) Sarah’s friends, a really lovely crew, said that where they live (most live in Lugano, Switzerland) was just the same, but it’s a whole town. We did some shopping, had some cocktails, and then they all headed off to the Cold Play concert. I headed to Chiswick to see Melissa’s and Luke Luke’s families. The Gordons had just returned from a Baltic cruise. Sophia was having a blast with all these grandparents around, stealing her nose, and so on.
She had an even better time the next day at the Vietnamese restaurant on Shoreditch High Road with Matt Matt & Julie. Then, Julie and I peeled off and went to an old boozer, the George and Dragon, where they had an opening for the artist Julie Verhoven in their ladies’ toilet space. It was super-trendy in a very East End way. As Paul said, walking down Brick Lane earlier, he felt like he was back in the eighties. The show itself sounds hilarious – and it is – but it’s not a piss-take. It’s a serious little art space and Verhoven did something rather nice in it: delicate line drawings of soft furnishings and people, with plastic pipes sticking out, and toilet rolls hanging frorm the ceiling. To celebrate the opening, they pulled the loo roll down, streams of white paper. The whole event was sponsored by Absolut. “It’s not a corporate sell-out,” the woman who opened the show explained, “we’re just feeding your addiction.”
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Made some cheese & chive southern style biscuits today a la Arianna.  Yummy!  Then braved the Kings’ Road in search of a grey cabled jumper, and some trousers and tops for David.  I always have a big grey wool jumper for the winter, but not this year.  My usual stops failed to turn one up, most are some kind of acrylic mix and have a big “KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE” warning in red letters on the materials label.  Sigh.  I guess there is nothing for it but to knit one for myself.  Off to Loop to get supplies!

Another 2009 retrospective (format filched from my friend B’s blog)

This year’s amazing revelation:  Making things happen is easy if you work hard at it.

Most favourite part of the year:  Summer vacation – visiting my mom, hanging out in Revelstoke and hitting all my favourite haunts at home.

Hottest vacation: First day in Calgary this July. Hot hot hot! Followed by rain and clouds – but overall probably the warmest was New York in October!  Am going to try to wrangle a beach holiday next year… sorely missing the sun and heat!

Best restaurant this year: Hands down Morimoto in Philadelphia.

My best week this year: Rhinebeck/New York with DH, Susan & Carole.

Most exciting game this year: Wii on Christmas Day with Sophia, Barb, Paul, Charles, Irmgard, Melis & Luke.

Longest walk this year: 12 of 20 miles with Maggie’s London Night Hike. Thank you Ali for organising and making it all possible!

The year’s longest project: Knit Nation 2010 – started in spring and will materialise in full force and effect over 3 days at the end of July 2010!

Best events of the year:  Oliver’s birth, Sock Summit, Rhinebeck, Christmas

Most amount of time spent on the water this year: I guess the ferry between Normandy and England.

Most amount of time spent this year living without any females: The whole year pretty much bar visitors! Living with hubby and puggy. Need to get a female puppy to redress the balance.

Cultural event of the year:  Biggest event was Series 2 of True Blood, anticipated for so long, and too quickly over. Am so lowbrow! lol. A little more cultural – Rockefeller’s house in the Hudson Valley, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, and just plain fun – Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!

Best stupid movie: Role Models

This year’s most monotonous job: data entry for Knit Nation.

Saddest events this year:  Realising Angie wasn’t going to make it, and her funeral.  The second was going to my 40 year old cousin’s family funeral/memorial service – and meeting his partner of 5 years who most of the rest of the family studiously ignored.

Shock of the year: Realising I’ve got lots of white hair!

Most hopeful action this year:  Closing Socktopus to dedicate more time to family and loved ones.

Most absurd situation of the year: Bringing 3 knitting projects with me to Germany, only to find that for every single one I was missing a vital piece of the project – one had two different sized needles on either side of the cable, one had needles but no yarn, and one had yarn but no needles, and none used the same size needles so I couldn’t use the components I had together!

Silliest joke of the year: Am absolutely rotten at remembering jokes plus I always mess up the punch line!

Most beautiful sight: The Rockies in summer twilight.

Best thing this year found on the ground: Snow!

Worst thing this year found on the ground: White lilies at a friend’s funeral

Biggest surprise of this year: Trollbeads from my hubby for Christmas

Greatest technological improvement: SONOS for the house!  And my laptop – thanks Dad.

This year’s most studious person: Barb of course

Strangest (most convincing?) dream of the year:  anxiety dream where I have a small puppy in my care – and I forget about it when we are swimming then I run around trying to find it in the water.

Most anticipated house guest: Alice Chan

New Year’s resolution:  To be a better person.

3 thoughts on “2009 Round Up

  1. Mind if I steal this? 🙂

    I hope after all the retrospect you’re looking forward to what 2010 will bring you. I am sure awesome things are afoot!

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