For the past four years or so, we’ve been making holiday videos in lieu of sending Christmas cards. This year, I had serious doubts that it was going to happen, but here it is after all…Our rather rough-around-the-edges Holiday video for 2014, featuring every single member of the family playing an instrument, pretending to be an instrument, beatboxing, whistling, singing, etc. etc.:


Happy New Year!

Our Christmas Story

In days of old, it was foretold that, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And it came to pass that people traveled great distances…

Every one came to adore the new baby…

The shepherds came with their sheepdogs…

There were three kings…

…and although it is not widely known, there were a couple of queens too…

There were gifts…

And a multitude of heavenly host sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men“:

Holiday Snapshots


Quiz Time!

In preparation for the upcoming holiday season and seeing our extended family, my sister and I decided to give the kids an after-breakfast quiz. “What is your Grandfather’s first name?” “What is the name of your cousins’ new dog?” etc. etc.

The kids decided we should be quizzed too. After lunch they gave us questions that included: “In which month are most babies born?” “How much does the earth weigh?” “Why can you not take a picture of a man with a wooden leg in British Columbia?” (Answers at end of post).

Having been roundly humiliated by this latest set of questions, we decided to up the ante with new questions of our own, relating to our work: “What are the ingredients of a roux?” “What is the purpose of a Form I-765?”

The kids were not amused. The next round, a math quiz, continued at the shabu shabu restaurant we went to for dinner…The kids posed questions along the lines of: “What is the cubed root of 512?”

Here was the final bonus round…

Adding only mathematical symbols (NOT numbers), make the three numbers to the left equal 6:

0              0                0        =      6

1              1                1        =      6

2              2                2        =      6

3              3                3        =      6

4              4                4        =      6

5              5                5        =      6

6              6                6        =      6

7              7                7        =      6

8              8                8        =      6

9              9                9        =      6

My sister and I, English and Russian majors respectively, looked at each other blankly.

Here! I’ll even do one for you as an example,” my son generously offered.

2     +      2     +     2      =      6

My sister and I puzzled our way through almost all of them, but were stumped by the last few.

Again, my son tried to save us from utter humiliation with what he thought was a huge hint.


Alas, this did nothing to shed light upon our benighted ignorance.

What’s a factorial?” I asked my sister. She shrugged.

Quiz Time is not over. Not by a long shot. We’ve already got the next round (“The Etiquette Round”) queued up and ready to go.


The National Gallery



The rest of the tribe arrives tonight…

Answers to Round 2 Quiz questions: August, 1,000 trillion metric tons or 6 sextillion, You can’t take a picture with a leg.


Making Music and Merry

Many years ago, in one of my darkest and loneliest of hours, I made a friend who became like a sister to me. I was living alone at the time. Every night I would cry myself to sleep in a grim, rat and cockroach-infested apartment in a welfare hotel that was gradually being converted into graduate student housing. I know this sounds maudlin and over the top…like something out of the 19th century Russian novels I was reading for my degree at the time, but it’s true.

When my friend and I decided to become roommates, we lucked into that rarest of commodities – a beautiful and affordable sublet in an elegant pre-war building in New York City. It was a sign. For one magical year, we lived in an apartment with a fireplace and a large turret window overlooking Riverside Park. That year it seemed like anything was possible and everything was going our way. We spent many a night talking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. We threw lots of parties. We started a graduate student singing group. Two of the people we auditioned were already friends who knew each other from another choral group. They sang their way into the group and into our hearts. A few years later, we married them. Many more years and six kids later we live a few hours away from each other, but we try to get together as often as we can.

My friend still knows how to throw a great party. This weekend my husband had to stay behind to fulfill his professional singing obligations, but the kids and I drove up to Maryland to attend the party of the year. …a cozy affair with just my friends and all of our kids.

While the kids decorated cookies:

I wandered around feeling nostalgic as I looked at Christmas decorations I remembered from our old Riverside Drive apartment…

I admired some new ones too:

After dinner, we played a game that involved drawing winter scenes on paper plates…

while they were perched on top of our heads!

We opened Christmas crackers.

They contained whistles that played an entire musical scale…

So naturally we played a few songs…

under the direction of our very able conductor:

We played dreidel:

This boy may have lost the dreidel game, but he’s a triple crown winner nevertheless:

We opened gifts:

We were sorely missing one of our tenors, but my favorite part of the evening was singing Christmas carols:

How lucky I feel to still be making music and merry together all these years later with these dearest of friends.

I am a monster.

When my son was very little he asked me to pose for a portrait. I have to admit, I was flattered by the request. I sat very still as he labored over his masterpiece. He took the whole enterprise very seriously. For a very long time, he would study my face intently and then return to his drawing to add more details. At last he was satisfied with his work. He put the finishing touches on the portrait and then finally released me from my pose.

“Can I see it?” I asked.

He turned the sketchbook to proudly reveal his portrait to me:



Wow!” I said. I was aghast, but trying to be sensitive to my budding young artist’s feelings, “Is that how I look to you?”

“Uh-huh!” he replied nonchalantly, “Looks just like you!”

I recalled this incident a few months ago in the midst of an extremely complicated day…

My son’s school was out for the day, but his school team’s soccer game was still on. To complicate matters, he had made vague plans to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover after his game. My husband had left town for a conference the evening before, so livery service was all up to me. As I left for work that morning I asked my son to be ready and dressed for soccer, to have his bag packed for the sleepover, and to get his friend’s cell phone number so we could find each other at the designated pick up spot at a high school on the opposite side of town. After dropping him off, his siblings and I were going to meet up with friends all the way back on the other side of town. Is your head spinning? Mine was.

I went home during my lunch break to pick up my son and bring him back to my office. I left work a little early to drop him off at his soccer game on time, and then headed back home to pick up my daughter from the babysitter’s house and to pick up my other son as he got off the bus. Together, the three of us drove back to watch the rest of my son’s soccer game. After the game we drove on to the meeting point where he was going to get picked up.

“So you got your friend’s number?” I asked.

“I tried to ask him for it, but he never sent it to me.”

“Well, did you figure out exactly where at the high school we’re meeting?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere around the football field, probably.”

It was twilight when we arrived at the high school. We drove around the parking lot nearest to the football field, looking for his friend.

“Do you know what kind of car they drive?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No, but just let me out here, I’ll find them,” he said with his hand already starting to open the car door as we circled the lot.

“Stop! We’ll just drive around until we see them.”

“Just let me out here,” he insisted, growing agitated, “You can go now.”

“I’m not going to leave you here to wander around the school all by yourself at night. Relax!”

“Fine! You can stay here in the car if you want. Let me out and I’ll come back to let you know when I’ve found them.”

“It will be much easier and quicker for me to just drive you around. Why are you acting so squirrelly? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me or something?”

“YEAH!” he said far too readily, and in a matter-of-fact tone that cut like a knife through butter. “There are people here! I don’t want everyone in the world to know my mommy had to drive me here.”

“Uhhhh…you’re 14. Everyone knows your mommy has to drive you everywhere. It’s kind of obvious. How else would you get here?”

By now he was really getting his panties in a twist.

“Just let me handle this! This is so embarrassing!”

I think of myself as a reasonable person. I’m not zen by any means, but I’m not crazy, either. But there comes a moment when one is pushed a little too far.

“You want embarrassing?” I snapped, “Because believe me, I can unleash all kinds of embarrassing, Buster!”

And thus commenced an epic hissy fit…One to go down in the history books. I was a grey-faced, slavering Harpy, winging into Athens with unsheathed talons and a crazed glint in my eye. I was Krakatoa, spewing volcanic ash and incinerating everything within my path. I was Enola Gay releasing the atomic bomb.

I’m not exactly sure what I looked like in that moment of terrifying wrath, but I imagine it was probably something like this:

Oh, Brother

In the car the other day my boys were talking about how much fun it was to see their dad and his brother together. My fourteen-year-old, who was recently able to spend time in England with both of them, reported on the visit and one cherished moment in particular that he obviously considered to be a personal triumph. He had managed to crack them both up by showing them a video he had discovered of Mr. Methane, a professional flatulist, performing on Britain’s Got Talent.

Oh, you didn’t know there was such a thing as a flatulist? Me neither, until this past weekend.

For your edification and viewing pleasure:

“You should have seen them!” he reported with a huge smile as he recalled the moment, “They were laughing so hard!”

“Yeah,” his brother said with affection, “They always laugh so hard when they’re together. We should be like that when we’re older!”

The fourteen-year-old spun out this thought to its natural conclusion: “We will! We’ll live together in an old folks’ home and we’ll mess with all the other people who live there or come to visit us. We’ll cheat at bingo! And we’ll say things like, In my day, Sonny, men used tampons!” He chortled with glee at the thought of it.

“And we’ll motor around in souped up hoverounds!” his brother added, caught up in the spirit.

“What the heck is a hoveround?!” I called to them from the driver’s seat.

“They’re like motorized shopping carts you use instead of a wheelchair? You always see commercials for them on TV.”

I, personally, have never once seen a commercial for such a thing, or even heard of a hoveround. Is this what comes of binge-watching the History Channel when we spend weekends at Grandma and Grandpa’s house?

“And T (their sister) will live in a house nearby our old folks’ home and will take care of us!” my fourteen-year-old continued, “And when her grandchildren come to visit her, they’ll ask her to tell them funny stories about us…”

I love that they envision a future for themselves full of pranks, laughter, and good stories. I love the fact that they can’t imagine their lives without each other. I’d love nothing better than for their cherished dream to come true!

Weekend Snapshots 18

Our weekend was all about music…


The kids and I went to hear their dad’s Christmas concert with his early music vocal ensemble Zephyrus.


The next evening my daughter played in a violin holiday concert…


The following day the boys had their piano recital:

piano recital

piano recital bow

…and then we raced back to church to cap off our musical weekend with a beautiful candlelight Lessons and Carols service.

Blurry picture, but I can't resist!

Blurry picture, but I can’t resist!

It was lovely to hear my daughter’s sweet voice floating down from the balcony at the beginning of the service…

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

That time of the year…

Things have gotten rather crazy around here…We got our Christmas tree, but it’s been standing in our family room, undecorated and unwatered all week. The advent calendars, the lights, the snow globes, and the nutcrackers are all still tucked away in their boxes in the basement. The boys and I came up with a fun idea for this year’s holiday song video, but we haven’t had the time to record it yet.

We are in full-on-end-of-the-semester-survival-mode around here, and although we can see the light at the end of the tunnel faintly flickering in the distance, we are still just trying to slog through each day…Until we get our heads above water, I’ll be popping by now and then, mostly with old posts, starting with this one – our first holiday video from 2011. Gosh, those kids look so young!

Weekend Snapshots 17

I forgot my camera at my parents’ house a couple weekends ago, and have been suffering from withdrawal. Thanks to my sister and FedEX, I finally got it back today! I had my camera phone and an old camera to tide me over…

Parents’ Night Out! (See last post)!

We picked out our Christmas tree this weekend…

We made “gingerbread” (graham cracker!) houses at the Lorna Sundberg International Center…

While the boys had their final piano lesson before their recital, my daughter and I ignored the NO TRESPASSING! NO PARKING! signs at Foxfield to admire the beautiful sunset.