Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but I still intend to write the annual holiday letter, since I love it that I can keep in touch with all of you this way.
Nobody in the family died this year, for starters. Yup, I know, Astro can’t possibly still be alive, can she? Well, what do you think is meant by the word “immortal”? As in “Astro the Immortal.” She’ll be 17 in April, oldest dog in the world, we’re calling her, and she’s still with us, or at least the 10 percent of her that’s still with us is 100 percent still with us. She’s a very sweet dotty old lady. She likes her chicken and cinnamon toast and enjoys staring at walls. We’ve put rugs all over the hardwood floors so she doesn’t slip and fall down quite as much. She is universally adored. Getting old is such a goofy thing.
The kids are good. I scanned the letter of last year and found that, for once, not much has changed in the world of the kids. And yet it must have, they’re a whole year older.
Rose is 12 now, in 6th grade at public middle school. She loves her school and loves being in the orchestra. She’s the last first violin in the junior orchestra, often plays in tune and likes to play duets with her dad. She got her own violin this year and is making good use of it. She likes to write and has done some lovely poetry. She reads her favorite books over and over again, fantasies where the little guy/girl/small animal has powerful magic and is the hero(ine). She still fences and has private lessons as well as group ones. We started going to a different studio and are really happy with her coach (from the old USSR, used to coach child Olympians, expects great things of Rose) and all the kids she’s with, although the classes are on the other side of the lake and that requires a bridge commute at rush hour 3 times a week. Still, it’s a great improvement over soccer, oh yes! Skiing, though her father would love her to love it, isn’t her favorite thing, but she somehow managed to belay this conflict into her acquiring a 4 foot long pet corn snake. Don’t ask. Something about never whining about skiing again, which didn’t actually work. Rose is taller and really independent, except when she wants to get her parents to prove that they love her by getting them to butter her toast or something. She does her own homework without being asked (ohmygod) and got straight A’s on her report card (ohmygodohmygod).
Christopher is 8, 9 in May, and is in 3rd grade. He loves codes and maps and these beautiful complicated mazes he draws. In school he’s gotten to be quite a comfortable writer, and a good speller. He’s at ease, most of the time, academically. Unless he hasn’t had dinner and then he goes on and on about how he can’t possibly do his homework and this is the worst day of his life and it’s all my fault. He had to write an essay a few weeks ago about “a time you got mad at yourself” and he was completely stymied and had to get the teacher to let him write an essay on how he never gets mad at himself. Very funny. His perception of school is that it’s a series of shadowy strategic skirmishes between good and evil (boys and girls, basically). Like his sister, he likes to fence and managed to win a tournament this year (best of four kids, 8 and under, but he was very pleased and got a medal). His piano playing is really amazing. Sometimes he plays with such authority and style that I don’t know if it’s him or Richard playing when I come in the house. He also makes up his own pieces, and sometime manages to write them down. His skiing has gotten good too. Okay, now I’m done bragging on him. He’s still absolutely impossible sometimes and hates almost all foods you can get in a restaurant and is extremely loudly eloquent about it. I wince.
Richard’s discovery this year is that he can write a durn fine essay. Now, you’ll say he was doing that before, with the Italy journals, but he really blossomed when his sister Laura asked him to write a review of “junk books” for her bookstore newsletter. His column was laugh out loud funny. He followed it up with another one about Byron Katie, his favorite self-help author. Also very funny. He also wrote a very good serious response to NY Times columnist David Brooks about the Terry Schiavo case, which would have been a great NY Times letter to the editor, except it was too long. He doesn’t write all that much but it’s great when he does. He also, as mentioned before, discovered the author and educator Byron Katie, who wrote the book Loving What Is. Through lots of reading and worksheets and a workshop in the fall at Esalen, he’s made the very great step of moving from Hating What Is to merely Disliking What Is. He continues to practice anesthesia and to injure himself every time he starts to really enjoy something physical. This year it was Ping Pong (his Chinese teacher thinks he has remarkable talent) (bone spur in shoulder) as well as skiing (he’s become an expert who can ski anything) (low back pain). No injuries yet from studying Italian.
I, Rachel, continue to do the things I do. I miss my long walks with the dog, who doesn’t do long walks anymore. I enjoy my body and mind explorations, with Feldenkrais, some yoga and plenty of meditation. I do zen retreats when I can, the family misses me but benefits vicariously, at least so I choose to believe. I’ve been doing a lot more music this year than in the recent past, helping out the music program with my zen group after the music director died suddenly in the summer. This has led me to pick up mandolin and guitar again which is soothing and makes me happy. I’m tutoring kids at Rose’s middle school in reading and writing once a week. The kids really need the help and I like being able to get to know them a bit. I’m also reaching the final stages of the park renovation project that I’ve been consulting for over the past few years. It looks like I will actually get paid to put sculpture in the park, a number of small and larger critters and some educational pieces about plant species. My fingers are crossed that I’ll actually be able to get it all done. I’ve been doing my own work too, two new pieces this year, and will eventually have to have a show when I can’t fit everything in my studio anymore.
As a family this year, we have traveled a bit, including a visiting old friends and real-estate lust trip to the Bay Area and Sierras, a couple ski trips, Moscow Idaho for Thanksgiving and Christmas (to celebrate that my dad and step mother have moved there, next year they get to come here). Although we haven’t gotten back to Italy yet, we have been hosting an Italian exchange student, Alberta, this year (with whom we speak no Italian at all because she’s here to learn English). In the summer we camped at Mt. Rainier, and took a week long rafting trip on the Grand Ronde River in Oregon with a number of families, including Janice and Mac and Annie and Paul. Christopher broke both his arms in anticipation of this trip and we discovered Gore-tex cast liners! We had a lot of guests and enjoyed them all, perhaps you will be next?