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*holiday spirits.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that a lot can change in the course of a single calendar year. (Now that I'm officially coasting on the downhill side of my life, I'm going to start all my sentences in that fashion, like a sage imparter of advice and aphorisms, hardened by the passage of time and covered in the bruises of hard-scrabble experience. Or of opening the car door into your shin.)

Remember this? Last year's tree-trimming extravaganza, a trip from stupor to stupendousness motivated by a sisterly nudge. Whereby "nudge" equates to "that face LSis makes when one is being a whiny 4-year-old."

Oh, me. Takin' pictures with my cell phone and unable to navigate the elementary engineering that is lights-stringing. This year, I fared better.

tannenbaum.


I stuck with the same yellow/brown/white decorating scheme this year because ... well, because I love it. And I have absolutely no idea why, which makes it elegant and enigmatic. Yes it does.

I also pulled out the glitter sticks, because they make an inconceivable mess, and I just love finding sparkles in odd places for months.

all that glitters.


And I hung the wreath, an abomination of jingle bells that also appealed to me upon purchase because of the nontraditional color scheme. I've hung it for the past four years, but I gotta say it's really starting to bug me. It doesn't relate to the tree in any way, it makes an insane amount of noise that variously startles me and horrifies the dog, and it is not doing much to improve the state of my already hideous front door.

jingle bells.


God, look at that. I hate it, I really do. The longer I look at it the more I want to bleach my eyeballs. Where were my tastemakers to gently slip me a tranquilizer and steal away with this eyesore?

gay apparel.


Oh! That's better. I still have the same fondness for these hydrangeas

blush.


and these icicles

ice sickle.


and all the baubles

trimmings.


and that insane and wonderful ribbon

yellow ribbon.


and (be still, my heart) these absurdly heavy hooters.

wise.


Tremendous.

all lit up.


I was tipsy on birthday wine when the majority of the decorating got done, warm with Cabernet and sentiment. The results are wonky and lopsided, like a drugged puppy or a giddily stunned drunk. And that's what Christmas means to me.
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*30 rocks.

Thirty. It's a strange number, with its benign evenness countered with the certain malevolent mwahaha of creeping almost a third of the way through your particular century.

I'm less nonchalant about it than I thought I might be, given that I'm not especially sentimental about birthdays as a rule. Milestones are minefields, though, in that they demand comparative reflection, an exercise with outcomes that I don't always find favorable. For example: Grownup readers, what had you accomplished as you strolled jauntily into your fourth decade? If mastering the art of falling down is not on your list, I win.

Technically TwinFin and I don't cross this threshold until Sunday, but I have already been feted and gifted in incomparable fashion. There was frivolity and cheese dip, hooch and karaoke, my sweet chicken and, mind-blowingly, real live actual chickens. (TwinFin received these as a birthday gift. Two fowl by the names of Rogers and Q. I, on the other hand, got a lot of wine. K FOR THE WIN.)

Mostly, though, I realized how much grander and larger and more joyous it feels to balk at the 30-yard line only to be yanked over by a cheering crowd of your nearest and dearest.

JBSH, who created a backdrop too stunning for the humble occasion, who maneuvers through a swaying crowd like a phantom, replenishing food, charming strangers, and cleaning dishes with just a whisper of movement.

walk like.


TwinFin and MW, my constant friend and his whip-smart wife, a study in people overburdened with talent.

K&J, who were the first to arrive, ever-gracious and lovely and bearing a gift for TwinFin, whom they'd never even met.

gray bar.


JLB, with a strength I admire beyond measure.

J&T, who make every occasion a party—J with her Michigan sweet-talk and tight hugs and sincere, breathless hearting of all things, and T with his quiet, incomparable devotion to making all people feel important and included.

pretty please.


DG, whose poetry is too scandalous for this forum, but was beloved as much as his absence was felt.

JULIE & S, he with his wry earnestness and a wit so fast it will catch you by surprise, and she, grinning and mischievous, like a pesky little sister who good-naturedly needles you almost to death before stunning you with thoughtfulness that makes you misty and brimming with something that feels dangerously close to schmaltz.

al in boots.


JA, whose presence is at any moment identifiable by the world's most infectious laugh.

A&N, who have never, in their lives, ever met a stranger. Ever.

MS, a girl's best friend.

you ss.


B&D, my rockstar late-stayers, blessed with the simultaneous dispositions of your favorite buy-you-beer-on-the-sly aunt and uncle, the ones you can tell your deepest secrets to and trust that you'll get compassion, realism, cocktails, and peerless nursing care.

JFR, laid-back and kind and blessed with a rare kind of effortless friendliness.

M&J, always always late, so that their arrival is as stylish and fashionable as they are.

BiL & LSis, superheroes for braving the cold and the rain and the late night and the babysitter and the crowd and the exhaustion with a newbornforheaven'ssake.

tech baby.


K&B, charting new Fin territory and living to tell the tale.

SF and all the Bs, making the night a family affair in order to sing the world's most terrifically awesome and awful karaoke.

couch perch.


S, my late-night confabber, Coors queen, straight-shooter, and JBSH partner in crime.

SN, friend to all things with four legs and possibly the kindest, most quietly hilarious person I know.

chuck.


The momster and S, she with an encyclopedic knowledge of my 30 years (particularly that first one!) and he, always there to wake up a hungover gal with a chainsaw.

duel.


And TFin. Who gave me the camera I've been lustily desiring for months, the one I used to inexpertly take these photos, and a book on how to use it that I've been hungrily devouring since. Making sure that this celebration was first a priority, then a necessity, and then a damn good time. He works a room instinctively, without having to think about it—mixing cocktails, encouraging conversation, shooing people out of cramped corners and dark hallways—forcing me to respond again and again to "Your dad is awesome."

He is. You all are, my people. Thank you.
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*lessons, learned.

Things I discovered this weekend:

Fall leaves are the bane of a perfectionist's existence.

red leaf.


There are always more, the original cosmic joke. I contemplated rocking in a corner in the Woodside until winter comes, but it turns out that place is awash with balls of hair and dust, redolent of outdoor dog, and sagging with seeping moisture where seeping moisture should not be. I briefly considered setting it on fire, but I'm afraid it'd be too wet to burn.

The barter system.

scallopini


Sure, photo fail, but that garish plate is possibly the best meal I've ever made: Frank Stitt's chicken scallopini with creamy polenta and baby greens, lemony arugula leaves alongside a thick, deadly pool of grits and lightly breaded chicken breasts topped with a drizzle of buttery sauce, capers, and tomatoes. It serves up pretty and restauranty, but it's deceptively easy. That's all the better for trading your BiL for his air-in-car-tires services.

I forgot to season the chicken, neglected to include the necessary vinegar in the sauce, and pan-seared my palm. But it was so incredibly delicious and homey, with the kind of flavor balance only someone who's spent years in a kitchen can pass down to the pathologically forgetful and clumsy home cook. BiL cleaned his plate before he had a chance to say, "What are capers?" and LSis ate gratefully, fork in one hand and baby in the other. I, on the other hand, no longer have to whine girlishly about my tires and the scary, scary machine it takes to fix them.

The barter system is my new best friend. I plan to use it for all sorts of things.

K's out-of-pocket expense: $40
BiL's out-of-pocket expense: $0.50

Get in on this deal while I still don't understand how it works!

J never ceases to amaze.

tongue.


That's just not normal. The eyes, squinted and glazed over with adrenaline and the kind of excitement only possessed when short-term memory is on the fritz. (He sees the familiar world like a toddler in front of a Jack-in-the-box: "Holy CRAP I did not see that coming. Holy CRAP I did not see that coming. Holy CRAP I did not see that coming.") The teeth, placed by deeply distracted genetics. The cranium, built for barreling dumbly into stationary objects.

The big mouth he gets from me.
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baby bella.

I'm sorry I've been a bit scarce around the Woodside lately. It's just that I've been staring at baby face for the past two weeks.

stella9


stella8


stella5


stella7


stella4


stella6


Hypnotizing, no?
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*fall friday.

This is the road I travel to work each morning.

cherokee stripe.


In roughly 84 more minutes (give or take), I'll be headed down it in the opposite direction.

cherokee curve.


I can't wait.

cherokee day.


Happy Friday 13, everybody!
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*tuesday's child.

It's fall! You know what that means. The smell of cool rain and the feel of crisp leaves.

yellow.


The dulcet tones of water pouring through one's roof.

drops on roses.


And the sight of a man and his baby.

mean ole daddy.


Or, as LSis likes to say, "Mean ole daddy."



Wish me luck: The Woodside ain't much of an ark.
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*flora and fawning.

I lost it a little bit in the past week—the wind at my back that was facilitating getting things done, feeling creative, greeting the world like a kid finding out how it feels to spin in her first party dress.

I still do that, granted, when Stella stumbles into one of her cockeyed accidental smiles, or when J races in a precise circle in the backyard with a look of fierce determination and a mouthful of old T-shirt for absolutely no conceivable reason.

However, I'm starting to wear a path of oblivion between the front door and the warm space beneath my covers where there are no stinking dishes, no unopened bills, and no insurmountable crush of laundry.

This weekend I mowed the lawn just so I wouldn't have to be inside. The Woodside, she is saggin'.

So when I looked around this morning, at the balled-up dirty socks and the partnerless shoes and the dust-gathering mail, I had a tiny coronary event. Then I mustered up all my powers of denial, herded the dog out the door, and wrestled into a sartorial mistake before heading out to work.

Whereupon I found this.

autumnal.


Beautiful, spirits-lifting flowers.

derangement.


Flowers in pretty autumn colors.

laura flora.


Flowers that smell of warmth and coziness, peppered with foodstuffs.

fall flowers.


Flowers that weigh 15 pounds, necessitating a grinning, sweaty tromp from reception to the cubicle.

foliage.


Flowers with superlatives I probably don't deserve, but wear with pride and not a little mistiness.

lovely notation.


Thank you, LSis. I love my flowers. They are currently occupying desk space formerly reserved for this thing they call "work," which I've shoved aside in favor of your lovely and too-generous gift. You really should be too tired for this.
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*j bird.

A mess. An utter mess of 50 pounds of pure, quivering musculature, poised to collapse in fear at the first balloon pop, pillow tilt, or floor change. Velvet soft around the ears, but coarser down the back and tail. Smelly beyond all measure. Strong, but stupid. Prone to sneezing fits and bouts of drool. Owner of the world's biggest smile, brightest eyes, and most dumbfounded reactions to familiar events.

Has no idea what his name is, what part of the hose the water comes out of, or whether, when I leave, I'm ever, ever coming back.

poseur.


Yessir, that's my baby.
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*a star is born.

Well, hello there! How have you been? I know, I know, I haven't seen you in a few days. I've just been so busy. I milled around impotently in the front yard while the momster put one of an infinite number of coats of paint on the Woodside facade; I peeled the mutt off the fenceline so that we could have an educational and enthusiastic two-way conversation about the relative merits of murdering the dog next door (K: 1, J: 0); I read a book; I neglected all household chores, including but not limited to laundry, mopping, vacuuming, and yardwork.

I lost my ATM card in a nonfunctional machine because I neglected to check the screen, which read "WORTHLESS BANK IS GOOD FOR NOTHING, PARTICULARLY WHEN ASKED TO DISPENSE ADMITTEDLY PALTRY FUNDS. WILL EAT CARD NOW."

Um, let's see ... I made a sandwich. That was pretty good.

Geez, what else was there? Seems like I'm forgetting something.

yawnz.


OH, RIGHT.

Holy crap, people. Remember this, and how it was 400 years ago, give or take?

It all led up to yesterday.

female laura.


Stella Marie Juarez, born 7:48 a.m. November 3, 2009. Full head of black hair, 6 pounds, 6 ounces, 19 inches long, 13 3/8 inches of head.

uncle.


Seven family members, alternately cooing in reverence and stunned into silence, like being chucked in the temple with awe.

daddy's girl.


One diaper change, expertly executed by an old pro.

everlasting love.


Twenty dollars plunked down for decorations, meant to announce to the world that the Fin family loves with abandon and isn't afraid to declare their joy in felt and ribbon that puts the rest of the hospital to shame. You know, if it were a competition or something.

baby baby.


Twelve visiting hours, absurdly too few to satisfy greedy visitors or to contain my Tourette's-style compulsion to screech, "Stop bogarting the baby!" even though I just held her 14 seconds ago.

stella star.


Ten perfect fingers, 10 perfect toes.

sleepyhead.


One mama, punch drunk on breathless wonder and sleep deprivation and the throat-catching charge of feeling your magnetic field widen to include a whole new orbit.

little lady.


Stella, I promise to spoil you beyond the bounds of imagination. I promise to pick you up when you cry and faint dead away when you smile at me for the first time. I promise to read to you and leave the hallway light on at night and play the panicked clown when you skin your knees. I promise to let you lick the bowl. I promise to sing to you. I promise to keep your secrets and buy you beer and never, ever let you drive my car. I promise to make you wear a coat when I'm cold. I promise to let you be silly and loud and angry and sad and jealous and excited and afraid.

I promise to be as proud of you every day as I was yesterday, as proud as I am of your beautiful sisters, proud of your mother and her mother and the gentle way she helped you try to eat, three generations of powerful women, powerful purpose, powerful life force.

I promise to teach you hyperbole.

I hope you will teach me, too—how to be more brave, more certain. How to hold you like your grandfather does, serene and grinning, like the center of the world's most joyous storm.

I promise to help keep you safe and to love you, fiercely, just as you are. Because thanks to your parents, what you are is perfection—it's in your DNA. Welcome to the world, baby girl.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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