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Yesterday we took the Christmas tree down. This year, my daughter helped me, which somewhat softened the blow of dismantling Christmas. Some years I’ve done it alone, just me and some moody music, putting away all the bright things, and trying to block out the images of how exciting it was to put them up only a few weeks before. I did feel melancholy taking them down again. Not just because Christmas was over — in some ways I am okay with the holiday itself being over and done with (that sounds Grinch-like, but it’s not what I mean), but I always feel weighted down by thoughts of what the next holiday might bring. If we were all together this year, healthy and here, surrounded by the people we love (not to mention the furry family members, two of whom are elderly), what will it be like next year? What unexpected turns lie ahead? Did I cherish the here and now enough? Savor the moments? Commit enough images to memory?

We were away for nearly seven days this year, and I couldn’t accomplish much of anything work-wise in that time, which is par for the course this time of the year. I can’t find good space to write at my parents’ house, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I spent the days soaking up my niece and two nephews, and spending time with my sister, who was in Rome for a few months this fall, and time with my brother, who I always feel I never get enough time with as it is, also running errands with my dad (and catching up with him in the process), and helping my mom in the kitchen. I did get some good runs in, past old haunts of my childhood and college years – including a rain-soaked run along a path where I used to walk our family dog. The highlight run of the trip was a short three-mile run (round trip) to my sister’s new house, where I got to stop and hug my nephew, still in his Christmas jammies.

Christmas day my husband and I took a walk together, up to the campus of the University of Maryland, and to the chapel where we got married nearly 19 years ago. We walked up the steps, and I looked out at the same view I had looked out on all those years ago, when the ceremony was over, and we stepped through the chapel doors together, and down the front steps and into our future. This time, instead of a white dress, I was wearing ridiculously awesome green knee socks with the word “VEGAN” printed down the sides. Standing at the top of the chapel’s steps, that crazy sprawl of college-town in front of us, I was acutely aware of how far we’ve come on this journey, yet how the same I really am, and my husband still is, deep down inside. A lot has changed; quite a bit has stayed the same. There’s nothing quite like the perspective you get when you retrace steps back to some starting point, and assess the roads that took you there.

Then, we walked back down the steps again, hand in hand, and into the spread of years that lie ahead, filled as they will be, I am sure, with successes, and joys and glorious experiences; bittersweet partings, heartbreaks, losses, and all that goes into the unbearable lightness (to borrow from Milan Kundera) of living and loving. That walk — I think that was the best gift I got this year.

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Plus: New kitten cuteness! The kids and I have been badgering my husband for months now to add a kitten into the mix. His name is Benjamin (Benny for short). He’s estimated to be about 5 months old, and he’s a sweet charmer — easygoing and social as can be. We followed strict rules mined from the internet on how to introduce a new kitty to the resident cat and I must say we’ve met with success! While they are not BFFs yet, they are co-habiting nicely together — we even caught them touching noses a couple of times.

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Tuckered out from playing

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Helping me whip up a bunch of vegan pancakes

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