Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings during this season of hope and celebration.

Last December 23rd, upon leaving my favorite Italian grocery in San Francisco’s Mission District, I looked across the street and saw a Social Security Office. A sign on the door said, open until 4 p.m. Closed December 24 and 25. It was 3:45. Through the window I saw an empty waiting room. I opened the door, and the guard said, “Come in.” At that moment I decided to retire at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, and within fifteen minutes was signed up to begin receiving Social Security in January.

During the previous year, with my broken wrist and subsequent back pain, I realized my body was not going to last forever, and that if I wanted to travel around the world with a backpack, I’d better start soon. In January, the opportunity arose for a trek in Morocco. As I debated with myself about going, lured by the luscious descriptions and colorful photos on the website of Adventureline Travel in Cornwall, England, the dollar rose against the pound, my school schedule was adjustable, and a neighbor said, “You never regret what you do, but you often regret what you don’t do.” That settled it. In February and early March I walked about 75 miles through the Jebel Sarhro region of Morocco, slept in a tent for nine nights, in a village house for one, had a wonderful time, and No Regrets. Pictures on Flickr at

I braced myself for the emotionally perilous weekend of May 29, which marked my birthday, Ed’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, the anniversary of Ed’s death, and now my retirement, turned into a wonderful occasion as my friend Melissa accompanied me to Ramsey Canyon, Arizona for a wonderful weekend of bird-watching, with sightings of brilliant hummingbirds and gorgeous wild turkeys with colors I thought existed only in children’s coloring books.

Summer included many short trips: to North Carolina, Seattle (twice: once for a Philips family reunion and once to attend the mesmerizing Seattle Opera Ring Cycle), San Francisco, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago (for ALA). Back home, I attended all five productions of the Santa Fe Opera, and hiked often with the Sunday afternoon group of the New Mexico Mountain Club.

Fall has been divided among: (1) Newbery reading, (2) a strenuous fitness challenge program to get me ready for that backpack (sit-ups, push-ups, etc., supervised by a sweet ex-marine -- “Keep going, keep going!”), and (3) extensive house repairs (new roof, lots of insulation, stucco, replacement windows, new storm doors, and lots of patching and painting and repairing inside and out). The only thing totally finished at this point is the roof, so I am carrying on amid the ongoing chaos of construction.

There have been some sad losses this year. Kathy Curley, a fellow librarian dear friend for nearly 40 years, my cousin Carolyn Bruemmer,and niece Mary Ann Comstock’s husband Rich, all lost brave and lengthy battles with cancer.

The children are now adults. Despite the hard times, Jesse continues to do the work he loves as a free-lance artist. His poster for the Star Trek movie got a lot of attention last spring. It is good to have him nearby, although weeks may go by without our seeing each other. Psyche continues to work, volunteer at a women’s health clinic, and take evening and weekend classes. She’s applying to graduate nursing schools, and the coming year will most likely see a move away from her beloved San Francisco.

After a little Christmas here with Jesse on the 23rd, I’ll drive to Las Cruces to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my friends Jeanne and Ross Burkhardt. Psyche will be vacationing in Puerto Rico.

My Newbery Award Committee duties will come to an end in Boston on January 18, when the 2010 winner is announced.

I am gradually moving into a new place in my life, although thoughts of Ed are with me daily, especially during the past two days as I’ve sorted through the glass collection in the dining room, remembering that we sipped Grand Marnier in Paris in in 1977 in these two little glasses, that I begged him to keep a complete set of Steuben champagne glasses, and that he did. I’m packing much into boxes to deal with later, keeping on the shelves only the pieces I’m most likely to use.

Writing, whether letters, emails, book reviews, family history, or just for myself continues to be important. The writing group for cancer care-givers continues to be a source of support. In one of the books I am reading, Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, a young girl who composes unsent letters to her missing mother writes, “‘El papel lo aguanta todo.’ Paper can hold anything. Sorrow that might otherwise break your heart. Joys with wings that lift you above the sad things in your life.”

With that I will close, and pray that faith, hope, and love, and writing, reading, prayers, and friendship, will sustain you and bring you joy.