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Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye, 2011

How is it possible that it is the end of the year already? At times it is very disconcerting how fast the years go now. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on the highs and lows of the last year, which, overall, was a pretty good one.

If I had to think about a theme (or, in this case, several themes) for 2011, they would be:

Milestones ~ Connections ~ Travel ~ Fun


Milestones

An 18th birthday, a high school graduation, a 30th class reunion, starting college, a 16th birthday, a 50th birthday. WOW, those are a lot of exciting, important events for one year.  I made it through mostly all of them without a lot of tears (of happiness). Milestones really do help us mark the passage of time, don't they?

Connections

This was truly a year of connections - spending time with loved ones and reconnecting with those who mean a lot but who we don't see all the time. Cam's graduation and celebrating Annalisse's Sweet 16 and Mark's 50 gave us many great opportunities to spend time with family and friends this year.

Especially fun was my 30th reunion and seeing so many of my great, old school chums (that' a word I don't use enough), especially Derb and Rick Martin and Mike Hayes from the old neighborhood. Through the power of Facebook (observations of which I've written about here) seeing my classmates was extra special since we had been in touch a lot before the event. I don't care what people say...while technology can isolate people, my experience is that it brings people closer together.

Another wonderful family connection this year was having my niece, Nic, move to Fairport. We've had so much fun with her and her boyfriend, Patrick!!

Travel (and fun other stuff)

Looking back, I was in and out and up and down a lot this year, and had the opportunity to experience a lot of different (and in some cases, new) cities. It stated in January with a trip to Ft. Lauderdale with my national association, which was cool because I had never been there. Who could refuse Florida in January? Not me. It was a nice little reprieve to help me through the winter months in New York.

In February, Annalisse took her first solo flight to Baltimore to spend a couple of days with Mom Shiao/Mema, Jackson and Amelie in Arlington. She felt so good about doing that all on her own. I was proud of her, too.

In April we traveled to Roanoke to visit Sue and take a look at Roanoke College - the highlight of which was visiting Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville. Also in April I spent a week at the NAGAP conference in Washington, DC, during which I got my iPad!

In May we didn't travel very far from home but had a  surprise visit from our nephew, Anthony, who was passing through town on his way back to Raleigh, NC. Also in May was the Sophomore dance and Annalisse's play, Arsenic and Old Lace. So you see, we were too busy to travel in May!

June was taken up with the end of the crew season and a kinda-sorta important event: Cam's graduation and the weeks leading up to it.

In July it was back to Las Vegas for the NAGAP board meeting. The Las Vegas trip was probably one of the funnest things I did all year as my sister Mary, Annalisse and I had had non-stop laughter for four days. (And speaking of connections, it was wonderful to see our cousins Patsy, Nancy and their families while we were there.)

August found us back on the road to Virgina (to Arlington) to visit Mom Shiao, Dave and the kids. We also played tourist and visited the National Mall and Mount Vernon (that's two president's homes in one year if you're keeping track).  We also had a chance to see our German exchange student, Belinda for a brief visit and got a chance to meet her mom and sister, Caroline, who will be staying with us for two weeks this coming May. At the end of August we were mostly focused on getting Cam ready for RIT, for which he departed on August 31.

In September I joined "my girls" for our yearly get together in Gettysburg (another weekend filled with much fun and laughter). Also in September I also traveled to Philadelphia for a quick trip to attend a graduate fair for NAGAP, and had a chance to hang out with Derb for the evening. Too. Much. Wine. but great memories and fun conversation!

In October I was on the road locally quite a bit for graduate fairs, and also traveled to Chicago for the NAGAP Board Meeting. Chicago has become one of my favorite towns!

In November we only traveled as far as Buffalo for the very memorable Mat Kearney concert to celebrate Annalisse's birthday.

...And that brings us December, a month with no travel but an extremely busy month nonetheless as we get ready to start a new year of visiting new (and exotic?) places!

Fun

It's probably evident through all our travels and events this year that it ended up being a really fun  and special year. This year I think I learned to let go a little and to not take things too seriously. It was a year of understanding and appreciating what is truly important, and to stop every once in a while to count our blessings. A great year, overall!

Remembering

As memorable as this year was for us, it was not easy for many with personal and family losses. As the calendar turns, I think about Camille and Dave on their loss of Nick in August, Carla and Steven on the loss of dad/husband Larry a week before Christmas, Clare in the loss of her mom before Christmas, Steve and Jan in the loss of Jan's dad, Bob, who was a long time friend of Mark's dad, Charlie. There we so many touched by weather and natural disasters this year also. I can't even imagine their lose. Many others, known and unknown, through the year  have lost loved ones and faced personal and professional challenges, and I hope 2012 will bring comfort and a renewed sense of hope for all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Week Chores

Among all the merriment and celebrations (and laying on the couch watching movies and naps) I do actually count on getting certain things accomplished during the week between Christmas and New Years. I'm happy to say I'm making pretty good progress on my yearly chores this week. Here's a sampling of the compellingly mundane stuff I do during this brief window of sanity before January hits again:

  • File all the kids special momentos collected over the last year in their "memory tubs" in the attic. This year there was some great stuff because of Cam's graduation and Annalisse's Sweet 16. I'm just hoping they'll appreciate it when they buy their first home(s) and I get to give them 5 or 6 large plastic tubs containing their artwork/projects (from daycare on up), report cards, school papers or essays I thought they might find interesting later, magazine and newspapers highlighting significant current events, t-shirts from special events or camps or whatnot, and other random stuff. Thanks, Mom. Now where am I supposed to put all this stuff?
  • File all the bills and paperwork from the last year. Keep the important things, bring the rest to work for the locked incinerator bin. Mark could never do this task because he never throws anything away.
  • Place my yearly photo order. This year I'm up to 885 pix over the last year. I'm one of those people who fears that in this digital age, we won't have any actual, printed pictures for the future. Think about it: we now take hundreds of pictures with our digital cameras and many people never print them. What if their computer crashes? What if the media changes and at some point they can't access their pictures anymore? Better get those pictures printed!
  • Buy photo albums for said pictures and put them in. This takes a while but is a good activity for hanging on the couch while I'm watching a movie. Between naps, that is.
  • Catch up on my reading...mostly on my pile of magazines, to make time for reading the new books I got for Christmas (David Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and Miss Peregrine's Home Peculiar Children), as well as my upcoming bookclub book(s) (I'll miss the January meeting so I need to start The Hunger Games for February).
  • Clean out old clothes. It's amazing to me that I fill several bags worth of cast-off clothing to donate every year. We have too much stuff.
  • Take the Christmas tree down on New Years day. Always a tedious activity and I'll be sad to see it go. It brings such soft, warm light to the cold winter nights. As a consolation prize I'll leave the lights on the mantle until mid-February. That should get me through. 
Then, there is the usual running around of the kids during Christmas week, and this year is no exception. How awesome it is not to be working this week, though. I'm hoping I can return to work on Tuesday refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of a new year. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

Aline in July
Aline in her younger days
A very happy 81st birthday to my mom, Aline, today. 

I hope she has a 
great day!



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Very Baker Christmas

Two days after Christmas I finally have a chance to post an update on all the festivities.

Saturday's Christmas Eve followed a very intense, busy week at work and it took me a little while to unwind and realize I actually have 10 DAYS OFF! HURRAY!

One of the great dilemmas this year was when/where to go to church on Christmas Eve. We love our church, but our services were at 5:30, 7:30 and 11pm, none of which really fit into the Christmas Eve plans of getting to Aunt Mary and Uncle Peter's in a reasonable time for their annual family party, which started anytime after 8pm. Sure, the 5:30 service would have worked for us, but...OH ALL THOSE KIDS. If we attended the 7:30 service, we would not have gotten to the gathering until after 9, and 11pm - forget it. We considered going to our old church which had a 6pm service, but it's a little too contemporary for our taste. So, for the first time that I can ever remember we did not go to Christmas Eve service. This bothered me a lot, and I decided next year we would most likely go to our 7:30pm service since the party didn't really get started until close to 9pm anyway. I really missed going this year as I enjoy the hymns, pastor's message, and the generally "all is calm, all is bright" feeling about Christmas Eve.

Moving on...we went to Mary and Pete's and had a great time with our Versprille relatives, especially cousins Sarah and Otto, who are indie musicians that nowadays we only see once a year, at holiday time. (They play, or have played with the band Vetiver, and Sarah and her boyfriend Dan are currently developing their own project, Pure Bathing Culture). By 11pm, we were whipped so we headed home where I had  to prep the baked french toast and stuff stockings for Christmas morning before hitting the sack around midnight (which is about three hours past my usual bedtime).

I got up around 7am on Christmas morning, did all my chores (made a kuchen, baked the french toast, fed and walked Jasper, turned on all the lights) and waited and waited for the sugarplums to awaken. They finally 'roused around 8am (my, how things have changed) and we proceeded to open our stockings and presents. Much fun all around! Cameron, probably to his dismay, ended up with a lot of much-needed clothes this year. Being on the debate team, he received a nice dress shirt, t-shirts, and socks, along with some RIT sweat pants and his RIT Crew shell/jacket. He also received a raquetball racquet as he's taken that up at school.

Annalisse received a lot of clothes as well, but she likes that stuff. She also got a cute wallet thingy, and had fun with her "big" gift, the upscale camera we helped her buy earlier in the month.

After presents, we got dressed and headed over to Lena and Ken's for our Shiao family breakfast, which was also a lot of fun. We had a mid-afternoon break before heading to Grandma Pat's for a ham dinner and more presents. WHEW!! Grandma was incredibly generous, as always!

Our great day finished with us watching a couple of episodes of Boardwalk Empire, which I'm not sure we'll really get into. We'll give it a couple more episodes before we decide.

Exhausted, we ended our day, looking forward to a leisurely, unstructured, lay-around kind of week!!! It was a great Christmas - we have so much to be thankful for!!


Never a truer word was spoken

Cool wallet thingy

Bad picture but awesome new iPad case

Our Golden Christmas Wish

Breakfast at Lena & Ken's. Cameron looks thrilled.

Lena's tree

Christmas morning. The calm before the storm.

He came!

Cool purse

Cam's "big" present

He's watching you!

Sisters!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Sweetest Thing!

The only thing better than the feeling of a Friday night is...

A FRIDAY NIGHT THAT BEGINS A VACATION WILL LAST FOR 10 DAYS! If you want to find me I'll be on the couch in my sweatpants.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bringing Back the Light

Today is the Winter Solstice, which means...we made it through the darkest part of the year. Every day it will become a little lighter, which is of great joy to me. I'm always amazed when, at some point in January I leave work and all of a sudden it's light instead of dark out. The seasons certainly do turn, don't they?

Though still in darkness, we will find the light in the days to come as we celebrate Christmas...with a little help from the 700 lights on our tree.

Side note: Looks like we'll be having a white Christmas as there is still no snow, and even though the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of winter, it means we have just three more months until the ground comes alive again! It's the eternal optimist in me, I suppose.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Longest Week

Arise...now commences the longest work week of the year. Or, if you ask Annalisse, the longest school week of the year. Or, if you ask Cameron, the longest, most awesome sitting-alone-in-the-living-room-playing-video-games-and-watching-movies-wrapped-in-a-comforter-with-Jasper-nearby-while-everybody-else-is-at-work-or-school week of the year. I guess it all depends on your point-of-view.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shakes Takes Downstage

Last night was Downstage's first show of the season, and the beginning of Annalisse "Shakes" Baker's second year with this great, talented bunch of kids.

(If you're just joining us, Downstage is Fairport High School's comedy improv troupe. You can read about when Annalisse was selected here.)

This year there are five new members, to replace the five who graduated in June. One of the most awesome things about last night's show, in addition to the great laughs and our pride on how much growth (in comedy confidence, not size) the kids have shown since June, was that the five members who graduated, Jacob, Mark, Kate, Mitch and Jimmy, were at the show. It was great to see them and I know the kids enjoyed having them there.

After the show, as is the Downstage tradition, the kids got a couple of pizzas and had a sleepover (this time at our house). As I write this, there are eight out of the 10 kids sprawled across my living room. The bacon is cooking, the pancake mix is waiting, the coffee is brewed and the laughs live on!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Zombies are Scary

Hey, didn't I graduate with you?
Annalisse and I are halfway through the second season of AMC's zombie-tastic series, The Walking Dead, and I'm telling you: ZOMBIE ARE FREAKY SCARY. Oh, they're alright if you encounter them one at a time, but if they swarm you, you are doomed. Why, oh, why do I watch The Walking Dead before bed?

I think zombies are actually pretty funny. I enjoyed their staring roles in Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and it was probably only a matter of time before they got their own series.

So the next time you encounter a zombie (a single one, not a swarm), just remember: Zombies were people, too.

Side note: the star of The Walking Dead is Andrew Lincoln, who has one of my favorite roles in one of my favorite movies, Love Actually - a holiday fave at the Baker's. Love him!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dreams of Martin Street

For the last two nights I've had dreams of my Nonnie's house on Martin Street. It's been pretty weird, consisting of situations where we're going through the stuff that existed when she lived there and discussing meaningful momentos.

The house on Martin Street is now for sale since my Uncle Joe passed away last November. It's a real shame that no one in the family can take it over, having been in the family since probably the mid-1930's. The house as it stands today does not exactly look the same on the outside, but the basic design still exists on the inside - enough to evoke strong, wonderful memories.

You've read about my childhood spent as part of a big Italian family (Nonnie had 11 siblilings, two of which had passed away by the time I was born) several times before, including this post and this one, and most of that time was spent in the house on Martin Street, which was a magnet for nightly extended family activity. In fact, five of Nonnie's siblings lived right Martin Street, and two lived just around the corner. Two other brothers lived within two miles. The only member of our family still living on Martin Street is Aunt Carol (93? 94?), who is actually on my Grandfather's side of the family.

How fortunate I was to have lived during such a special time that bridged the generations!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seriously, how could anyone, especially Santa, resist this face?

My Friday

Today is my Friday as Mark and I are taking off work tomorrow (I suppose that makes it "his" Friday, too) to embark on our annual Christmas shopping extravaganza. List in hand, we will most likely knock off most of our shopping all in one day, come home, wrap the bootie, and stow it safely beneath the tree. Then, when Annalisse gets home from school she will all of  a sudden notice that presents have magically appeared and her excitement will rise 10 decibles. (Funny how Cameron never had the same reaction. Kids!) It's a little deceiving, though, since only a portion of the gifts are for her - but, whatever.

The early highlight of the day will be going to the Chit Chat Cafe in Victor for breakfast, a once a year treat since we don't usually go out for breakfast. Then we'll head over to Eastview to pick stuff up there, then, who knows? Maybe I'll even get a nap in if we get done quickly. Now THAT would make for a perfect day!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

O Christmas Tree! 2011 Edition

The tree is up, the house is decorated, we are ready! (Except for the shopping part.) Once again, we have a beautiful tree - isn't that what I say every year? I absolutely love the glow of the tree at night and always miss it when we take it down (although I am always totally ready to take it down and get on with the new year...). Even though I do tend to get a little annoyed with Christmas at times, I do love the soft glow of our decorations combined with the warmth of the fireplace. Sounds like I'm ready to settle in for a long winter's nap...

(Did somebody say "nap"?)

Annalisse and Nic with our tree "in the wild."

Mark preps the tree

Our Golden Elf

O Christmas Tree!

Waiting for a Christmas miracle

That damn elf gives me nightmares

My techno tree on my desk

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Groundhog Commeth?

Groundhog's Day is exactly two months from now. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Now, I shall go back into my hole until February 2.

Bullet: Dodged

Yesterday Windstream completed its takeover of Paetec, and we are relieved that Mark escaped unscathed. For now anyway, his job is secure. Here's the article from yesterday's D&C. Fingers crossed for the near, and far, future!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ready, Set, CELEBRATE!

Let the race to the new year begin!
  • Christmas cards ordered and written: CHECK!
  • Outside decorations mounted: CHECK!
  • Christmas tree in place and decorated: This Saturday!
  • Baker Holiday Cookie Exchange Scheduled: Sunday, December 18!
  • Shopping Done: OF COURSE NOT!
  • Holiday music loaded onto iPhone and iPad, including Michael Buble's new album, Christmas: CHECK!
  • Monitor amount of cookies, holiday appetizers, and wine consumed: TBD.
  • Counting down to holiday break: 22 MORE DAYS!
  • Taking a breather to reflect on the "Reason for the Season" and to think about the year gone by: I'M TRYING, I'M TRYING!
Remember that old saying, "If you need something done, give it to a busy person." Right.

Have a wonderful December!