Yes, it's that time to reflect on another year come and gone. Here are some personal highlights from '07, the Year of the Pig, according to the Chinese Calendar.

1. I have now been out of high school for ten years. I did not celebrate by going to the reunion because I don't think there was one.
2. M and I celebrated four years of marriage and 11 years of general togetherness.
3. Despite former proclamations that I would never work at Pitt again, I did. Twice. But on a temporary basis. I have decided that it is a place I will always go back to when I don't know what else to do. It's just so comfortably predictable.
4. Doing our taxes this year will be pretty easy since we weren't employed all that much.
5. I learned how to make vegan baked goods such as cupcakes and cookies, from my gifted baker friend, Sloan. Up until this point being vegan was a really good way to keep the post-college pounds off. Now that I have discovered Earth Balance, and the fact that eggs do very little in many baked goods, my sugar consumption is way up. Something to consider for '08.
6. I went to my first baby shower for a friend. Go Trisha and Jamie! We are very happy for you. I wonder if all my friends will start having babies now.
7. I spent way too much money trying to get the state of Pennsylvania to certify me to teach, considering I am not all that sure I want to continue to teach here.
8. And, oh yeah, I walked 2,174 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. That took up a lot of '07.

I have to say that as years go, this has been a pretty incredible one. I would do 2007 over again. Or maybe I should just try to do some equally awesome stuff in 2008.


Christmas Traditions

M and I have had a nice few days here in P-Burgh with our family. My sister came in from California, and I actually saw my brother several times(he lives here, but is very busy with school and work so we hardly ever see each other). It was a holiday filled with traditions, which I think is something sorely lacking for many Americans these days.

We kicked things off with my parents' annual Canadian wine tasting dinner on Friday. For the past few years, they have visited the Niagara region in the fall, and brought back a few bottles to share with us at Christmas time. My dad made his famous garlic paste, and we feasted on fajitas. I like this relatively new tradition, because it gives me a chance to visit with just my parents and siblings and their significant others.

Every year my youngest cousins come over to my parents' house on the 23rd (Christmas Eve Eve, as we like to call it), and we bake cookies, decorate, and generally entertain them. Originally, it gave my aunt and uncle a chance to get some last minute shopping done or just enjoy some time to themselves. Now it is a way for my sister and I to spend some time with them, since we don't see them all that often during the year. This year, when I went up to my parents' place I found that very little decorating had been done and no cookies had been baked. Instead, my dad, Cassie, Kelly and Danna were hunched over 500 puzzle pieces scattered across the kitchen table. Aunt Elaine soon arrived, although she provided mainly emotional support for the puzzlers, taking the very sane position that the pieces were too small, too numerous and too shiny. The glare from these glittering pieces was enough to drive one mad, which was very nearly the result by late afternoon on Christmas Eve.

As we put the puzzle together, the girls reminisced about other adventures from years past. My sister and I used to have an apartment in Shadyside when we were going to Pitt, and we brought the girls and their brother down several times for a sleep-over. We took them to the zoo, and to the top of the Cathedral of Learning to look out over the city. Neither of us had a car, so we went everywhere on the city bus, which turned out to be the most memorable experience for them.

During this conversation it occured to me that it is not enough to simply share experiences with your family...an important bonding occurs in the years that follow as you recount what you have done together, over and over again, adding to the family oral history. Children (and adults) love to hear stories that feature them as main characters, and they will soon begin retelling these tales if you give them the chance. Who cares if the stories change a little over time? (For instance, Kelly remembers nearly being hit by a bus, which I'm sure my sister and I would NEVER let happen.)

Now back to the puzzle....

Puzzles are certainly not a tradition in my family. My dad pulled it out of the attic with the other Christmas decorations, and no one is sure where it came from. It was a very complicated drawing of a Christmas tree, with lots of pictures and color schemes repeated, and there were no straight edges. Instead the puzzle followed the contour of the tree. And don't even get me started on the glitter.

When M and I returned to the house on Christmas Eve, my sister and father were still working on the puzzle. Much progress had been made, but it was nowhere near finished. Somehow, they had managed to bake several dozen cookies, but dinner was not ready. About 20 minutes before the rest of the extended family was supposed to show up, we realized how little had been done and we sprung into action. Miraculously (and also in large part because my uncle works at an Italian restaurant and had brought the non-vegan entrees) dinner was ready on time.

After eating, we began the tradition of the poppers. This is a tradition started by my Aunt Denise. I do not know where she gets these things, but they are sort of like those little firecrackers that you throw on the ground to pop instead of lighting them. But instead of throwing the poppers, DC graps one side and one of us grabs the other and we pull. It pops, everybody cheers and a prize falls to the ground. Usually the prize is some cheap little trinket like a mini flashlight or a magnifying glass, but this year a large pair of toenail clippers came flying out of Kelly's popper! The other things that fall out include a paper crown and a paper with some really bad jokes and/or fortunes on it. I am hoping that someone in my family will email me a picture of us with our crowns on, since I neglected to take one with my camara.

So Christmas has come and gone, once again. This is the 12th...yes 12th...Christmas for M & K.


Hiker Visits

One of the greatest things about hiking is that when you meet people on the trail, it is really easy to become friends. There are few experiences in life that you can truly share with other people, but walking 2,174 miles in someone else's shoes is certainly one of them. On the AT, people tend to gather around the shelter areas at night, so not only did we walk with other hikers, but we also cooked, bathed, sat around and slept right next to each other. Sometimes we would be with another hiker every day for a month or more. Other times, we would see them one night and then split up and not see them again for a while. The great thing is that we could always pick up right where we left off.

Last week, Caveman of Ohio came into town for our Christmas party, and this weekend, Golden Boy and Flick visited. While it is fun to tell stories to our friends and family members, there is something special about reminiscing with people who were actually there.



The party was a great time! Here are some of my relatives in front of the Christmas tree. My mother's side of the family is really starting to be dominated by women. Most of them tasted the wassail and liked it. I also heard a lot of "I can't believe those cookies are vegan!" The weather continues to be gray, bleak and cold here in the Burgh. I am feeling a bit under the weather, likely caught a cold from one of my students. Vitamin C and copious amounts of water are in order!


Caucasians, et. al

We are throwing a little Holiday bash tomorrow, the highlight of which will be the annual drinking of the wassail. I have high hopes that this year's wassail will be good enough to move our guests to spontaneous caroling. I love The Christmas Song. I even have some chestnuts from a nature hike we took a few months ago. Although finding any place to roast them in our tiny apartment will be a challenge.

Our featured cocktail at the party will be the White Russian, aka the Caucasian. Featured records to be spun include 5 free Christmas albums that I got from Jerry's Records. Food will be mostly vegan and definitely delicious.

Plus, we will be honored by a visit from Caveman of Ohio, an AT hiking buddy that we last saw in Millinocket, ME, after summiting Mt. Katahdin together.

It should be a fine affair. I am really getting in the holiday spirit.


"I Bike Pittsburgh"

This was the message on a tiny button I bought at the craft fair "I Made It" held yesterday at the Owl's Club in Homestead. And yesterday, it really applied to us!

We set off to do some errands on bike. The weather was cool and damp, but with no active precipitation. We headed down Penn Avenue towards the Strip District, for our first stop, Penzey's Spices. M got all the spices he will need for cooking up a batch of Wassail next week. Next we head downtown to the Point to check out the Christmas tree, but Point State Park seemed to be closed off due to construction. We headed up towards the jail to get on the Eliza Furnace Trail, which was covered with slush, making it slow going. We got off the bike trail at Bates Street, and peddled up the hill towards Carnegie Library, where we returned our library books. Next, it was off to Squirrel Hill, via Schenley Park. M sold more CDs, we warmed up with a cup of coffee at the Coffee Tree, and we stopped by Jerry's Records.

After that, we headed down Murray Avenue to Brown's Hill Road and across the busy Homestead Hi-Level Bridge, which is now apparently called the Homestead Grays Bridge. The I Made It Craft Fair was held right near the bridge. We attempted to do some Christmas shopping, but were not very successful.

We headed south on 837 with the intention of going out to McKeesport to see my school, but the weather was turning colder and it was getting dark, so we headed up the Rankin Bridge to Braddock Avenue and back to Penn Avenue. This was my first bike ridge of any substance and the Windsor Tourist seems to be in good shape. After my next ride, I will take it back over to Matt's place for a tune up.

My advice for those who are interested in biking around Pittsburgh:

1. Get really good, bright lights for the front and back and use them even when it is day time. This will help drivers to see you.
2. Dress warmly with wind-proof gear.
3. Ride on the street and follow all traffic laws as if you are in a car. Signal to drivers when you plan to turn using the appropriate arm signal.
4. Don't be afraid of the hills. Yes, it is true that I was in supremely good shape when I came back from hiking the AT. But that was THREE months ago, and I have done very little physical activity since then! I will be the first to admit that I am huffing and puffing a bit, but I know it will not kill me. Don't try to go to fast and just keep pedaling and you will get to the top.


The Holiday Spirit

Last night I had an interesting conversation about an upward trend in relish purchasing, while at Gene's Bar, where we went to recover from a rather awkward company Christmas party. One of the things that I have always loved about Gene's is that someone will always talk to you.

After we got home we stayed up all night listening to records and drinking White Russians and trying to figure out what the heck we are doing here. The other night I watched Fight Club for the first time in years, and while most people remember the quote, "The first thing about fight club is..." - I think a more notable moment is when Brad Pitt says, "The things you own end up owning you."

Suddenly, we have a lot of stuff. And once you get some stuff, it's hard to resist getting more. And more. And more.

I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with owning property or nice curtains or a perfectly upholstered chair. But what if we decide that we want to move to Argentina and teach English for a year? We'll just have to get rid of all this stuff again.


My Awesome New Bike

Thanks to Matt, my bike is up and running. I will have to get some pictures posted, so that you can appreciate the full awesomeness of my Windsor Tourist. Compared to all other bikes I have owned, it is quite fast. I am still trying to get the hang of shifting on these outrageous Pittsburgh hills, and I'm a little touch and go on the toe clips. I have often said that my preferred method of transportation is a pied, however this works best if you have infinite time to get where you are going. Since we live in the city, biking is nearly as fast as errands in the car, and I am completely amazed and enthralled by this.

I have done only short rides so far, as the weather turned particularly nasty this weekend. Living indoors has caused me to be more discriminating about when I will go out. Freezing rain is not that appealing to me, especially since I am battling a cold.

Instead, Rosie the Cat and I are hanging out in the sitting room listening to records and reading. I did remarkably little reading during the past year on all our travels. Books just seemed heavy and bulky and hard to obtain, and I spent more time listening to the forest fall asleep than I did reading in the evenings. Now that I have reliable electric lighting, I have begun my weekly pilgrimage to the Carnegie Library once again. This week, I am reading Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson. Of course, Rachel Carson is best known for her work exposing the dangers of DDT in Silent Spring. However, what struck me most about this collection of essays on her life and work was her interdisciplinary approach, and the impact it had on the contributors to this collection.

An avid reader and writer since childhood, Carson did not abandon her love of the written word when her work turned towards ecology. Instead, she was diligent about delivering her scientific observations in a carefully constructed prose, with obvious detail to word choice and voice.

To quote our favorite movie, my thinking about this subject has been very uptight.

I have looking at my writing as something that occurs in a vacuum. I can be a teacher. Or I can be a writer. Since starting my teaching job, I've definitely caught myself thinking...oh, I guess I'll just start writing next year. I need to turn that around.

It's not just a matter of making sure I take time every day to write. I can use all of my writing opportunities in my daily life to work on my style. I will use eloquent language in my lesson plans, incorporate deliciously descriptive words in my instructions to my students, and choose my phrasing carefully in emails!

In addition, I do need to take some time to work on my book. I did a few paragraphs today, writing about Mt. Moosilauke, the first of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers that we climbed. Unfortunately, I am deep in the throes of hiker withdrawal, and thinking about the AT makes me feel very sad that I am not ON the AT. Lots of people warned me about this, but I didn't take it very seriously as I was not one of those thru-hikers who wanted to be a thru-hiker forever. I spent a lot of time feeling rather terrified and unsure of myself. Now, all I want to do is another thru-hike.