Sunday, December 23, 2012

Colwell Christmas 2012

Today is Christmas Adam (the day before Christmas Eve).  I have never written a Christmas letter this late, but it didn’t make it to the top of the list until now. Some of you over-achievers got your letters out by Thanksgiving. Congratulations. I’m sure all your shopping was done in August, right? 

2012 was the start of parenting 3.0 in our house.  With all kids in double digits, a waning interest in legos and increasing requests for electronics and privacy, we’ve definitely stepped into the PG13 phase of life.  Half the time I don’t know whether to ground the kids for their awful jokes or choke with laughter.

For me, this year was magic.  I would happily rewind to January and start over.  Multiple ski trips to Tahoe and Bear Valley, even one with three moms and ten kids!  Three weeks in France, 10 days in Hawaii, camping with friends, Portland/Seattle and a fall trip to mountain bike in Moab with an accidental day hiking in Zion (because I mixed up the time of my flight home).  These trips were all such brilliant gifts, and I expect it will be a long time before I get a chance to travel so lavishly again. 

However, to fund more potential trips, I gave up the freelancing/tennis/ French-classes/semi-working mom life in October and took a full time job at Cisco doing marketing communications for partner services.  The transition wasn’t seamless and I’ve never been good at balancing and organization, but I’ve landed on a great team and I have the flexibility to work from home when I need to.  It was time to go back, and I’m grateful for the chance to earn a regular paycheck without the feast or famine rhythm of freelancing. 

Skyler marked his last year in middle school by moving into his own room.  He’s claimed our guest room, and as the neatest Colwell kid, if we have to kick him out to host friends, at least it doesn’t take long to get the room ready.  He continues to fence at Stanford and compete in local tournaments.  He’s also taking German, tennis, and fixes my computer.  At thirteen, he’s threatening to become a responsible adult, although his logic and sarcasm still need some refinement.   Soon, I’m sure.

Liam loves middle school because it’s much harder for me to locate and talk to his teachers.  I haven’t gotten any phone calls yet, and he spends enough time doing homework so he appears to be managing just fine.  This year, Liam took up tennis, joined the wrestling team, and played in the band -- dabbled with the tuba, but has resettled on the more manageable baritone horn.  His goals are to wear the least amount of clothing that is socially acceptable, grow his hair back out, and acquire an alpaca. 

Hadley is still packing more into her schedule than anyone else:  tap, jazz, ballet, soccer, French, clarinet, and math Olympiad.  I think she’d give it all up to live on a ranch and ride horses.  She loves her teacher, her friends, her rabbit, everyone except her brothers whose goal it is to taunt her mercilessly.  She uses this to her advantage and has developed the skill and subtlety to get them in trouble.  Her highlights this year all involve horses:  a week at Ranch Camp in Trinity Alps and a week at Webb Ranch in Portola Valley.

Tracy has gradually shifted his primary athletic pursuit from cycling to fencing, and climbed back through the competitive ranks past the class he held in college.  He still manages to ride some locals off his wheel, but the new contenders are getting faster.  At work, the government’s lack of ability to agree on anything has kept Lockheed treading water, so he had to make up for it by joining me in Grenoble for a week.  If things are miserable this year, we’ll have to plan another international trip, but he’s cautiously optimistic. 

Thank you for being part of our village.  We love our community and we are so grateful that we are in this together.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With love,
The Colwells
Tracy, Julie, Skyler, Liam, and Hadley
Flynn (the only cat since Malarkey moved into the Greater Neighborhood)
Xavier and Yuki (the bunnies)
The geckos in Liam’s terrarium

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Top Ten (or so) Things I Learned in France

After twelve years of local family trips with one foray to Boston, a long weekend in New Orleans, and an escape to Hawaii, I got to go back to Europe.  A lifetime ago, I'd planned to live there.  When I went to grad school in the UK, it never occurred to me that I'd live and raise my family 10 miles from where I grew up, and two blocks away from my elementary school (that was turned into a fiefdom of pseudo-Tudor homes when they were all the rage in the 80s).  I thought I'd gradually lose my American accent, acquire another language, and fade into English or maybe European society.  Didn't happen.  Life did, and it was good, but different than I expected.  (Is anyone actually living exactly how they expected they would?)

So almost twenty years after I left, I got to go back.  It was magic, of course, as new things are or old things that become new tend to be.  This time I went with friends and to visit friends (and Tracy came too, eventually) which was much better than traveling alone. 

In addition to an onslaught of new French words, how to drive in Paris, not wearing shorts or a ponytail unless I was doing something sporty, or ordering coffee with food, these are the top ten (or is it eleven?) things I learned:  

1. Good white wine is better (and cheaper in France) than diet coke.

2. You can mimic French fashion enough to get other tourists to ask you for directions, but no native will be fooled.

3.  Everyone knows English swear words because they all watch American movies.

4.  Patisseries and caf├ęs on every corner would make me happy.

5.  When you have fought war after war on your own native soil, you think twice about knocking down a buidling to erect another one.  If you wait long enough, some other country might come knock it down for you.

6.  You can live in much less space and with much less stuff than you think.  No one needs their own room, although I think it reduces the screaming fights.  

7.  I have too many clothes.  If I had to hang them out to dry all the time, I'd get rid of half of them.

8.  The voting, driving, conscription, and drinking age should be 18. 

9.  Personal comfort and individual safety should never make the top ten national priorities.

10.  It’s hard to talk on your cell phone or text when you’re driving a manual transmission.

11.  Nothing beats a native tour guide.

Oh, and here's a few other things, because after three weeks, I sure hope I picked up more than eleven new epiphanies, but it's a more digestible number than, I don't know thirty, or however many other things I didn't know before. 

So, a few more:

American public transportation is terrible, but we are a really really big country and our entire western section was built to accommodate cars.

Paper towels in public restrooms are totally unnecessary.  Your hands will dry.

Drinking with your family as a teenager should not be a crime.

Socialism would not work in America... at all, ever.

No one can wear a scarf with such casual elegance as a European woman.

French people don’t snack.

If the French had not adamantly protected their language and history, it would have been diluted by the Germans and the English (and probably also other immigrants and imperialists).

Americans have never overcome their Puritan roots.

We all have bodies and kids don’t need to be “protected” from naked art.  It’s adults who teach them be to be uncomfortable.

You never know what you’ll find behind a door on a street in France, no matter how decrepit it looks.  Could be a garden, a lobby, a bar, a spiral staircase… it’s always a mystery.

Iceland Air pilots should make a calendar.  Jet Blue flight attendants should not.

One coffee is not enough to get me started in the morning.  I still need a carafe.

American food is too sweet.

Dinner should last longer and we should eat slower.  This is easier if your children are adults.

Teachers are there to teach you to learn, not to make you feel good about yourself.  You might feel great, but know nothing.  Competence is a great confidence booster.

A rabbit can live on your terrace without a hutch.

Don't tie a jacket or sweatshirt around your waist.

American are relieved to travel to places that are not governed by the same “safety” restrictions we have to follow at home, yet we continue to vote them into our state and national policies.

Kids as young as eight or nine in Paris fly around on scooters without helmets.  Some people yell at them, but no one runs them over.

You can get used to living anywhere in any way if you don’t try to control everything.

Hopefully it won't be twenty more years before I get to go back again!