Photo Friday: Crazy Christmas House

Once upon a time in my neighborhood, there was a Crazy Christmas House, with an exterior and a front yard lit up like, well, a Christmas tree. An enormous, outrageous, crammed-with-color-and-light sort of Christmas tree extravaganza. It had Santas and carolers, reindeer and geese, teddy bears and polar bears, snowmen and elves, a ballerina, and a pig. There were stables and shops, sleighs and a ship. An Eiffel Tower. And way, way more. The figures were shining, blinking, and flashing; some sang and danced. Every December, the yard on Russell Road filled up with decorations outrageous and overblown, with more of them appearing each year, so that eventually the holiday display extended beyond the Crazy Christmas House’s borders and borrowed the neighbors’ yards as well. A few years ago, the family who lived there sold the Crazy Christmas House and moved away. Before they left, they sold many of the individual decorations to neighbors. So even today, scattered around the neighborhood, we still see glimpses of the Crazy Christmas House’s glorious past.

If this isn’t enough excess for you, you should have been in the neighborhood each year in October, when the Crazy Christmas House family cleverly reused some of the figures and added others, dressed it all differently, and turned it into a Crazy Halloween House!

One picture can’t capture the thousand thousand words such a holiday display can tell. So here is a collage of a selection of photos I took a few years ago, in what may have been the final year of Crazy Christmas House glory.

You can’t see all of the outrageousness here; there was too much to capture in just four photographs. But this should give you a small sense of what it was like.

No doubt some people think this is an eyesore. But every neighborhood should have one Crazy Christmas House, big and extravagant enough to bring travelers from neighboring counties to gape at its wonders.

December 4 Writer Birthdays

0034 – Persius (full name Aulus Persius Flaccus), Ancient Tuscan poet, writer, philosopher, and satirist of Etruscan origin; in his poems and satires he shows a stoic wisdom and a strong criticism for what he considered to be the stylistic abuses of his poetic contemporaries. His work enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the Middle Ages.

1795 – Thomas Carlyle, Victorian-era Scottish satirical writer and historian.

1817 – Prince Nikoloz “Tato” Baratashvili (Georgian: ნიკოლოზ “ტატო” ბარათაშვილი), Georgian poet credited with combining modern nationalism with European Romanticism to introduce “Europeanism” into Georgian literature; he was often referred to as the “Georgian Byron.”

1822 – Frances Power Cobbe, Victorian-era Irish author, essayist, and activist who wrote about women’s suffrage, human rights, and animal rights.

1835 – Samuel Butler, English author and satirist, best known for Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh.

1875 – Rainer Maria Rilke (born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke), Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist who is considered one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets.

1883 – Katharine Susannah Prichard, Fiji-born Australian author of novels, plays, and short stories; she was also a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia.

1903 – Cornell Woolrich, American novelist, many of whose works were adapted into noir films.

1905 – Munro Leaf (born Wilbur Monroe Leaf), American author and illustrator of children’s literature; he is best known for The Story of Ferdinand, a children’s classic that he wrote on a yellow legal pad in less than an hour.

1931 – Park Hijin, South Korea poet who grew up under Japanese colonial rule and early in his career wrote in Japanese; his work, influenced by the Romantic poets , starkly contrasts heaven and earth, and light and darkness. He also wrote travel poems, based on his extensive travel to the United States and Europe.

1934 – Wen Shaoxian (溫紹賢) – Chinese translator, scholar, novelist.

1936 – Michiko Yamamoto (real name Michiko Furuya), award-winning Japanese short-story writer, poet, and novelist.

1937 – Rahmatullah Dard, Indian-born Pashto-language ghazal poet (ghazal is a form of poetry made up like an odd numbered chain of couplets, where each couplet is an independent poem).

1940 – Trudi Guda, Surinamese writer, poet, and anthropologist who headed Suriname’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

1947 – Ursula Krechel, award-winning German writer, lyric poet, playwright, radio drama writer, and translator

1949 – A. Scott Berg, Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer.

1950 – Zsuzsa Rakovszky, award-winning Hungarian poet, writer, poet, librarian, and translator.

1969 – Plum Sykes (born Victoria Sykes), British fashion writer, editor, and novelist.

December 3 Writer Birthdays

1807 – Gamaliel Bailey, American journalist, editor, and publisher

1857 – Joseph Conrad, Polish author who wrote in English after moving to Britain and became one of the best-known authors in the English language; he is famous for such classic novels as Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim.

1897 – Kate O’Brien, Irish novelist and playwright.

1914 – Alaíde Foppa de Solórzano, Guatemalan and Argentinian poet and human-rights activist

1923  – Malcolm Franklin, Shanghai-born American author who was the stepson of writer William Faulkner and wrote about his life with him.

1924 – Francisco Sionil José, novelist and short-story writers who is one of the most widely read Filipino authors in the English language.

1929 – John Howie, American author and philosopher.

1937 – Morgan Llywelyn, American-born Irish author known for her historical fiction.

1942 – David K. Shipler, Pulitzer Prize-winning American nonfiction author.

1944 – Craig Anthony Raine, English poet who is one of the best-known exponents of Martian poetry.

1953 – Boris A. Novak, Slovenian poet and translator.

1955 – Michael Musto, American journalist, author, and Village Voice columnist.

1962 – Francesca Lia Block, American author of young-adult novels, short stories, screenplays, and poetry, best known for her “Weetzie Bat” series.

1980 – Zlata Filipović, Bosnian writer, author of the bestselling journal Zlata’s Diary which she wrote when she was between the ages of 11 and 13, during the war in Sarajevo.

December 2 Writer Birthdays

1728 – Ferdinando Galiani, influential Italian economist and writer.

1868 – Francis Jammes, French poet.

1885 – Níkos Kazantazakís, Greek novelist.

1897 – Rewi Alley, writer, educator, and social reformer.

1909 – Joseph P. Lash, American political activist, Eleanor Roosevelt biographer, and author who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

1910 – Russell Lynes, art historian, critic, and author who was also managing editor of Harper’s Magazine.

1914 – Adolph Green, American lyricist and playwright.

1929 – Dan Jenkins, American author and sportswriter.

1929 – Leon Litwack, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian.

1935 – David Hackett Fisher, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian.

1937 – Brian Lumley, English author of horror fiction who first became known for writing in H.P. Lovecraft’s shared universe centered on the Cthulhu Mythos; winner of the Bram Stoker Award for lifetime achievement in horror writing.

1939 – Yaël Dayan, Israeli political activist, novelist, and journalist.

1944 – Botho Strauss, Germany playwright, novelist, and essayist.

1946 – David Macaulay, bestselling Caldecott Medal-winning British-born American author and illustrator of picture books for children and adults; his books, including Cathedral and The Way Things Work, combine text and highly detailed illustrations that explain architecture, design and engineering.

1948 – Elizabeth Berg, bestselling American novelist, playwright, registered nurse, and rock-band singer whose books have won many awards.

1948 – T.C. Boyle (Thomas Coraghessan Boyle), prolific American novelist and short-story writer who has been awarded the PEN/Faulkner prize for fiction.

1950 – Benedict Fitzgerald, controversial screenwriter who co-wrote the screenplay for the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.

1958 – George Saunders, American writer of essays, short stories, and children’s books.

1963 – Ann Patchett, American novelist who won the Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

1971 – Jüri Reinvere, Estonian poet and composer.

December 1 Writer Birthdays

1083 – Anna Komnene (also spelled Comnena), a Greek princess, scholar, doctor, hospital administrator, and the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium; she wrote the Alexiad, a historical account of her father’s reign.

1886 – Rex Stout, American writer of detective fiction, known for the character Nero Wolfe.

1895 – Henry Williamson, English author known for his natural and social history novels.

1942 – John Crowley, American author of fantasy and science fiction.

1948 – Azar Nafisi (Persian: آذر نفیسی), Iranian-born American writer and professor of English literature, best known for her book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 117 weeks.

1949 – Jan Brett, American author and illustrator of children’s books, focused mainly on Scandinavian cultures.

1956 – Claire Chazal, French romance writer, journalist, and television news director.

1958 – Candace Bushnell, American author of the international best-selling book, Sex and the City.

1960 – Sergio F. Bambaren, Peruvian writer, noted for his love of the ocean and unknown horizons, and for his books related to surfing.

1964 – Jo Walton, Hugo Award-winning Welsh-Canadian science-fiction and fantasy author, best known for her novel, Among Others.

Blog Like Crazy: Wrapping Up the Month

The Blog Like Crazy challenge ends tonight. For the month of November, participants vowed to post a blog entry of at least 300 words each day. I did manage to post every day. In fact, most days I posted more than one entry, if you count my writer birthday lists. And many of my entries were well above 300 words.

For the first half of the month, coming up with topics each and every day was easy. Easier than I thought it would be. After that, I started having days when I struggled to figure out what to write about. For the most part, once I started an entry, it wasn’t that hard. 300 words is not a huge burden.

So, what did I find to write about? Here are a few common themes, in no particular order:

  • Politics. Normally I wouldn’t do a lot of this in my blog, but it’s been a particularly contentious year politically, and with the election and its messy aftermath this month, the topic was constantly on my mind.
  • Writing. I posted about National Novel Writing Month, and also about some of the mechanics of writing, such as coming up with ideas and developing characters. I also continued researching and posting the daily Writer’s Birthday lists.
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic. Again, this was very much in the news this month, and another huge source of both anxiety and contention. I’ve been especially dismayed by people being stupid about taking basic precaution, and spreading misinformation about the disease and the dangers.
  • My Family History. I hadn’t planned to write about my ancestors, but once I started, I found that I loved doing it. I’ve always been so proud of my Italian roots and of the crazy, smart, courageous people who came before me. I’ll probably continue blogging on this from time to time.
  • Freshman Year. The continuing saga of my son’s there-and-back-again first year of college, as campus opens and closes and reopens because of the virus.
  • Journaling. I dug out a diary I kept in 1998 and wrote two posts about what I wrote in it way back then, including recounting my dreams. It was interesting to see what was on my mind 22 years ago, both consciously and subconsciously.

That’s not comprehensive, of course. Among other things, this month I also wrote posts about Thanksgiving, talked about Postcrossing, shared a photo of raccoons in my yard, and discussed the joys of meeting local people while traveling.

November ends in about two hours, so #bloglikecrazy does too. I will continue to keep up this blog post-November, though maybe not every day.

See you in December!

Journaling 2: These Dreams

A couple days ago I pulled out an old journal I kept, back in November and December 1998, and I posted on this blog about the entries I found there. One surprise for me was just how often I recounted my dreams in the journal. I’ve always been someone who has strange and vivid dreams. I’ve even been known to have lucid dreams. Over the years, I have gone through periods when I wrote them down. I’d forgotten that the end of 1998 was apparently one of those periods.

I didn’t discuss the dreams in the earlier post, so I’m going to talk about them now. All of these dreams went on much, much longer than I will describe here, with a lot of sensory detail, large casts of characters, complex plot lines, and multiple, atmospheric settings. But I know nobody likes to hear the play-by-play of other people’s dreams, so I’ll spare you that and just hit on a few common themes.

In one dream, I visited an actual old workplace of mine and rode the elevator with a former co-worker. She told me she’d just married journalist Cokie Roberts’s ex-husband, and that she and Cokie hated each other. There was more to it than that, but really, this one was just kind of silly and random.

Some of the dreams were more disturbing. In one, my sister Karen and I were on an airplane that was sitting on the runway. A New Year’s Eve party was being held inside the plane. We watched on a television screen as the ball dropped in Times Square, and then noticed outside the windows that a hot air balloons were rising outside, a whole fleet of them, some of them looking like very large pumpkins. Then the plane began taxiing to take off, despite our fears that one of the emergency exits was not properly shut. That was soon forgotten, as an earthquake began outside, and as we lifted off, we watched the devastation on the ground.

Below me, buildings were crumbling. Roofs were collapsing…. As we overflew the far outskirts of town, I saw a house I recognized — a big, elegant colonial mansion — being knocked aside, as though a hand had toppled a little wooden model of a house on an urban planner’s three-dimensional model of a city. In the next scene the earthquake was over and we’d landed and rushed home to my mother…. I was relieved to see that she was OK. In the kitchen I saw a pile of dust and plaster fragments on the floor and looked up to see a hole in the ceiling.

november 19

As I said, this dream took place in 1998, which was nine years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that my mother, my sister Karen, and several other family members lived through. In Los Gatos a couple of days after the 1989 earthquake, I had seen the damage firsthand and experienced a violent aftershock. So it makes sense that earthquakes could be connected in my mind to my mother and older sister. But I have no idea now what events in 1998 would suddenly pull them into my dreams. Thanksgiving was a week away; maybe it’s normal for my subconscious mind to be thinking about family at that time of year.

A lot of the dreams were about crime or courtroom cases. On November 22 I wrote about a dream in which my husband Bob and I lived in on the third floor of a brick apartment building (we never did). A man claiming to be from Goodwill came to the door to solicit donations, was invited in by Bob, and brazenly stole bags of our belongings. I chased him, but he escaped in a truck with the name of a water-delivery service — not Goodwill — on the side. (The name on the truck was Evenflo, which in the real world is a company that makes baby bottles, but in my dream delivered bottled water.) I was so angry at my husband for being gullible enough to invite this con artist into our home, enough so that I was still angry at him when I woke up. I hate it when that happens.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, I wrote about a dream I’d had the night before, in which I attended a murder trial. The victim was the son of actor Anthony Hopkins, and the accused murderer’s opportunistic father was capitalizing on his son’s actions by rushing to publish a true-crime book about the case. Since I’m a writer he gave me an advance copy of his book to critique, and I told him the title was really, really bad: I Am the Father of the Man Who Killed Anthony Hopkins’s Son. Really bad? Yep, I called that one right.

The fact that I distinctly remembered reading the manuscript title — and the company name on the truck in the earlier dream — is unusual in and of itself. Just this week, I read about research showing that few people read and write in their dreams. Writers, especially poets, are an exception. I certainly am. I frequently read and write in my dreams. I also dream in color, which is also supposed to be rare.

In another crime-related dream recounted in my journal, a group of my friends held up an armored car. I was taken to the station to be questioned as a possible witness. The police detective was Jimmy Smits, playing Detective Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue. I’m noticing a theme here with celebrity guest appearances!

Another dream was set in the 1950s. I was an artist. I was 21 years old and lived in a poor part of town with my father, my 9-year-old twin sisters, my baby brother, and an older brother who was a socialist and union organizer. (In reality, I was not yet born in the 50s, and I have never had twin sisters or any brothers at all.) My father railed about my brother’s liberal politics until my brother finally moved out. I missed him terribly. One of his friends and co-conspirators, Gary, went on trial for treason, accused of being a Communist. Gary and I fell in love and secretly planned to marry, despite the fact that he was on trial for his life. After a long, complex trial in a big, smoky courtroom with a throng of reporters and photographers out front, Gary was found guilty and carted off to prison. One of his friends, an older man, ran after the van, wanting Gary to see a friendly face as he was taken away. The final passage of my retelling:

But he couldn’t keep up with the van as it sped up, and…then he fell, face-down, in the street. Nobody else seemed to notice, but I ran to him and held him in my arms as he caught his breath.

november 26

I had very little personal experience with the judicial system at the time, but I guess I was watching a lot of crime shows. In 1998, that would have been Law & Order and NYPD Blue, at least.

On December 3 of that year I wrote about finding an old, single journal entry written on a steno pad, and I transcribed it into my journal. The first thing I noticed about this journal entry is how much more neatly I printed when I was transcribing rather than creating as I wrote! The old entry on the steno pad was not dated, so I don’t know how much earlier it was. But the subject matter was very different than my dreams at the end of 1998. It begins like this:

In my dream I was on an island. I was not quite human, but more than animal. Perhaps I was not even less than human, only different. I think I was a Neanderthal in the era of Cro-Magnons. I remember running through the fields of this new place, watching strange, upright animals of a very light color…. I was curious about them, anxious to communicate. Eager to be friends. At the same time, I was afraid.


The dream went on for some time, until eventually these new creatures turned on me and tried to kill me. I escaped, but in the end, I knew they would search for me and find me. And destroy my way of life and that of others like me.

I would like to go through other old journals when I get a chance, to see what common themes ran through my dreams and nightmares at different times in my life. I remember that in college, many of my dreams were set in shadowy, cavernous spaces, often with a single ray of light slashing down dramatically from some high, unseen window. The plots were full of mystery, horror, surrealism, and suspense, with scripts that could have been written by Kafka. Orson Welles would have directed. But I also remember a dream so mundane that when I described it to a friend the next day, he responded, “That wasn’t a dream. That was last Tuesday.” In high school I often dreamed about flying. And when I was younger, I remember a continuing series of dreams about the same character having further adventures each night, coherent, sequential adventures that made sense, like episodes in a television show.

I haven’t bothered to write down my dreams much in recent years. Maybe I should.

November 30 Writer Birthdays

0538 – Gregory of Tours, Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of the area that had been referred to as Gaul; his work is the primary contemporary source for Merovingian history, and his most notable work was his Decem Libri Historiarum (Ten Books of Histories), better known as the Historia Francorum (History of the Franks). He was born Georgius Florentius

1554 – Sir Phillip Sidney, English poet, courtier, scholar, and soldier who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age.

1667 – Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish writer, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin; he is still known for such works as Gulliver’s Travels.

1817 – Theodore Mommsen, Nobel Prize-winning German classicist who was called “the greatest living master of the art of historical writing” in reference to his monumental work, A History of Rome.

1835 – Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens), American author, essayist, humorist, travel writer, and journalist, best known for his classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

1868 – Angela Brazil, one of the first British writers of “modern schoolgirls’ stories,” books written from the characters’ point of view and intended as entertainment rather than moral instruction; she also published numerous short stories; her books were commercially successful and widely read by pre-adolescent girls but were seen as disruptive and a negative influence on moral standards by some authority figures, leading to them being banned or even burned. She made a major contribution to changing the nature of fiction for girls, presenting a young female point of view that was active, independent-minded, and aware of current issues.

1874 – Winston Churchill, British politician and military leader who led Great Britain through World War II as Prime Minister; he was also a journalist and writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume history of the war.

1874 – L.M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery), Canadian author of the wildly popular “Anne of Green Gables” books, which have been the basis for many television and movie versions; she was also a poet, short-story writer, and essayist. Though her books were a huge commercial success and she is still the bestselling Canadian novelist of all time, in her own day she was often dismissed by critics because books for women and children were not considered serious literature.

1902 – Maria Villavecchia Bellonci, Italian writer, translator, biographer, historian, and journalist, known especially for her biography of Lucrezia Borgia.

1906 – John Dickson Carr, American author of detective stories, who also published under the pseudonyms Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson, and Roger Fairbairn.

1907 – Jacques Barzun, French-born writer of critical and historical studies.

1910 – Balakrishna Bhagwant Borkar, Indian writer and poet who wrote in the Marathi and Konkani languages; he wrote about nature, patriotism, the body and soul, and the individual in society, and his work has been praised for his diverse sensibility, his multi-colored imagery, and the ease with which he showcases the joys and sorrows of life.

1912 – Gordon Parks, American poet, novelist, photographer, biographer, and filmmaker who was the first Black photographer to work for Vogue and Life magazines. His autobiographical novel The Learning Tree was made into a film; Parks himself directed, becoming the first African-American to direct a film for a major studio. He went on to direct Shaft, the first major-studio action film with a black hero, and other movies.

1926 – Chie Nakane (中根 千枝), award-winning Japanese anthropologist and author who was the first female professor at the University of Tokyo and the first female member of the Jpana Academy; her work focuses on cross-cultural comparisons of social structures in Asia, and she is internationally known for her bestselling book, Japanese Society.

1931 – John Samuel Mbiti, Kenyan-born writer, philosopher, and Anglican priest who is considered the father of modern African theology.

1931 – Margot Zemach, Caldecott Medal-winning American author and illustrator of children’s books, many of whose works were adaptations of folk tales from around the world.

1940 – Kevin Price Phillips, American writer, critic, and political and economic commentator who was a Republican Party strategist before becoming an Independent.

1947 – David Mamet, American playwright, essayist, and film director who is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-nominated playwright.

1947 – Moses Nagamootoo, Guyanese novelist, writer, lawyer, and politician who is Prime Minister of Guyana.

1966 – David Nicholls, award-winning English novelist and screenwriter.

1970 – Tayari Jones, American novelist and professor whose book An American Marriage was a 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection.

1978 – Robert Kirkman, comic-book writer whose best-known works included Invincible and The Walking Dead, and who also worked on Ultimate X-Men for Marvel Comics.

1979 – Om Swami, Indian monk who has written bestselling books about wellness, enlightenment, and spirituality, as well as a memoir.

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Here is the start of my very first post in this blog, dated November 29, 2019, after I relocated to WordPress from my old host.

One year ago today, my blog debuted on this platform. I’d been writing a blog for years, but it was on a different site, and the host company had become increasingly difficult to work with, so it was time for a change. Here’s a link to my very first entry on this site.

So, what has changed since that introductory post? A lot. Who would have guessed on November 29, 2019, that in three months’ time the world would be mired in a global pandemic featuring a virus none of us had even heard of yet? Who could have imagined a huge numbers of people working from their bedrooms or dining room tables, 93% of K-12 students in the U.S. taking classes from home, and college students holed up in their dorm rooms to watch their professors on computer screens? A year ago, did anyone think that in a few months, even in some of the richest countries in the world, access to toilet paper would be an issue? And who would have imagined a year ago that we’d all be donning masks to shop for groceries or walk the dog?

And that doesn’t even touch upon the real tragedy: 1.5 million people dead, including more than 250 million Americans. And so many others are suffering long-term, sometimes debilitating symptoms.

TC Williams High School 2020 graduates watched their own graduation ceremony from their homes. Here is the screen that appeared when my son’s name was called. (And yes, this is the famous “Remember the Titans” school from the Denzel Washington movie.)

Things are different now from a year ago on a personal level, too, though more predictably. My son graduated high school — well, graduating was predictable; graduating while sitting in the living room watching the ceremony on television, not so much. That opening post described the very large arts contest I ran for years as a PTA volunteer, a contest for preK-12 students at more than 220 schools. One year later, it is no longer on my to-do list. It was a huge part of my life for many years, but I chose not to continue as district director when my own son graduated, though I may still be pulled in to help with sorting or judging entries. Similarly, the time I spent with the school orchestra boosters’ groups is over. I miss those kids, in no small part because there was no closure, with the way the 2019-20 school year as we knew it ended so abruptly in March. No spring concerts, no final orchestra trip, no celebration of the graduating seniors.

A year ago, my son was embroiled in college applications. He applied to only six schools, fewer than most of his friends, some of whom applied to 20 or more. And one of his was a stretch, with only a 3% acceptance rate. (He didn’t get in.) Worst of all, he was accepted to his first choice of schools — Berklee School of Music’s Boston Conservatory — but had to decline because the financial aid package did not make enough of a dent in the absurdly high price tag. Of course, not getting what you want often works out for the best. Berklee switched to all-online for this semester, with students learning from home. So we’d have been paying absurdly high prices for him to sit at home taking all of his classes on a computer screen rather than taking advantage of state-of-the-art facilities and performance opportunities. And if school had been on campus (as it will be this spring), he would have been a 10-hour drive away from us, at a time of unprecedented, nerve-wracking uncertainty.

All-Virginia Orchestra auditions in February mark the end of normality for our student musicians. I’m grateful they had the chance to spend the day together before the virus caused schools to shut down for the rest of the year. Here is my son practicing with a friend while they awaited their audition time slots.

By February, the virus was out there. But it wasn’t yet a major factor in our part of the country, and widespread restrictions had not set in yet. We had no idea it was our final month of normality. Maybe “normality” is not the right word. Applying to college as a music major can be complicated. We spent every weekend of the month visiting one university or another, for all the required auditions and interviews, not to mention for all-state orchestra auditions — a useless exercise, as it turned out, because the all-state rehearsal and performance weekend, of course, had to be canceled in the end. But I remember that weekend as bittersweet, in retrospect. It was my son’s last chance to spend time with his orchestra friends. Soon afterward, in-person school shut down — forever, as it turned out, for the high school class of 2020.

He ended up at a good state university with a nationally ranked music department, and I now think it was the best outcome. While a lot of his classes are online, some have been in person. Students take their own temperatures each morning and report them on a phone app, they aren’t allowed in their friends’ dorm buildings, and most clubs and other extracurriculars take place online only. Students were sent home for much of September because covid-19 cases were rising and the school needed to rethink its policies and find more quarantine space. But then they returned to campus, until Thanksgiving break started a week ago. And now he’s home until winter break ends in January. He was in two orchestra concerts, as principal second violinist, but there was no audience and no much-anticipated trip for us parents to see him perform in person in his first college concert. Instead, we’re waiting for a link to watch it online. Who could have guessed a year ago that college in 2020 would look so different than it did in 2019?

Another difference from a year ago is in the writing project I’m currently working on. In my introductory blog post, I said I was juggling several manuscripts-in-progress and not getting far with any of them. I also said I was closing in on a decision about which one to pursue first. In the year since then, I’ve begun a different writing project altogether, a YA science fiction book, and I have been (slowly) making progress.

I had to cancel my summer trip to England and Scotland, so instead of blogging about a fabulous tour of the U.K., I blogged about my new obsession with Escape to the Country, the television show that helps families find quaint thatched-roof cottages and wisteria-draped barn conversions in the British countryside, while we Americans stuck at home follow along for vicarious travel thrills.

I’d anticipated a fabulous summer trip to blog about in my first year. Then travel from the U.S. to Europe was halted, including the trip we were planning to England and Scotland. I hope we can go in summer 2021, but it might have to wait for the following year, depending on how quickly a vaccine is widely available.

I should make it clear that I’m not complaining about the shutdowns and abrupt about-faces. I take this virus seriously, and while I’ve had a few quibbles with the way some decisions were announced, I support most of the choices made by my state governor, my son’s university, our local schools, and my city’s leaders. It’s been a difficult year all around, with so many people forced to make difficult choices. I have it easier than many: everyone in my family has remained healthy, we haven’t lost our income or our house, we have health insurance, and we can afford internet access. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A year ago, when I began this blog, I said I’d be discussing a variety of topics: “writing, reading, and parenting, as well as, at times, politics, art, and history.” I have covered all of those topics, though I envisioned them in rather different proportions than I ended up with. Then again, I envisioned quite a different first year than what we’ve had.

Here is to a happier and healthier next year.

November 29 Writer Birthdays

1724 – Saviour Bernard, Maltese medical practitioner, scientist, author, and major philosopher.

1832 – Louisa May Alcott, American author, short-story writer, children’s writer, feminist, and abolitionist best known for her semi-autobiographical novel Little Women; she also wrote one of the earliest works of detective fiction.

1855 – August Kitzberg, Estonian playwright, short-story author, and memoirist; his early works consisted of comedies and humorous stories of village life; later, his plays developed a component of social criticism.

1895 – Hamid Ullah Afsar, Indian Urdu poet and writer.

1898 – C.S. Lewis, English writer, children’s novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist; he is best known for his books in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

1902 – Carlo Levi, Italian novelist and painter.

1905 – Vasily Grossman, Ukrainian-born Soviet writer, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, war correspondent, and screenwriter who originally trained as an engineer and was called Vasya the Chemist because of his diligence as a student; as a war correspondent during World War II he wrote firsthand accounts of battles and eyewitness reports of a extermination camp that were among the earliest journalistic accounts of a Nazi death camp. His major literary works were censored by the authorities as anti-Soviet; his book manuscripts were published only after his death, after they were smuggled out of the Soviet Union.

1912 – Ai Xia, Chinese left-wing silent film actress and screenwriter whose suicide inspired Cai Chusheng’s classic film New Women, starring Ruan Lingyu, who also killed herself soon after the release of the film.

1914 – Elanor Perry, Emmy Award-winning American screenwriter and author.

1917 – Gopal Singh, Indian writer, poet, translator, biographer, lexicographer, philosopher, mystic, and politician

1918 – Madeleine L’Engle, Newbery Medal-winning American author of fiction, poetry, a play, autobiographies, and young-adult books, including her best known novel, A Wrinkle in Time; her works tend to take place in settings that are mostly realistic, but with some some fantasy elements, and many of her books draw on a multigenerational cast of related characters.

1934 – Willie Morris, American writer and editor.

1933 – David R. Reuben, psychiatrist who is best known for writing Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (but Were Afraid To Ask).

1943 – Sue Miller, bestselling American novelist, short-story writer, and memoirist; some of her work has been adapted for film.

1948 – George Szirtes, Hungarian poet and translator.

1953 – Jacqueline French, prolific, award-winning Australian author of children’s books, novels for adults, picture books, history, fantasy, and historical fiction; she is also an author of numerous books on ecology, gardening, pest control, wombats, other wildlife, and hens. She is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, and has presented gardening segments on television.

1956 – Leo Laporte, American podcaster, broadcaster, and author.