Christmas 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

As beautiful and heartwarming Christmas cards from those we love pour into our mailbox this time of year, my children look at me with recrimination in their eyes and ask, “Where is our Christmas card?”

Kids Christmas 2009

So, here goes:

The year 2009 was crazy hectic but truly wonderful for the Russo family.

In August, Joe achieved a lifelong dream by opening his own optometry practice, Attleboro Vision Care Associates, at 550 North Main Street in Attleboro. He is very happy with his new practice and I think he is clever for giving it a name that starts with A. He is easily found in the Yellow Pages. I work part time as a writer for our local newspaper and a substitute teacher for our local school system. I like to keep things local.

Elsie Christmas 2009

Elsie celebrated her 16th birthday by traveling to England, France, and Scotland on a trip with her mother, grandmother, and aunt, but not her suitcase. The loss of her belongings and an allergic reaction to salad dressing on the Eurorail notwithstanding, Elsie says she had a wonderful time.  This year, Elsie performed in High School Musical with the Bradley Playhouse in Putnam, Conn. and Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail with Swamp Meadow Community Theatre.

Nick Christmas 2009.jpg


Nick is 13 and in the 8th grade.  In the summer, Nick spends a week at Boy Scout camp where he swims, camps, hikes, and shows off his mother’s pathetic sewing skills on his Class A uniform and merit badge sash. He runs really fast and likes hitting things with bats, so we signed him up for the cross country team and baseball team at Scituate Middle School.


Ben Christmas 2009

Ben, age 10 and in the 4th grade, also likes to hit things, so he too plays baseball. He also plays competitive basketball and soccer in expensive uniforms that have his last name written on the back. He joined Elsie in The Quest for the Holy Grail production as the iconic Killer Rabbit. Make no mistake, he’s not just a harmless bunny.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Love, Kristin and Joe, Elsie, Nick and Ben

I’m Back!

I’m back with exciting news! I finally surrendered to the notion that I will never remember my WordPress password and decided to reset it. I can now log in and post new posts. I have found my way back home.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I always had the power to do this, but I put it off. Oh, yes, that’s a thing I will do, I would say while I busied myself not doing it. I will revisit my blog and raspberries3connect it to my new website and keep writing about the things that happen day-to-day. The raspberries are ripening. The dogs are growing older (but seemingly no wiser). The kids are moving on. I have much to say about all of this. Why did finding my way back to the spot where I say it take so long? I’m not sure. Why do many seemingly simple things take so long?

Perhaps because I’m too spent from doing the hard things. I’ll get to it, I tell myself, right after I climb down from this mountain. But there always seems to be another mountain. My mountains are work deadlines (Who doesn’t have these? No excuse!); anxiety and delight for the people I love who were once tiny humans but now have their own lives (two quite far away); the need to clear and reorganize the basement and closets of 18 years worth of living; the time to repaint faded walls and replant the flower garden; the desire to sit and be and remember. Remember important things, like my WordPress password.

My mountains are worthy mountains all, but they have not kept me away for good. I’m back. I’ve found that even forgotten things can be reset, and I can keep going.


My New World of Hygge

It’s been about a week since my girrl headed out into the world into parts unknown, and by parts unknown I mean Italy, which has Wifi and other modern conveniences like FaceTime and WhatsApp. She has used these modern conveniences to post pictures of the charming medieval village where she lives: the gorgeous architecture, the cobblestone streets. So, we’ve been in touch and it turns out she’s okay. Happy even. Who saw that coming?

I have decided to follow her example and experiment with new life philosophy. This week I’ve chosen the Danish concept of Hygge, which, loosely translated, means that I should be 100 percent comfortable 100 percent of the time.

Luckily, this has been easily accomplished. I have simply gone out into the woodland garden and created spaces where I can lose myself in complete comfort. I have cleared brambles from beneath a blueberry tree to create a spot for my morning coffee.


I’ve moved stones (sorry for the thunderstorms) to plant roses to enjoy while I take my mid-morning tea.


I have enjoyed reading time (which may or may not have turned into nap time) here.


Or sometimes I switch things up and do some reading or restful contemplating here. Though Hygge advocates for the comfortably familiar, I want to be careful not to get too complacent. (Or maybe that’s missing the point. I don’t know. I’m new at this.)


My late afternoon coffee is taken here, near my way-in-the-back vegetable garden, so I can meditate and tell the deer not to eat my spinach.


Or sometimes here, for a better view of the roses.


Late-night chamomile tea, taken to offset the late afternoon coffee, is enjoyed outdoors under the stars and the moonlight, which is not crazy at all, no matter what people say.


I’ve also made some lovely new friends, who also speak a language that I don’t understand.

In short, I have stopped at nothing to create a world in which I am always comfortable, all the time. I believe the complete and total physical comfort promised by Hygge is a worthy goal, and if I have to suffer poison ivy rashes, insect bites, burns, bumps and bruises to get it, then I’ll do what I have to do.

So you see? Though my girrl is far away, she’s still inspiring me. I’ve embraced a different culture and a new way of life right here in my very own back yard, thanks to her ambition and boldness.


By the way, I’ve found Hygge to be exhausting. Next week I’ll try something else.

How to Decorate with a Hammer

All I really planned to do was add some warmer colors around the house and sprinkle a pumpkin or two here and there, maybe light an apple-spice candle. But I wasn’t built for simple, at least not when it comes to home decorating.

For example, yesterday, while swinging a hammer in an effort to dismantle a wooden entertainment center, I explained to my son Ben that my mother had once done a similar thing to an upright piano. There was a moment when his eyebrows flew up with an unspoken question about the mental stability of his birth line, but then he took a swing with the hammer, and it seemed to all make sense. In any case, it reveals why, for me, just replacing the sheer summer curtains with richer brown panels to spruce up the place isn’t nearly enough.

And that is why, in changing the curtains, I also had to sand, prime, and paint the bay Fall blog paintingwindow and the surrounding frame. I mean, there’s no sense in hanging pretty curtains if the rest of the window looks shabby. And since I had the paint out, why not touch up the molding in the living room . . . and in the hallway . . . and in the kitchen? And look! These cabinets need touching up, and these shelves! And now that the molding looks better, look these walls!

fall blog PippinSo, I did what painting I could with the resources I had in the house (one must always have sandpaper, blue tape, gloves, and paintbrushes on hand for these types of emergencies) and was quite pleased with the results. Now, however, I couldn’t let the dogs back in from the yard with their grubby coats and long nails. They would have to go to the groomer or my white-paint touch-ups would all be for naught. So off they went, and while they were gone, I was able to iron and hang the fall curtains in the living room and place a red-plaid tablecloth on the drop-leaf table that Pippin used to leap up to the window and scuff up my new paint when she arrived home later, all clean and darling and smelling like shampoo.

Fall blog living room

Day Two of the fall decorating frenzy was spent on a procurement mission. Since I had Fall blog candywaited too long to order online from L.L. Bean the dark-blue comforter that I wanted for my bedroom, I went to Home Goods to find something similar. I didn’t see what I wanted, but I did buy orange candy and an amber-colored glass bowl. So, close enough.

Fall blog bootsI tried Marshall’s next and right away I found the most adorable pair of red-plaid rain boots, so I knew I was definitely on the right track. At first, the bedding department yielded little hope that I would find an L.L. Bean lookalike, so I almost left, but on a swing through the dog toy section I found the comforter I wanted hidden in pet supplies.

Sometimes, I get all annoyed and judgmental when I see items conspicuously out of place in a department store because it means someone didn’t bother to give it to a clerk or return it to its original location when they decided they didn’t want it (and don’t get me started on the empty Starbucks coffee cups I see on the shelves), but in this case, a previous shopper’s laziness meant good news for me. I imagine there aren’t too many people looking for human bedding in pet supplies, and so my comforter was just waiting for me to snatch it up from the wrong place. (And yes, the comforter is definitely for humans, so you can all stand down.)

An evening trip to Target with Joe to get a flat screen TV for downstairs because Ben got a drum set for his birthday completed the Procurement Day festivities. I know this sentence is odd. It will make sense in a moment.

Fall Decorating, Day Three: This was the most ambitious day of all, although it had less to do with autumn and more to do with a crowded space. Ben, my youngest, is a sporty fellow and loves his baseball especially, and he also does quite well in school. But we’re after raising up well-rounded types, Joe and I, and so we thought we should bring back music into his world. Naturally, the drums are his instrument of choice. The new set he got for his September birthday was set up in the only available space: right in front of my office.

fall blog downstairs this one

The drums would have to be moved, but where? Well, if we move the green couch to the center of the room and faced it toward the back wall, and swing the blue couch over to the other side, we could fit the drums on the side with the weird angle in the triangle-shaped room. That means the TV will have to be mounted on the wall and the entertainment center will have to go. Enter the hammer-swinging.

Dismantling the gross, oversized, 17-year-old monstrosity was a thing of beauty, and one that put me in touch with my deep, eccentric home-decorating roots. When something has to go, it has to go today. (Just ask my mom when, sometime in the late eighties, she wanted to put a table where the piano was.) There is no time for hemming and hawing and beating around the bush. Time is tight. Weekends are short. To make your space pretty, comfortable, and livable, you must seize the moment. So, the next time your own home-decorating inspiration strikes, by all means, grasp it. Paint the windows, wash the dogs, buy orange candy and new rain boots, and swing that hammer. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Garden of Envy

Since my blatant disregard for Father’s Day led me to a delightful day of garden hopping, I’ve experienced something that I’ve never felt before: envy.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m jealous of everyone. This is what I usually look like at Christmas:

Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben's present, too.
Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben’s present, too.

I am one of the grabbiest people I know. And so, as it often does, envy has driven me to embark on a most outrageous project. I am trying to create a woodland garden like the ones I saw on the garden tour.

I want the aroma of summer sweet flowers wafting in the air as I sit by the vernal pool. I want birdsong and frog song to serenade me as I walk along, my feet luxuriating in the soft, forest floor. I want a place for vignettes and garden gnomes and quirky, flea market finds (like it says in the magazines and on the HGTV shows).

In short, I want a woodland garden worthy of this guy:

BLOG GT Humpty Dumpty close

For the past week and a half, I’ve been clearing brush and digging muck and experimenting with all manner of ways to mutilate and remove skunk cabbage. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. If it grows on a vine, no matter how many leaves it has and regardless of whether or not those leaves are shiny, I am probably violently allergic to it.

2. There comes a time in every poison ivy victim’s life where she will want to sever her afflicted arms and rip her own face off. With extra doses of Benadryl and generous slatherings of hydrocortisone, those impulses will pass, and so they are best not indulged in the heat of passion.

3. Due to the evil nature of muck, no matter how much muck you shovel, there will always be more muck.

4. Dogs don’t like it when you’re on one side of the fence and they’re on the other.

Sarge wants to come too

5. Physical labor is really quite difficult and so if you can hire an 18-year-old football player to help you, you should do that. Thanks, Wyatt!

6. Keep telling your husband that your efforts are for him, for Father’s Day, and he won’t mind at all that the dishes are piling up and the dust bunnies are coming to life inside the house as you ignore them in favor of your outdoor project, which you really know is for this guy:

 BLOG GT Humpty Dumpty close

Enjoy every minute of the heat, the mosquitoes, the poison vines, all of it. Because this is the alternative:

My house

The (Real) Russo Family Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

We are all enjoying the holiday season so far, despite being overbooked and overextended and short on time and money. In fact, the picture that accompanies this post is, I believe, from 2012. That is the last time we were all together in the same place and looking nice enough to have our portrait taken. We are not great at posing.

So, what is the latest, you ask? I tried to cook recently because Joe works extra hours at the end of the year, and I nearly severed my index finger (this is an exaggeration, but that’s what Christmas letters are for) so I won’t be cooking around here anytime soon.

The Christmas tree looks great, but only if you stand to its left and tilt your head to the right a little bit. We knew the star was broken last year but waited a full year to replace it and when we brought the new one home, it was also broken. Instead of returning it, we attached it to the top with a clip we use for the tomato plants in the summer garden. This ensures that we will have the same problem next year except we won’t be able to find the tomato plant clip.

blog snowmanAlso, we have about ten fewer snowman ornaments than we used to have. The dogs report that the wooden and cotton snowmen are delicious, but the Styrofoam ones were surprisingly disappointing given their sweet and puffy appearance.


The kids were busy for a while with school and work (Elsie corrects hockey statistics as a fact checker for a publishing company and Nick sorts microscopic water fleas as a lab technician) but now they’re all home and in the way. Elsie uses my favorite coffee mugs for her tea and Nick uses my favorite smoothie tumblers for his own smoothies. It may be important to note here that all the smoothie tumblers were gifts to him last year so that he could have a healthy breakfast on his commute, but I recently discovered that I like fruit smoothies and so I’ve decided all the tumblers should be mine. This happens fairly often. I am a shockingly selfish mother.

Ben isn’t working yet, but he’s still very involved in sports. Since he doesn’t have his license, this means I drive all over the state of Rhode Island looking for well-hidden baseball diamonds and sitting on bleachers that are sadistically designed to cripple and maim. People sometimes ask me what the score is or what inning we’re in, and I never have any idea.

Joe’s strange propensity to attract the world’s worst drivers continues unabated. I’ve never really seen anything like it. Slow-moving texters find him and drive in front of him, tailgaters drive behind him, and directional-challenged lane-changers weave in and out alongside him. Just recently, a 100-year-old driver (again with the exaggerating) in front of Joe cut off an enormously scary truck and proceeded to drive ten miles per hour down the road. Joe averted the near-accident unfolding in front of him with his usual aplomb. He found himself behind that same driver a few days later and saw the guy almost get broadsided when he drove through a stop sign at a busy intersection. Joe spends most of his time in the car shaking and scratching his head at the wonder of it all.

I no longer get the workout that I used to get at work, carrying books and papers around up and down staircases as I changed classrooms every time the bell rang. Now, I take an elevator from my office to my air conditioned and heated classroom. I spend a lot of time sitting and resting. As a result, I really need to spend more time on the treadmill, but I really don’t see that happening anytime soon. Isn’t it enough that I have healthy fruit smoothies for breakfast?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Russo family!

Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben's present, too.
Me loving my present but wishing that I could have Ben’s present, too.

I Will Never Be Like Laura Ingalls

When I was growing up, I wanted to be Annie, Laura Ingalls as played by Melissa Gilbert, and Anne of Green Gables, though not all at the same time, of course, and not necessarily in that order, depending on the mood I was in.

I could never be Annie because, well, that hair, and I didn’t feel smart or well-read enough in my preteen years to make a good Anne of Green Gables, so that left Laura Ingalls. Poor little Half-pint was so hapless and flawed and confused about life that I felt (as Anne Shirley would say) that she was a “kindred spirit.”

In many ways, I still want to be Laura Ingalls. The problem is, I cannot cook. You may think these things are unrelated, but you are wrong. Let me explain.

Joe is working late a lot during the holiday season, which is troublesome since we all rely on him to feed us. Takeout won’t see us through these tough times, so I decided to at least try to cook something, anything, for my starving family. Naturally, this resolution brought me to the bookstore, as nearly everything does.

My plan was to buy a cooking magazine and a cranberry-orange scone (What? I need sustenance, you know.) and to sit and flip through the magazine until I found a recipe that I thought I could make. Then, I would take the magazine to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients I needed, and go home and make supper.

To ensure my success, I bought two magazines. I flipped through the first but immediately felt daunted. How am I supposed to work with all these grams and kilograms? Where are all the teaspoon measurements? And what, in God’s name, is pois? I checked the magazine cover and found it was printed in the United Kingdom and I would have to do all sorts of measurement conversions in order to cook these recipes. Okay, nobody said anything about math. I put that magazine aside and opened the other.

This one was for actual, real-life, foodie-type, gourmet cooks, so, not for me. Although I could certainly read the recipes and follow instructions, I didn’t have the appliances or utensils required. I have a food processor; I know because I bought one for Joe a few Christmases ago, but it’s not the industrial-sized kind capable of pureeing an entire bag of potatoes at once. Also, what do you mean use a #30 scoop? All my scoops are either teaspoon or tablespoon sized because they’re all, well, spoons.

With my scone nearly gone, I knew I would have to do something drastic. I would have to buy an actual cookbook. So, I headed to the sale table and was immediately drawn to one written by a woman who calls herself Kris Jenner but whom we all know is a Kardashian. I have been trying to keep up with the Kardashians for ages, and now here was my chance. I perused with hope, but ultimately decided that the tacos and nachos and spicy seafood dishes weren’t for me, and if this is what these people eat, maybe I should give up trying to keep up with them once and for all.

Then, I saw it. An old-fashioned cover featuring a darling picture of Laura Ingalls, I mean Melissa Gilbert. It was called My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours. I DO have a little house! I LOVE prairie food (whatever that is)! This book was for me!

I bought the book and headed to Stop & Shop for my prairie ingredients, which is just what Mrs. Ingalls would have done.

I flipped through the book as I meandered the aisles (yes, I was THAT annoying, slow-moving, clueless person). I thought I might try for a shepherds’ pie, but the guy in the lab coat behind the meat counter said they had all sorts of lamb body parts, but no lamb shoulder, which is what the recipe called for. At this stage of my cooking career, I am clearly not ready to substitute ingredients, so I had to move on.

I decided to go with a recipe for steak, potato, and leek pie. I propped the book open in the spot where a toddler is meant to sit and made my way systematically through the aisles on a search for the right items. (Now, the annoying, slow-moving, clueless people were in my way.)

I went back to the meat counter to ask the lab coat guy where the tenderloin steak was. He pointed vaguely to the beef section. I stood there long enough for him to realize that I was really asking him WHAT tenderloin steak was, and he came around, plucked a package out of the stack, and handed it to me.

Then, I asked the produce section lab coat guy if he could tell me where the leeks were. He gestured vaguely toward the vegetables, and again, I had to stand there until he understood that I was really asking WHAT leeks were, and he came and grabbed the weird looking plant that was right in front of my nose (but not labeled, mind you) and handed it to me.

As for the potatoes, well, no problems there.

I went through the checkout, chatted with the cashier who had been a high school student of mine and who reported having done very well in her first college English class (Yay!), and made my way to the parking lot. I transferred the bags to the car, dutifully returned my cart to the cart drop-off place (Don’t you just hate it when there is a lonely, rudderless cart languishing away in the middle of the PERFECT PARKING SPOT?), and went home determined to teach myself to cook prairie food so that I could be like my childhood idol, Laura Ingalls as played by Melissa Gilbert.

By the time I got to the kitchen, unloaded the groceries, and was ready to begin my big cooking project, I was crying, with both laughter and frustration. Remember when I dutifully returned my cart to the cart drop-off place? Well, um, I returned the cookbook with it, still propped open to the steak, potato, and leek pie page in the spot where a toddler is meant to sit.

My kids weren’t as astounded at my cluelessness as I would have liked for them to be, but they were pretty unhappy about our prospects for supper, which at this point were none. I called Joe and he agreed to stop at the Stop & Shop on his way home from work to ask for my cookbook back, and he was able to retrieve it from the Lost and Found. (He’s my hero!) He also brought home food. Phew! Little House on the Prairie crisis averted.

I still have all the ingredients for the steak, potato, and leek pie. And now, I also have the book. But I’m having so much fun reading it (there are lots of pictures and anecdotes about Gilbert’s experiences on the set) that I may not have time to cook today. Or ever. Maybe I should just get takeout. Maybe I should have done that in the first place.

EPILOGUE: Made the steak, potato and leek pies tonight. They were FABULOUS!