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New year in, old year out

Dear family and friends, near and far,

You haven’t heard much from me this year, partly because I was writing columns and blog entries for work instead of personal emails and letters, so this post's for you.

I woke at 4 a.m. for no reason other than being unable to sleep any longer. Why should today be any different? Actually, lately I've been snoozing better. At least 4 a.m. is slightly reasonably headed toward dawn. Many days of 2005 it was 2 a.m. that I was wide-awake and wondering why.

After 15 months of self-denial, I've resumed my beloved caffeine habit in the fall because not drinking it didn’t help the insomnia one bit. This town has many great coffeehouses. I restrict myself to those that meet two conditions: local ownership, in support of small merchants, and black cup lids, which don't show lipstick.

We end the year with relentless rain. People seem surprised, but I don’t know why. This is winter here. It has seemed ceaseless, despite a couple of days of sun, with 20 inches or so falling in the last couple of weeks. Mice began seeking dry shelter. On our outside patio we caught six in six days.

Yesterday we had 5 inches of rain in 24 hours, which was indeed dramatic, and flooding and emergency evacuations took place nearby. Our house is situated on a hill, but even our back yard floated and threatened to come in the back door. Steve kept a flood watch. When the pool overflowed and water was pouring off the lawn into the patio, right over the drains that are supposed to carry it safely away, he shoveled a small gravel dam across its path, which slowed it just enough to divert it downhill and away from the house. Goes to show, you can effectively throw rocks at the weather. The wind whipped and the rain fell all night, but this morning it was calm. The palm trees were standing and the pool had subsided. The patio was more or less water-free.

13 and 16, are taller than me -- much! -- and are good boys. They don’t care about getting good grades, but they are healthy, funny and smart. 16 is driving. He plays electric guitar. He’s a stage-production intern at a historic performing-arts theater. 13 is a pro at video games and personal charm. He plays piano and bass. Steve takes them to the library often to feed their reading habits. They keep us laughing. Their phones never stop ring-toning.

My parents and one brother visited a week for Christmas. Delightful houseguests, nice time. I took off work for several days. It rained, so we stayed indoors and cooked and read and watched movies and did sudoku puzzles. As an alternative to turkey leftovers, one night Mom and I made coq au vin (chicken in wine), which I always wanted to try, and it was a tasty dish but an overcomplicated recipe.

A few years ago, I gave up resolutions as such in favor of doing new things in the new year. In 2005, I started a new blog at work. I learned to do a handstand at yoga. I stopped balancing my checkbook with a pencil in favor of online account supervision. My Rotary club asked me to chair a committee and then to serve on its board of directors. I sang occasionally in a church choir and regularly in a community choir.

Other stuff, some new, some not: I went on boat rides and caught fish, picked wild blackberries, toured the interior of Shasta Dam, hosted a book swap, acquired an MP3 player, helped throw a neighborhood party, visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and met the very cool president of National Public Radio.

The first new thing in 2006: I will visit New York because I never have. I hope to see the Harold Pinter plays off-Broadway. Steve and I plan a spring trip to England, our first non-family vacation in 16 years. Maybe a full-blown travel theme will develop over the year. OK by me. I want to see China, too. I better start saving my nickels.

In late January, I'll get to meet Pam Houston, one of my favorite writers, when she comes here for our book club.

Steve is writing his seventh Bubba novel. In February the trade paperback version of “Crazy Love” comes out; in May it’s the hardcover of his new standalone, “Whipsaw.” In September it’s the trade paperback of “Lonely Street,” and in October, “Monkey Man.” He travels when new books are published, and around the country for conferences, and to New York for meetings of the board of directors of Mystery Writers of America.

I could talk about work and politics and world affairs, but why stress? I will say this: Whatever the headaches of working at a newspaper, you get a terrific front-row seat to your community.

Overall, we're thriving and having fun.

Tonight: Dinner and dancing, with friends. The sun came out once or twice today but finally retreated. It's time to rummage for rain boots to wear with my party dress.

Love and peace, and Happy New Year.

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