your trip

Adulthood is when you make your own vacations and decide what they will be from the beginning. So much about vacation is inherited or shared with family, which is a great thing. But it’s nice to see the thing that evolves when you decide to make your own vacation. Book it, schedule it, pay for it, anticipate it all yourself.

We caravanned up after first stopping at the Palace Diner just outside of Portland, where we stop as often as we can and have astounding good meals. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Palace Diner, the thing that leaves you dazed when you finally wander out, is that their menu appears very standard when you read it through, other than canaries like brown butter banana bread and caramelized grapefruit listed casually under SIDES. Their french toast is listed on the menu as challah french toast, no details added, but once it is set in front of you, you realize the two enormous square pieces have been bruleed, and the crust cracks as you cut into it, the eggy custard of the challah softening around the crisp dark caramelized pieces. But it’s also the type of place where you swear to yourself that next time you’ll order lunch, as you watch the waitress place a triple decker burger or a lush freshly-made-tuna melt in front of someone down the bar.

David and I texted about the meals a little bit ahead of time. We stopped at Whole Foods in Portland on the way up and already had a good list in mind before we got there. Joe and I lived with David during one of our summers on Nantucket, he and I often traded off who made dinner, along with our other roommate Pete. Years later I still have a good idea of what type of thing he enjoys cooking–namely impromptu, very satisfying dinners, tossed together with experience savvy instead of a recipe. And he knows I can manage a more complicated dish using my obsessive devotion to recipes. We spent an enormous amount on supplies for the week, splitting the groceries between us. That was perfect because it left us able to make pretty much anything—squash pie, mussel and bean soup, meaty spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, fresh whipped cream, pie crust—once we were up there. We got take-out one time from the local burrito spot, but all the rest of our meals we made together in the big kitchen.

You know, I’ve started buying those tubes of Immaculate Baking Co. cinnamon rolls and they are just stunningly good. I’ve made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I don’t think it is worth it when you can have these ready in 20 minutes with your eggs. And I’ve certainly had much worse tasting cinnamon rolls bought fresh from bakeries. Treat yourself.

Dave made fresh pasta noodles and Joe carved a pumpkin to look just like Darth Vader, as Lux had hoped. I bought ribeye steaks for Joe’s birthday, salted and peppered and unwrapped them when we got to the house, and let them age for two days in the fridge. I’m not accustomed to ordering $70 worth of meat from the meat counter, but when four people get to settle down to an amazing steak dinner, it all becomes clear. I did that steak house trick of putting a stick of butter on a plate, flinging salt at it, piling shredded parmesan and chopped parsley on it and then mashing it together until it was one pale green flecked soft pile of butter. We put half loaves of baguette on the grill for a few minutes and then spread all the amazing butter magic over it.

After a couple nights of watching us eat mussels, the girls realized they too loved mussels, loved plucking out the small cooked creature out and flinging the empty shells into the bowl with a tiny clang. Lux ate faster than everyone and adapted a strange third person request, “Any more mussels for Luxy?” eyeing the plates of the adults with desire. I stopped giving her the mussel broth because she wasn’t using it, and we all added more unplucked shells to her pile.

I cannot get over how it feels to wake up in the trees. With tree branches fully surrounding you, like you’ve been suspended in a soft down blanket of pine boughs. Our room was freezing when we woke up each morning. Of the four cabins, the girls’ cabin has the best insulation, and for the the three other cabins, the adults wake to a room that is fully 45 degrees. No matter if you made a fire at midnight, no matter if you plugged in the supposed space heater. If your arm snuck out while you were sleeping, it now feels like a different entity from your body, and you tug it back under the blankets with alarm.

We told the girls to knock on their cabin door when they wanted us to come get them in the morning. It was the first time they shared a double bed. Welcome to your vacation setup for the rest of your life! I wanted to say to them, thinking of the hundreds of beds my sister and I shared growing up. Joan probably woke Lux up earlier than she otherwise would have, but it was swooningly sweet to watch them snuggle in together each night. Joe has been reading Lux The Hobbit (in fact, they’re on their second read-through of it) so he would build a fire and then read them nearly to sleep each night. Then we would wake to the sound of their chipper knocks pounding on the glass across the deck from us. Joe would bound out of bed, out from the warm covers and into the freezing room, to go check on them. A funny switch-up, as of the two of us, he usually wakes the slowest back in Boston. I would force myself to change into some of my stiff freezing clothes, pick out some warm clothes for them to put on, and then we all tramped over to the main house together. The main house has the kitchen and the living room, and the coffee maker!, and is fully heated.

It was so wonderful to have the company of two non-parents, two people who could comment on the weather, the day, the water, and make plans for general amusement. Two people who haven’t rote-memorized the strange rhythms of their children’s moods and begun to anticipate them at certain times of day with vague dread. Probably the best part was the presence of two adults who wanted to play board games after bedtime or tell old stories, instead of slump on the couch as Joe and I typically do. It was really good to watch the girls play and scheme with someone else who could delight in them. Not to mention help them craft face masks, help them climb rocks, help them get a snack, answer a question.

As for the four of us, the adults, there were times when it felt like—oh yeah, college! Here we are, just kids, we’re all the same and together again. And other times when I felt so different and far away from them, the three men—I’m not drinking, not smoking an occasional celebratory cigarette, not skinny-dipping into the ocean jumping from the sharp rocks, not staying up late into the night to watch stars fall. I’m sleepy and oversized, preoccupied and awaiting the next small child’s request, remembering the soft tang of whiskey with bemusement, remembering the self indulgent rush of a nicotine drag with, well, I can’t remember it at all anymore. It’s been so long; maybe five years? I’m grumpy for no reason other than persistent thud of a small heel against my rib cage. The girls are mine and they cling to me when they’re sleepy, and want me to hold their hand, and arrange their food, and nod in affirmation every single time when they say they need to go potty. you don’t need me to do this, anybody can do this for you, I think to myself here and there, but it’s not really true, is it? Not true in the satisfying nearly trademarked way that mom does it. And the next girl is mine too, and I think about her when I make almost any decision for my day. It was that time, 31 weeks. She’s gone from a quiet swimmer to a nearly omnipresent tangle of limbs, waking me up with her flips and kicks, settling into odd positions that makes my abdomen feel like a couch too full of elbows.

But there’s also that male-ambition thing? The thing that stirs men to memorize long ballads so they can play them at the foot of stone towers? To chop and haul wood, build warm fires, frame houses over their families heads? That infects them with the idea to teach themselves to fix a car when there is a mechanic just down the road? Meanwhile I’m puttering around, baking bread from the exact same recipe I’ve used 300x times? I don’t play an instrument, and I didn’t attempt to memorize the lyrics to Lava, as they did (pixar, look it up, it’s cute). I didn’t want to. I probably could have jumped into the ocean, had I told Joe I wanted to and asked him to stay with the girls. But I didn’t want to. What I’m saying is–don’t feel too sorry, or fall too much for my oh if only. And, I suppose, I was a little jealous of their drive and adventurous ambition? I picked up Annie Dillard’s The living while there, a novel of many stories framed around the families who settled the pacific northwest. What were they doing there? Women watching their children die from various freak threats, is what it felt like to me. It’s obvious the glass on my maternal goggles is rather dense right now, that I can’t even read a historical novel without being nearly flattened by the idea that these people risked their children’s lives for a new adventure.

I made a pie from this squash. It’s quite a satisfying thing to take a hearty heavy vegetable, so thick you can barely cut it in half with a knife, roast it until it’s weak, then blend with all sorts of good things and turn it into a dessert. Great recipe right here.

The post about last year in Deer Isle, plus some area rental suggestions.

so much

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It is an oft-bemoaned thing among city mamas to be overscheduled. There are so many great things to do with your kids both in Boston, and especially this time of year, outside of Boston. As a stay at home mom, I look at a calendar with a line of empty days with trepidation. Too much alone time, is what those little blanks say to me. A friend of mine is transitioning out of her job into staying at home. She told me she wasn’t planning on doing anything with her daughters for six months. “We are definitely just going to hang out,” she said. This sounded nice to me, but the first thing that popped into my head was I’m usually tired of sitting around our apartment by 10am. Thus–activities.

If summer was a light bright picnic plate of glimmering beach afternoons and ice cream cone treats, autumn in New England is a hardy gift basket of tempting treats. The pleasant drop in temperature, paired with the hazy memory of the bitter cold that is only a couple weeks away, is very energizing.

But last week I managed to plan four things–country fair, leaf gathering, midwife appointment, Bible study–we needed to drive to, in addition to three classes for Lux, all three of which I chose to drive to. It was just silly and altogether too much. Each activity itself was delightful, but we were all three weary of car seat buckles, glancing at watches, and as we walked to the car, wondering why we weren’t sitting on the grass somewhere, watching the clouds go by. The girls are at amazing stage of entertaining themselves (maybe it’s not a stage! maybe it’s the future from here on!) and I often have to connive them to walk away from their games, get dressed, and get outside in time for our dates.

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This act, the conniving wheedling c’mon let’s goo!, is making me feel slightly less anxious about the inevitable lock-down that I know is coming in January and February. Instagram accounts can work as a wonderful datebook, and I took a moment to look back through the photos after Joan was born (which feels quite firmly like it was ten years ago) and the photos from last winter’s snowy January/February/March. I don’t see those worlds colliding smoothly. The girls will be bored and house-trapped this winter, there’s no denying it.

It’s a little like farming I guess. Frantically harvest the fields, the trees, the garden. Abound in beauty and production. Then stay inside for months and shuffle around your root cellar looking for a squash dinner.

apartment tour

Emily just did the loveliest post about our apartment on Apartment Therapy. There’s nothing quite like seeing your space through someone else’s eyes—I just love it! Lux joyfully followed Emily and her husband Max around when they were here, and managed to get into about half the photos. : )

1_bedroom 5_kitchen

It’s a pertinent post for these days because it feels like everyone has been asking since I got pregnant: are you moving? We are not, or at least not for a year or two. The baby will be in our room for six months or so, and then might move into the closet like Joan did, and then into the girls’ room. Joan can move under the new bunk bed and baby can take over Joan’s crib. It feels so distant to remember our old place, when Lux was in our room for her first year and a half.

With even just a little bit of nesting that I’ve done, I’m already finding corners we can rework and make more livable and comfortable, and storage that can be done better.

The girls’ clothing storage, as seen below, is probably not going anywhere though and is in fact, accumulating with time!

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I’ve been wanting to post a photo of Lux’s bunk bed that she conveniently asked for for her 4th birthday. Joe found it on craigslist. It’s vintage IKEA and took him about four uninterrupted hours to put together…it’s so vintage that none of the screws were streamlined or matched at all.

Our main goal was to find a bunkbed design that let in as much light as possible–which was surprisingly hard to find. We’re so happy with this one. Joe made the romantic roof from the old detachable side of Lux’s crib! (Her IKEA sniglar crib bed, same model as Joan’s, had really taken a beating and had to be retired completely.)

toys

Minor, but I’m very into the results that come from the magna-tiles and duplos being the only accessible toys outside of their room. They are constantly playing with them and building-chaos is one of the few types of chaos that makes my heart happy. If you decide to order magna-tiles, I recommend splurging for a lot, like the 100 piece set. We’re planning on ordering more soon, just to keep up with the range of structures they both like to build.

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The pinboard wall has solved all our art storage needs. I love it so much. You can find some of the construction details on the apartment therapy post. At the time, it seemed crazy to me to splurge for custom-milled wood, but it was totally worth it because it’s so pretty and it’s the biggest thing in the room! (I was initially pinboard-inspired by this home tour on Cup of Jo.)

I find that as long as I clean off their art table every evening (and yes, ruthlessly throw away the ten sheets of paper they filled that day), it’s one of the first places they head to every morning.

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I tried not to fuss and perfect too much before Emily came over to photograph–I hope this comes across as a realistic tour, with our “lived-in minimalism” as Joe sagely put it.

Anyway, head over to the post to see the whole thing! Thank you Emily!

all photos by Emily Billings for apartment therapy. 

photos from lately

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1. Moon postcard from our hotel in Marfa, TX.

2. 1pm nap is still so important for this two year old.

3. My friend Johanna gave me some lovely washi tapes. It’s such a fun supply.

4. After I took this photo I noticed the clever thumbprint placement of FRANCE.

5. Portrait of a coldbrew popsicle at naptime.

6. Giant silver UX balloons brought home after a Wistia party, to the girls’ daylong delight.

7. Whole Foods dough with plenty of food-processor-shredded mozzarella.

8. Sorted supplies.

9. Dress-up bin, in a new spot, getting lots of attention.

10. Pastels are a special treat reserved for supervised time. Love their bright blending possibility.

It’s a…

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I keep forgetting to mention! It’s a girl. We found out two weeks ago (at 20 weeks, the day before this photo was taken). Good thing I’ve saved everything. And you know what? This makes me really happy that I bought nicer things for the girls here and there, like Hunter rain boots and good winter jackets. Cause I loved them once, loved em twice, and now I get to love them a third time. So you should go push BUY on whatever you have sitting in your zappos cart right now.

I DID want them to say it was a boy, I admit. Because: sons. They seem like a good thing. They contain within themselves less feral mother-daughter drama; like say a dog compared to a cat. They seem blindly loyal, like a hometown sports fan. And also: brothers. They don’t seem like a good thing for a bit of your life, and then: they’re the best. And you realize how much you learned from them all along….obviously there’s many things I could say in favor of the gender that makes up half our human race. Anyway.

But now that I know it’s a girl, in the sense that the girl already exists and it’s no longer anyone’s guess, I’m very happy.

We’re pretty into our spider-catching duplo architects. Our bunny lovers who usually prefer to “roar like a t-rex.” Our dance-adoring pink appreciators who could pick a good twirly dress out of a deep six rack of boxy shirts. Our rain-walk loving, silly screaming, someday-dreaming, fresh white paper hogs who have scribbled every last crayon down to its tattered stub and spend afternoons “just painting with black today.” We can’t wait.

food and family photo from happy Maine by our friend Jared.

teaching gratefulness

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In between forgetting to slather on sunscreen and forgetting to comb anyone’s hair, I can’t get this thought out of my head—how do you teach gratefulness?

I’m not expecting them to grab the spray bottle every morning and clean the floors but the four year old also doesn’t have any specific daily tasks assigned to her. More often it is a request to “run and grab your water bottle for me” or “help Joan move the chair over here” which she does very willingly.

I also ask Joan, the two-year old, to pick up things or put something back after she drags it out. Usually she frowns at me and says, “nocan’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Still reading,” said while she stares vacantly off at a wall. “Mama do it.” 

Her young knack of disregard, the blithe ease with which she shrugs off my request makes me half-smile for a second and then feel overwhelmed with annoyance.

Sample day of the girls’ last week: wake up, eat breakfast, and a friend comes over. Pull out all the dress-up stuff, play dress-up changing clothes every 15 minutes for a couple hours. Share mini-ice cream cones. Have lunch, share another mini-ice cream cone. Make art in the art room with washi tape and pastels. Have a quiet time where Joan naps and Lux gets to watch her favorite 25 minutes of Octonauts. Wake up, help mom make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, snacking all the while. Play in the living room alternating their fighting/sharing/loving/complaining song-and-dance while mom makes more food and does all the dishes. Mom packs a picnic and head outside for the last couple hours of the day, armed with food, balls, and a picnic blanket. Come home, read stories, go to bed.

Are things getting too idyllic? Am I a flourishing event planner with a preschool speciality–a flare for the lighthearted and festive? This is not an exceptional day in the life of the Ringenberg girls. I could pull from any other day of that week and list the pleasures—activity, food, activity, game.

As a stay-at-home mom in the city equipped with modern conveniences in my home, I am free to do this stuff with them. If we do laundry on the weekends, I clean for roughly thirty minutes of every day, and I cook for maybe an hour (but that’s by-myself-time in a good way). Are there so few demands on my schedule that I’m turning their daily lives into some kind of bucolic Disneyland? (Bucolic is the very word doesn’t apply though. They are not running in the fields picking wildflowers and chasing cow tails. They are gently fingering flowers grown in window boxes hanging over the sidewalk, reminded to touch, but not pick.)

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But no matter how idyllic, I still have a four-year old who complains to me about her day. She asks “But mom, why can’t we go on the merry go round again?” “Why no lemonade/candy/ice cream today?” It must seem to her that we could do anything, if only I would just set my mind to it. And largely my explanations aren’t logical, they must seem almost whimsical to her—we aren’t having ice cream because we’re having dessert tonight. We don’t buy lemonade every day, only some days.

Isn’t her approach a little of what we encourage in Americans, especially American consumers? Ask for more, see what else you can get, fight for what you deserve–a refund in full, receipt be damned. I wonder how many times a day I model those values to the girls instead of Christian ones: love all, the last shall be first, put others before yourself, come humbly before God.

A few days ago, while washing dishes, I examined the contents of the sink and realized I could probably teach Lux to wash the morning load with a few tries. Later, when Joan was napping, I heralded it with trumpets as a new project and Lux took it on cheerfully. The floor was doused with soapy water and it took twenty more minutes than it would have taken me, but it was entirely successful.

But then I haven’t remembered to follow up and ask her to do it agin in the days since.

I dug out the letters my mom wrote to me on my birthday each year (I know! another post for another time), and found the one from when I turned four. She writes that my older brother and I were talking turns emptying the dishwasher and setting the table at that point. I was the second born so she had more time to figure it out, just as Joan has more expected of her than Lux did. (Mostly socially though—she’s expected to apologize, to share, to take turns. Things I didn’t ask of Lux at two.)

But gratefulness is such an undercurrent in a personal ocean. Its presence is so easily overpowered by the waves of needs and wants that lap steadily. It’s hard to feel its tug, even harder to distill it, and show it to another.

 

Third pregnancy is

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Third pregnancy, first trimester is: I wake up feeling nauseous and it stays with me. I’m feeling so tired and overwhelmed by the girls. I feel like Lux must be bored with me all day, and has nothing to look forward to every day. I hate making food. The smells in the kitchen gross me out. The trash and the fridge both smell awful from a distance. I feel so tired at night that I’m sad. I’m so tired that I feel darkly about how the day has gone. Joan wakes up so grouchy that it immediately discourages me when I encounter her. I feel surrounded by women who are making things and creating; and I’m just making a baby. And feeling sick the whole time of it. And that’s how the sentence rings in my head: just making a baby.

but then, finally, second trimester:

Third pregnancy is your midwife telling you to just skip the next appointment.

is feeling a little dismal about the lack of attention you’ve given your body in between babies. Like it’s the closet that didn’t get sprucing last spring. Like it’s the shoes that are cracking when you really need them. They’re still yours, but you think maybe you could have treated them better.

is your friends who “are done” joyfully trying to give you everything and anything baby-themed in their homes.

is not thinking about being pregnant once all day, and then thrilling at a tiny kick.

is being happier about how your oldest reacts to the news than anyone or anything else.

is knowing more women who are fighting infertility than you’ve ever known. Feeling like the one with a sandwich in a room of hunger. Wishing you could share. Wishing you could fix it. Wishing pregnancy was infectious via hugs.

is wondering how soon I should ask our beloved sitter how she feels about three.

is grinning when you get an email from your doula because it’s the only thing you’ve done for this one of your kids in weeks.

is your four-year-old, at a dinner party, loudly whispering “your belly looks really big” at 16 weeks.

Third pregnancy is laughing at how clueless you feel about how much your life will change soon. And how it doesn’t matter.

photo by Lux
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Joanie’s wedding photos

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For those of you who asked for more photos of my little sister’s dreamy wedding last March, there are lots up at the blog greenweddingshoes. They remind me that standing on the stage under those green ivy balloons felt like getting lost in the prettiest sky-jungle!

Every month or so I find myself wishing we could relive that week. The family-celebration endorphins were super charged! But then I chat with my contentedly newlywed sister, with her frozen Trader Joe’s dinners and their frequent nights out on the town with friends or spontaneous movie dates seeing the absolutely hippest movie that I haven’t even heard of,  and it makes me so happy.

(and…perk of a big family, we’re already looking forward to my little brother Wilson’s Alabama wedding next summer!)

vibiana walking group joans crown girls bridesmaids family(me reminding Lux that the people with big cameras are in charge and to do what they say. Flower girl territory. )joanandcale joanbea family

photos by Luke and Katherine Griffin from Max and Friends

night detective

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It feels as if every night our household is given a measured sand sack  of sleep, and one never knows how it’s been divvied up until the sun rises. Lux is murmuring to herself late into the night, then sleeping late into the morning, complaining if someone wakes her up before 9am. Joan is a wreck at 7pm, weeping with fatigue as we tuck her in, and waking like a clock at 5am. She gets out of bed, walks into our room, creeps up close up to our bed and whispers “cereal” in the direction of my pillow.  

Occasionally Joan wakes at 2am or 4am and takes up the blanket that I tucked her in with, after she was asleep, that is NOT her usual blanket. She walks into our room and throws it at me and walks back to her bed. 

It’s just a suspicion but I think I’m getting the lightest dwindle of sand, just a sweep over my eyelids every evening. It fascinates me that I wake up to Joan’s vindictive blanket walk no matter what time of night. The soft swish of her diaper and the pad of her feet on the carpet in our room. I appreciate that motherhood has cracked the vise grip sleep-adoration once had on me. It doesn’t hold the same promises it once did, a cure-all soother that could go on forever. But just how lightly am I sleeping that I can wake up to those soft footfalls, I wonder to myself. Does lightly even mean poorly to me anymore? 

I used to aspire to family dinner, like people putting food in their mouths at the same time at the same table, and I think I used to aspire to family sleep. Or couple’s sleep. It was on my fairy tale list of demands that Joe at least pretend to fall asleep with me. But now he basically tucks me in and gets back to his life of productivity, and I’m used to it. I wake up with Joan and it takes him hours to join us. Lux wanders out even later. 

Recently, I’ve been forced to disregard all personal thoughts that occur after 8pm. I’m so tired. Did I do anything right today, I wonder to myself. Was anything easy? Did the girls have a good day?

Naturally these thoughts are occurring at a time of day when all is murky, I’m not even sure if I remember what we did that day anymore, much less can offer an analysis of it. I am a once-nimble detective examining my evidence with bleary eyes, rifling through my nonsense notes to self, scribbling down clues to malfeasance. No, I finally conclude with a sigh, better simply to fall asleep and examine the postmortem where I find it in the morning. 

Naturally in the morning all evidence of misbehavior has disappeared from the scene. “Cereal” and a vague plan of action that sounds fun for our day is forming in my mind. Both girls are grinning at me with an odd infusion of cheer. The fridge does appear relatively full after all, and it looks a bit like the sun might be coming out. 

Finish every day and be done with it. 

You have done what you could.

Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;

forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day: you shall begin it serenely

and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Emerson

Photo: I made a volcano because Lux digs them these days, using Oh Happy Day’s printable photoreal mountain box.

things lost

The melancholy passage of the years tends to change our values as we age, and the awesome backflips of 13 don’t hold the magic they once did; not when compared to the image of a loved one who has since gone absent, say. If I’d had a smartphone with a video camera back in my early adolescence, I doubt that I would have trained it on the things that matter to me now, like the sight of my mother reading in her blue armchair, underlining passages from Proust.

 

I’m still thinking about this quote buried within a mostly anti-technology essay by Walter Kirn from a few weeks ago. I didn’t find most of the essay interesting, or perhaps I just didn’t want to hear it. But since I just finished putting together a book of photos from our little family’s last year, I can’t help but wonder how many times I took the pretty photo, instead of the one that will mean something to me in the future.