The family was gathering at my parents' log and stone house in central Pennsylvania. My cousin, Fred, has been marooned there since April, recovering from a back injury, but now waiting to rejoin his life on tour as one of the dancers in Sesame Street Live. He's been baking Christmas cookies. Monica, Porter (16), Nico (13) and I drive across from Rhode Island - with The Amber Spyglass playing on the tape deck to speed up the five hour drive. My sister Cathie arrives with Eric, Bridget (6), Leo (4) and their dog, Bella (that I always call Rosie). They have swung through Berks county to pick up a mountain of tamales for our dinner.
My sister Chris would come up from Baltimore to complete this year's cast of an even dozen.
The morning of Christmas eve: on the 24th there is generally a fair amount of sitting around and chatting. There is some last minute Christmas shopping. It was a drab and drizzly morning, but Dad's bird feeders were active -- nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers, finches and sparrows. And squirrels, of course.
In our family there is a strong slugabed contingent - (small, early-rising children are the cross that Cathie and Eric bear). The two teenagers might never rise voluntarily.
Mom and Monica went off to the farmer's market for supplies and to pick up the turkey. I scouted the property's six acres for a suitable Christmas tree. The bar isn't particularly high. My father planted hemlock trees years ago, and though they are more spindly than the classic Christmas spruce, spindly hemlocks have become traditional in our family. Last year, we took down what looked like the last passable top, but 2014 must have been a good year for growth. I rousted Porter from his bed and he helped me saw the top eight feet from a good looking tree.