Happy New Year!

On this first day of 2010, and of a new decade, I began the day in the kitchen, putting the ingredients for hoppin’ john into the crock pot. After 10 hours on low, dinner will be ready featuring the traditional new year’s stew of  black-eyed peas, greens and 2 cups of incredibly delicious Honey-Baked ham, diced tomatoes and seasonings. Although the “sun” was up when I emerged from my down-comforted cocoon, the temperature reading for the far west side of Madison, Wisconsin was 2 degrees. After a couple of days this week of a couple of inches of new snow and temps in the 20s, the front has passed and the temperature plummeted. At least for a while. That’s life in south central Wisconsin this time of year. Last night while partiers were moving around town, there was a -10 wind chill. Not a night when I wanted to be out and about. Instead, I sat in front of the gas fireplace and watched a Dick Clark look-alike talk about Times Square on New Year’s.

The beginning of a new year and a new decade offers the opportunity to reflect on the previous year and to give some thought to how one might want the coming year to proceed. Or to wonder about what’s in store for us this year. But the complexities of family holidays make it hard to find time to contemplate serenely. I like the new year because of the idea that the calendar is wiped clean and you can start over. But of course you’re not really starting over, except figuratively, and January means we have to start thinking about taxes — always intensely annoying for me.

This year, I decided to start a blog with the goal of writing something every day. The reason? I’d like to develop a discipline of writing daily. Why a blog and not simply an electronic journal? Not sure, but I’ll think about it. Perhaps the only reason is that everyone seems to be doing a blog. It’s the thing to do these days. And I enjoy reading other peoples’ blogs. So, now I want my own.

We had a lovely holiday here in Madison with the usual 7 people with whom we’ve spent many holidays over the past couple of decades. Our group includes myself and my husband, our two children, my brother, my husband’s sister and her daughter (our niece) — and one dog. Christmas is not the same without a dog. The current one belongs to our son and is a 2-year-old chocolate lab. The majority of the older generation has passed on, leaving the four of us (two sets of siblings) as the senior guardians of holiday traditions. The basics of our traditions are probably very similar to most others — gathering, cooking, gift-exchanges, games and movies. We all love turkey, so the menu changes very little year to year. There is also always a mail-order ham, resulting in ham biscuits and ham-with-scalloped-potatoes. A pie a day is the norm which is not the case for the rest of the year. Key games include Hand & Foot (cards), Taboo, Outburst and Password, and sometimes Monopoly. A couple of us pull out our knitting — the same projects have seemed to emerge each year for the past few. Scrapbook photo albums are passed around from the previous Christmas, and from the year’s past vacation. Sometimes, the Legos come out. We’ve had the same artificial tree since 1991, and I’ve been an ornament-collector since my college years, so the tree is rather over-decorated and looks basically the same every year. But comfortably so. This tree has conducted Christmases in Wisconsin for the past 6 holidays, and in Virginia for the previous 13. That’s quite a tradition. It’s probably lost half its needles since 1991, but still looks presentable. And now there are just a few days of holiday left before going back to work.

This blog’s title — A Year in Madison, Wisconsin — is to chronicle one year in a place about which I knew nothing when I relocated in 2004. My roots and much of my living happened on the US east coast plus a few years outside the US — but I’m now transplanted to a midwestern culture that I was convinced initially I would not like. The reality is totally the opposite of what I expected. And after hanging around life for several decades, I can say that about a lot of things. So often, our expectations are transformed by our experiences. Wisconsin in general and Madison in particular have turned out to be infinitely better than what I imagined in July 2003 when a recruiter found my husband’s CV on a website and offered him a great job. Now I too have a great job, so we’re here for a while.

Luckily, we both love winter, snow, skiing, snowshoeing, fireplaces, turtlenecks, sweaters, fleece, blankets and soup.

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