Holiday Letter 2014: Humans of Easton Court

Graber Annual Holiday Letter Edition 18 published & envelopes addressed! #instacheer #snailmail #USPS #tradition

A photo posted by Phoebe Graber (@phoebswg) on

“As long as we are engaged in storytelling that moves the culture forward, it doesn’t matter what form it is.”  ~LeVar Burton

Storytelling is an ancient mode of communication which has evolved over time.  Digital storytelling is a contemporary form that integrates 21st century tools to give voice to personal narratives.  These innovative art forms integrate text, images and sound.

Just over a year ago, I posted my first photo to Instagram soon after obtaining an iPhone.  It quickly became my preferred method for sharing my life with others.  Around the same time, I discovered the photographer, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York (HONY) fame.  He has mastered digital storytelling by sharing images and snippets of his conversations with strangers on the streets of New York.

These two ideas provided the inspiration for the 18th edition of our annual family letter.  I’m lucky to have a daughter with graphic design skills and a willingness to help her mother with this tradition!

annual holiday letter 2014

Side 1

annual holiday letter 2014

Side 2

Annual Holiday Letter 2002: The Debris of Our Lives

The photo enclosed with our holiday letter

The photo enclosed with our holiday letter

Oddly enough, I remember the evening I sat on our sofa with pencil and paper in hand to write our 2002 annual holiday letter.  I had no particular theme in mind but knew I needed to incorporate an extra family member, our first foreign exchange student.   As I tried to concentrate on something with an international flair, I became distracted by the disorder around me.  The following letter resulted.

Dear Family and Friends,

As I wander around picking up the debris of our lives, I find myself reflecting on this past year.  Scattered about our living room are a pair of Birkenstocks, a Shrek CD, a deck of cards, a Gameboy Advance, a blue hair band, a map, a clump of dark hair, a set of car keys, a German/English dictionary, a miniature shoe, the Assemblyline newsletter, a Series of Unfortunate Events book, a blue and gold jersey, the agenda from last week’s school board meeting and a hairbrush (mine, but probably last used by the owner of the blue hair band).  These are the telltale signs of the frenzy we live in!

Abby is 8; an enthusiastic 3rd grader who has declared weekends and holidays unnecessary.  She enjoys playing with her American Girl doll [the shoe] and organizing family games [the deck of cards].  She no longer needs or wishes for mom to be a hair or fashion consultant [the hair band].  Abby has perfected the obligatory scream or whine with sibling disputes and when otherwise aggravated.  This fall, Abby entered the realm of competitive gymanstics and has earned a multitude of ribbons and medals along with beam bites, bar burns, ripsand wedgies.

Ethan is 11 and is in 5th grade.  He would say school is survivable but that homework should be eliminated.  He is alternately endearing and exasperating!  Ethan’s world revolves around action and sound…basketball, football, music [Shrek CD] and electronic games [the Gameboy].  Ethan hopes to hone his snowboarding skills this coming winter. He eagerly traded piano lessons for playing the flute and is involved in the community children’s choir, Shout for Joy.  His favorite reads for the year were the Lemony Snicket series [the book].

In August, Ethan gracefully gave up his position as the eldest child when Anne Esser, a 17-year-old exchange student from Bochum, Germany joined our family [the Birks].  She is a tall, gregarious young woman who is a junior at Fairfield High School and is proficient in English [the dictionary].  Recently, Anne has joined the girl’s basketball team and is giving the ol’ Hoosier pastime her best [the jersey].  Not only is she responsible, but she also has a wonderful sense of humor and is a postiive role model for our kids.  Anne jumps at the chance to go on late night runs to Wal-Mart.  She and Abby have similar tastes in room decor – Early Ransack.

As for the adults, Jonathan continues to mix supervisiory/administrative duties with patient care at Oaklawn. He joined three friends on a skiing excursion to Colorado in February. New challenges await on the horizon as he, a Fairfield School Board member; works with the community to determine the extent of needed facility improvements [the agenda]. Jonathan recently finished a 30-day roofing project 4-months later.  In his leisure time, he enjoys golf, fantasy footbal, golf, softball, golf, basketball, golf, playing on the computer and golf.

My roles have remained unchanged – taxi driver [the keys], nitpicker (school nurse, remember?), referee and family historian.  I traveled to New Orleans with a friend to attend the Sugar Bowl and ended up having to scalp tickets.  A 6-year mentorship ended this past summer after my youth graduated from high school.  In August, Abby and I went to Cleveland for a couple days to attend the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships.

Lastly, Buddy remains our faithful companion.  He likes to “help out” around the house. He insists on doing dishes (licking the plates clean while the dishwasher is being loaded), dusting (with his tail) and sweeping (licking up food off the floor).  Now, if I could just get him to brush his own hair [the clump]!

This past year has found us attending and growing in a new church family.  We are at Assembly Mennonite Church, an open and welcoming community [the newsletter].  It’s strange at times, even thoug we feel we belong, that we may be the  conservatives in the bunch!

A review of our year would be incomplete if I failed to mention a couple other events.  In February, Grandpa Graber had a heart attack.  Thankfully, he received prompt emergency medical care; so there was minimal heart damage.  He seems to have made a full recovery and has returned to his active lifestyle.  Secondly, Jonathan and I happily marked 15 years of compatibility this August!  I was thrilled my wedding dress still fit!

As a family, we’ve enjoyed forays near and fall [the map].  Together with the McFadden family, we vacationed on St. George Island, FL during spring break.  This summer, the kids and I visited the Dunes and Deep River Water Park.  In July, we spent a couple weeks in Colorado – camped with Grandma and Grandpa Graber and then retreated to comfort in Keystone.  Other highlights of the year included attending a Tom Chapin concert (with the McFadden’s), a STOMP concert, a weeklong visit from Uncle Sterling and two days at Cedar Point.

That pretty well sums it up for another year.  Let us know if you’ll be stopping by – we’ll leave the light on!  May your holidays be the happy beginning of a wonderful year!

Mit freundlichen grüssen (With friendly greetings)

Pinterest (ing) Finds: Monday Listicles

Pinterest Money Lei

College graduation gift for my son

Pinterest has both simplified and complicated my life.  Thanks to Pinterest, I’ve downsized my cookbook collection and eliminated any need to subscribe to magazines.  I no longer need to mess with ripping out pages from magazines nor have to deal with the resulting paper clutter.

However, Pinterest is addictive!  I can’t seem to get enough “eye candy”.  It is downright depressing to realize I don’t have the time or money or energy to actually make/do/create many of the ideas I find so appealing.  I’m glad Pinterest wasn’t around when my kids were young because I think it would’ve added to my feelings of not being “good enough”.

So, here’s to moderation in all things!  I’ll share just a few of my 500+ pins from my 30+ boards.

10 Favorite Pinterest Finds

1.  Money Lei - great way to gift money (see photo above)!

2.  Scarf Organizer – need to make sure you use a heavy-duty hanger to support the weight of multiple scarves

3.  Christmas Greeting Card Display - used this idea for the past two Christmases

4.  Glazed Apple Maple Blondies – just discovered this recipe last weekend

5.  Homemade Felted Dryer Balls – experimented with making some this past summer…love them!

6. Triple Spiral Tattoo – pinned this to one of my shared boards with my daughter (more about its significance another time)

7. Homemade Taco Seasoning – made last week one night when I found no seasoning packets in my pantry

8. Tub Cleaner - tried this out a couple of weeks ago on a long neglected bathtub

9.  Artist’s Palette Cookies – had our local bakery make these (instead of cake) for my daughter’s high school graduation open house…did I mention she’s an artist?!

10. She Believed Quote – one of my very first pins!

Share one or more of your favorite pins below!


Annual Holiday Letter 2001: Scrapbook Snapshots

Annual Holiday Letter 2001

Annual Holiday Letter 2001

By 2001, I was a regular customer of Creative Memories (business presently reconfiguring). Scrapbooking was a newfound passion and I immersed myself in the cropping world.  A scrapbook-themed annual letter marked this era.  I created brief word pictures instead of using actual images in the letter since I did not have the skills or technology to include multiple photos.

The letter began with the following quote:

“Summer passes into autumn [and autumn into winter] in some unimaginable point of time, like the turning of a leaf.”  -Henry David Thoreau

And thus read:

Change in the natural world is subtle, but relentless, and so, too, our lives.  The most compelling record of these subtleties is captured on film.  Our family scrapbook chronicles the photos garnered from daily live, special events/celebrations, and vacations.  A glance at these snapshots depicts life, as it’s been this past year…

  • Ethan and Abby surrounded by friends in a sea of homemade confetti at our New Year Eve’s party
  • Ethan wearing two silver medals he earned from a basketball skills clinic and the Accelerated Reader Olympics
  • Jonathan posing in front of the Kansas City BBQ in San Diego, CA (film site of the Top Gun bar scene) – he attended the National School Board Conference while Phoebe enjoyed sightseeing
  • Tie dye cupcakes for Abby’s 7th birthday celebration in her classroom
  • Seven feet with painted toenails wearing coordinating Old Navy flip-flops (all belonging to Phoebe and her girlfriends)
  • The shed built by Jonathan and his father
  • Ethan and Abby riding their bikes around Spring Brooke (development where Grandma and Grandpa Graber live)
  • The rattlesnake Phoebe and Abby happened upon while hiking at Mammoth Cave Naitonal Park
  • Phoebe and Jonathan decked out for the Fairfield H.S. Prom
  • Jonathan and Ethan playing a duet at the Spring Piano Party
  • Phoebe’s pink peonies in bloom (she’s been waiting years!)
  • Ethan testing his egg container invention by dropping it from the shed’s roof (an activity for his enrichment class)
  • Abby outfitted as a flapper doing the Charleston for the school music program
  • The baby shark and waterspout from our trip to St. George Island, FL
  • Ethan as a “blonde” wearing shades (he’s growing up fast…he hit double digits this summer!)
  • Jonathan hand-propping a 1946 yellow Aeronca Chief (he’s part owner of the airplane)
  • Ethan and Abby’s baseball/t-ball team pictures
  • Ethan’s group picture of Friedenswald’s Pre-Junior campers
  • Abby’s legs painted with henna designs – done by Polly at the Graber family reunion at Camp Friedenswald this summer
  • Abby posing with a large purple beach ball in Spring Brook’s pool
  • The kids playing the copper kettle drum at Indy’s Children Museum
  • Ethan launching his blue ribbon rocket during the 4-H fair
  • A close-up of Ethan and Abby’s new cousin, Maci Lou
  • Phoebe lounging on her hammock reading a book
  • A sleeping Abby hidden under her tresses – no more bangs!
  • A 4th and 2nd grader carrying their overstuffed backpacks
  • Both kids working on a game of hangman to learn the mystery destination of the family trip dad spontaneously planned for Labor Day weekend
  • Jonathan and the kids on Main Street U.S.A at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (!!)
  • Abby waiting in line to do a back handspring in her gymnastics class
  • Phoebe and three friends standing in a downtown Chicago hotel lobby before hailing a taxi to Harpo Studios (John Travolta was Oprah’s guest!)
  • A recent portrait of our family

You’re always welcome to stop by for a visit if you’re ever in town!  If you do make it to our home, don’t be surprised if the kids plop a scrapbook onto your lap.  They enjoy sharing our stories and we’d love to hear yours!

Peace to you in 2002 – the only palindrome year of the century (Ethan’s tidbit of information)!

Autumn’s True Colors: Monday Listicles

leaves true color

photo © 2005 Paul, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Autumn or fall is often associated with midlife.  Obviously, it’s a metaphor I’ve used in the tagline and header of my blog.  Fall is my favorite season and now that it correlates with my stage in life, it has taken on special significance.  It’s a time of ripening, harvesting, dispersing, celebrating, welcoming, giving thanks and remembering.  I’m also more acutely aware of the impermanence and mystery of life.

The trees in northern Indiana will reach their peak brilliance within a couple of weeks.  This year, I’ve been marveling at the process in which leaves change colors.  When gazing at individual trees, I have noticed the random way the pigments appear.  For some it’s the very top of the tree, while for others it’s the outer edges or even the low hanging branches.

It’s intriguing how the leaves are now revealing their true colors.  Their appearance is no longer masked by the presence of chlorophyll.

I, too, am transforming into a bolder and more confident version of myself.  In other words, I’m showing my true colors in this the autumn of my life.


10 Things Autumn / Fall

1.  Marching band season – In Indiana, this is a big deal!  My son participated in our school’s marching band for four years.  Although I do not miss the every Saturday commitment, I do miss watching the evolution of the competition show.

2.  Soup - Chicken Noodle, Vegetable Beef, White Chicken Chili and more

3.  Apple cider - made locally

4.  Scarves - square, rectangular, triangular or infinity

5.  Fall TV season – NCIS and Big Bang Theory

6.  Fall foliage

7.  Leg shaving season is over - Thank Maxine for this one!

8.  Candy corn and peanuts – It doesn’t feel right to eat these out-of-season!

9.  Ground cherries

10. Time to begin obsessing over our annual holiday letter - I have the idea and my daughter is creating a framework to get it started.  Stay tuned!

What captivates your attention each fall?  Link up or add your own in the comments.