– We haven’t had enough rain – not by a long shot – but what we’ve had has washed the oaks clean and they no longer look like treasured knick-knacks that an old, ailing lady hasn’t had the energy to dust.

– The contractor who remodeled our kitchen built a snug little shed to replace its rotting predecessor. It looks like a tiny house and if you put in a space heater could probably function as one. He’s a big man, fussy about his craft, with a larger than life personality and high-volume opinions on everything under the sun who works just enough to keep him in cash so he can go hunting with his much-adored bird dog Lucy. When he remodeled the kitchen he brought us homemade pheasant sausage and venison jerky, threatening to take it back if we dared to fry the sausage for breakfast instead of folding it into an alfredo pasta sauce. This time we swapped his venison and wild boar summer sausage and our homemade adobo sauce. He laughingly calls us his “clients with no money” and chronically undercharges us for his work. If we had the money I think we’d hire him to spend half a year doing projects around the property. I’d need the other half to recover from having him around.

– I’m kind of tired of the word “terrorism.” When we as a culture are spending more time debating what label to put on which acts of carnage rather than seeking a way to reduce them, aren’t we doing it wrong?

– My mother’s assisted living residence has a fistful of issues – raising rates a little more willy-nilly than I’d like, not having the five minute or better response time they promised when she moved in, taking months and repeated prompting to get a new bed or coat the sliding glass door for better summer temperature control. But she’s lived there over a year and hasn’t had a single hospital stay, compared to one every three months at her former residence. And that definitely counts for something.

En español, ¿por qué son los camarones, los cangrejos y los mariscos masculinos, pero las langostas son femininas?

– I stopped at a Starbucks on the way to my sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving and ordered an egg nog latte (well, actually, three or four of them on the trip up and back – it was a long drive). The cup was definitely merely red and lacking any other design. The advent calendars were prominently placed and, to my taste, inordinately large. Among a sea of red and green holiday themed gift cards there was one blue one for Hanukkah. None of them, however, contained explicitly Christian iconography – no mangers, no churches, no wise men. How did that get past rabble rouser and professional self promoter Joshua Feuerstein?

– November and December have been blissfully cold. The leaves on the liquid amber, maple and gingko trees have blazed yellow and red and then fallen in carpets on the ground instead of lingering brown and withered until a lackluster wind blows them off. I know it’s death both ways but death in the colors of the phoenix somehow seems more hopeful.

– I love Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who, and I like the sonic sunglasses, and I’m really quite fond of Stephen Moffat’s twisty, turny, not always comprehensible plots.

– In Spanish, why are shrimp, crab, and seafood masculine, but lobsters feminine? After a year of renewed study I feel firmly in the camp of “lower-intermediate” learners. I started the endeavor because I wanted to read Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carlos Ruiz Zafón in their original language, but whenever I visit my mother I realize it might also be a useful skill for an infirm, childless old age.

– In the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado I read an interview with a priest who frequented the sidewalk in front of the health clinic in an effort to save women from the terrible mistake of killing an unborn child who would haunt their footsteps for their entire lives. It made me wonder how he would feel if a band of atheists stood in front of his church and tried to save his parishioners from the terrible mistake of embracing a vengeful, absent God who has haunted their footsteps for their entire lives.

– The weather and my life have cooperated to make it possible to start a fire in the wood burning stove nearly every morning instead of turning on the central heating. Aside from the adorable tableau of dog on the hearthrug – which almost makes it worth it alone – something feels earned about a fire. The effort to maintain it, perhaps, or the fact that the house starting out damned cold (fifty-eight degrees on a really chilly day) makes it feel almost like a blessing when it’s finally warm.

– Buying Christmas presents for a young niece and two nephews has proved more fraught than I expected, resolutions to be strictly gender-neutral in gift-giving running afoul of the children’s actual preferences. And so the girl ends up with art gifts (although we’ll throw in a paint-your-own glow in the dark solar system for science-y exposure) and the boys an explore science through a detective’s kit present (although we’ll throw in a pair of “Be a Spy” books to encourage at least a modicum of creative expression). Is it good enough? Should I even fret so much about it?

– While I don’t really need to pay a pile of money for gasoline, it bothers me a little that a dwindling, non-renewable resource is back down under three dollars a gallon.

– I haven’t missed a single Marvel movie, and I’ve enjoyed them all. But it has made me hunt down smaller, more intimate movies as palate cleansers – Ex Machina, Mr. Holmes, The End of the Tour, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – at San Luis Obispo’s tiny Palm Theatre. Bonus: the equally tiny Mee Heng Low noodle shop next door, which feels like such an indie place to go before seeing an indie movie.

– Because my mother has been declared incapacitated, I manage her relatively meager finances. I fret whenever the markets behave badly and strike the best balance I can between her comfort and her life expectancy, but it makes for some sleepless nights.

– Still, this is the first year since 2011 that I can contemplate a New Year’s Eve toast other than, “Well that was a really shitty year. Hope the next one’s better.” I’ll take it.