I love the old Bing Crosby/Rosemary Clooney movie White Christmas. Although Steve maintains that it goes rapidly downhill after the hilarious Crosby/Danny Kaye send-up of the Sisters song (go ahead, ask me. I can sing it by heart), I love the whole thing.
There’s a lovely little scene in the middle of the film where Crosby and Clooney, sleepless in the lodge, meet and share a lullaby. It’s a beautiful and tender song, with good advice: count your blessings instead of sheep.
Steve and I have much to be thankful for this year. I don’t know if they are blessings or privilege or dumb luck, but we’re awash in close family, dear friends, and new adventures. So, as we celebrate Christmas in the wilds of southern Africa, we’re counting our blessings. Here are just a few of the things I’m thankful for.
Each other. 2017 was not an easy year for us, but we passed through it and came out on the other side. My sense of perpetual restlessness matches his sense of adventure, and I can’t think of many other people who would jump at the chance to pack up and move to Africa for a year.
Family. Family, family, family. Sempre famiglia.
My Mum, who made me stuffed shells and took us out for supper and handed me a very precious care-package the morning I left, and who has been taking care of our mail and other daily details back in Missoula.
My sisters, who are my best friends. Coffee mornings and wine and Suck-It-Up Sundays and long conversations and “you should not be wearing that” or “can I have those shoes?”
Their husbands and partners.
Their sons, who are the best parts of all of us.
Steve’s brother and his wife, who drove a long way to have brunch with us in Connecticut before we left. Here’s to spilled beer, new adventures, and new beginnings.
Steve’s parents, who came to Missoula to see us off and who spent the time helping with the thousand things we had to do around the house – including building an actual wall in the dining room.
Steve’s mother’s cousin and her husband, who drove from Billings to see us off, his paternal aunt, and his maternal aunt and uncle and cousins who expand the laughter and noise in our lives.
Grandma Jeannie who, perhaps more than anyone, gets what we’re doing – and why – and who sent us off with the best (and only, really) advice: “take care of each other.”
My Nonna and cousins and Aunt Dianne, who took us out to eat on the way out of the US.
My Auntie and Craig, who picked us up from Boston with Dunkin Donuts coffee rolls and coffee, who let us shower and sleep and store our luggage at their place, who sent us on the plane with amazing chocolate, and who were the last friendly faces we saw in the US.
Drinks and dinners and coffees and hugs and tears and cheers from our amazing Missoula community. We wouldn’t be who we are without you all.
Our Supper Club – Tobin, Cheryl, Brad, Mark, Kara, Lena, Ken, Clary, Zach, Dylan, Beth, Britta, Justin – a group of friends-who-are-family we’ve been meeting with for almost a decade. They sent us off with copper blessings and wise words and good wishes enough to fill our hearts and keep us afloat.
Peter. My dear friend and nemesis, who gallantly sat in the sun and got burned so I could have the shade while we had farewell drinks on the deck at Finn & Porter.
Donna, who drove a long way to work very early one day to have coffee with me.
Special dinners with Tobin and Cheryl, and Mark and Kara and Lena.
Ken, who regularly keeps me grounded and laughing.
Clary, who called me back immediately (from Brazil) when I accidentally dialed him, because he knew that I was having a bit of a rough time adjusting.
Father Jim Hogan. Longtime friend and adventurer extraordinaire, who laid hands and blessed us both, standing on a sidewalk in Missoula.
Our friends Mushtaq and Sabaa and Ava, whose arrival in Missoula settled something in me that has been rattling around for three years.
Our friends Barney and Nancy. Fellow adventurers and the people we want to be when we grow up.
Quiet lunches with Kathy.
Lunch with Barbara at the Top Hat, exchanging stories of Africa.
Books and lunch and ever-stimulating conversation and grounding with Bridgett.
Prayers from Sara, and from everyone else.
Chats and phone calls with Amber, and Brad, and Zach.
Hold Fast Farm, and friends and chickens in the Airstream and goats on the lawn chairs and roasted steelhead and fresh veggies and wine while the sun sets over the Bitterroots. Can we come live with you?
Our neighborhood and neighbors – the Hegedus family, the wild O Riordains, Tom and Leslie, Glenn and Jeannie, Mike and Dayl, Sahra and Isaiah, Lane and Linda – who not only welcomed us into the magic of the Lower Rattlesnake, but who sent us off with desserts and drinks and well-wishes and sincere promises to help out Steve’s cousin and her friend (who are renting our house) if they need anything.
Steve’s cousin and her friend who, by renting our house, have guaranteed that we don’t even think of it.
Our house. Our little slice of paradise, all 848 sf of it, nestled at the base of my Missoula security blanket, Mt. Jumbo.
Our friends and neighbors and family who filled our yard with good cheer and amazing food at our going-away party. There’s nothing like getting most of the people you love in one place to realize how rich your life is.
A quilt from Mary and artwork from Cheryl and Alma. Creative and generous women, all.
The Purple Girls, deep friends and inspiring librarians, who met me at the mall, of all places, so we could laugh and walk and connect once more.
New horizons in much-loved places, seen from 40,000 feet. And kind flight attendants. And sleeping pills. And efficient airport attendants.
Passports and valid visas.
Friends old and new at the airport in Botswana, who made us feel like we were coming back into the fold.
Friends old and new at the UB library, who have looked after us well.
Fellow Fulbrighters, past and present, who showed us the ropes and who keep us company in Botswana.
A nice, normal place to live, with monkeys on the patio and neighbors from all over the world who have welcomed us into their homes or who have exchanged smiles and nods with us as we all come and go.
All of our Batswana friends, who have taught us so much.
My students, who I care about more than they know and who have made this experience what it has been.
The help and patience and good humor of my colleagues at UB, who have answered many, many, many questions and who have no doubt cleaned up my mistakes at one point or another.
Every well-dressed woman at UB who has made me feel like I fit in, just a little bit.
Care packages from home – paints and books (and camera lenses – wow!!) and handwritten letters and sage and tea towels and drawings.
Care packages from here – delivered by our friend Lynn on the eve of our road trip. I’m not sure how she did it, but it contained dried fruit, cashews, and chocolate – my idea of perfection.
The ability to connect with people at home through social media.
Gratifying work and renewed energy to do it.
The Southern Cross.
Time to write and think and create.
A reliable vehicle.
Dust and cows and goats and wildlife and rainstorms and jacaranda trees and new birdsong and the whole continent spread north of us.
Trip planning and points unknown.
Weekends at Mokolodi.
Sound and strong bodies. Good medical care. A partner who brings me tea and books and carries my bag to work while I’m hobbling around.
An expanding sense of home and possibilities.
Books and books and books.
The Tribal Nations leading the fight for wild Utah.
The voices of women who are insisting they be heard. And the men who are willing to listen.
Every person everywhere who refuses to be afraid.
Rekindled faith in the world. That flame flickers – a lot in this day and age – but being outside the US reminds us that there is a whole beautiful world out there, and that we shouldn’t be scared of it, and that if we shut up and listen for a minute we might actually learn something.
I’m sure I’ve missed someone or something. I’m sorry if I have. I love you all. I love the world. I love this life.
As we sit in some of the remotest parts of southern Africa, I wish you all peace, peace, peace.
Kagiso. Pax. Paz. Paix. Pace. Síocháin. Мир. สันติภาพ. Innaihtsi’iyi. שלום. Rauha.
和平. שלום. Baké . سلام
May we live it, and work for it, in 2018.