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Dear Family and Friends,

After receiving this year’s crop of holiday newsletters, some of which I even skimmed to the end, I decided to give the solipsistic tradition a whirl just before 2021 pulls the covers over its bruised little head and checks out for good. Disclaimer: if you’re hoping for charming descriptions of home-improvement projects, hilarious anecdotes about a cross-country road trip, or a humble brag about my genius offspring, then please fold this up now and add it to your recycling bin. And for those of you who still don’t recycle, just toss it in your fireplace along with our children’s smog-less future.

To begin, 2021 represents the first full year of our blended family living under one roof, for which I’m unendingly grateful.

One, my therapist suggests a daily gratitude practice; two, I’m legit grateful. We are 1 house, 2 adults, 4 kids, 3 dogs, and 19 carpeted surfaces already in need of replacement (thanks pups). It’s bliss on tap with a side of poo. Although, the rug in the study was still rather pristine when we all huddled together to watch the January 6th riots and a few weeks later when Amanda Gorman made poetry cool again.

The rug was showing signs of wear, though, by the time we all hunkered around the fireplace in the dark for days in February during the great Texas freeze. We’re not too worried about a rogue blizzard and a week without power this coming year though: our leaders and politicians took a break from their assault on women’s reproductive freedom long enough to rehabilitate Texas’ fragile power grid to ensure that the poor and elderly don’t freeze to death again. Just kidding, Uncle Frank–Governor Abbot never took a break from favoring gestational goo over actual sentient beings, be they trapped in cages at the border or inhaling COVID particles freely expelled by the proudly unmasked.

In any event, as this December has hovered steadily around 80 degrees–the result of climate change or perhaps exhaust fumes from the bus loads of pregnant women caravanning to New Mexico–we look forward to a mild winter as 2022 arrives (via Greyhound bus, of course, because Omicron cancelled all the flights).

Speaking of COVID… yeh for vaccines and boo for tests.

Yes, we’re all vaxxed, but our lingering coughs and runny noses go undiagnosed as COVID tests remain impossible to come by. We just say “it’s allergies” so we can all get back to school and work next week with impunity.

Speaking of school… Hank is enjoying his senior year, finally being a registered voter, and his many, many friends. We love being “that house” where all the kids hang, and we are especially fond on Hank’s artist pal who keeps leaving X-rated sketches on our giant white board for all to enjoy.

Maud is a social butterfly with a break-neck sports schedule and penchant for online shopping seemingly unfazed by the Ever Given’s mishap in the Suez. All good, though, because she keeps us flush in cardboard delivery boxes, the flaps of which make perfect hand-held shovels for scooping up dog poop or dead bird parts adhered to carpet.

Dustin loves his new (Catholic, gulp!) high school, lifting weights, planning to lift weights, and talking about lifting weights. The Catholic stuff is new for us, but Dustin remains alarmingly open-minded about it all and now only lets me pick apart his theology homework once a week.

Owen loves soccer, will discuss lifting weights with Dustin, and remains the cool guy we all knew in school. You know, that guy everyone wanted to be or be with, who charmed teachers and parents with their own je ne sais quoi. Even the way Owen always leaves the kitchen cabinets open and his milky cereal bowls out is just… damn… cool.

For my love, Jim, this past year came with some truly big milestones.

One, he turned the big 5-0!! Two, he successfully merged with his former firm, this time as a partner. Third, with tear-stained cheeks and a full heart we share the biggest milestone of all: Jim reached Executive Platinum on American Airlines. Sure, COVID will impede his ability to enjoy those free upgrades next year, but we are focused on the accomplishment!

And I, the matriarch of this funny little kingdom, also had a busy 2021.

I’ve nested, decorated, cooked, cuddled, giggled and burrowed fully into our cozy new home where Jim plays my favorite tunes through the magical sound system (that he alone can operate) while he cleans the kitchen with a smile and inordinate amounts of spray cleaner.

I’ve rewarded his domestic gallantry with displays of my professional and creative aplomb: I started The Artist’s Way again but this time made it through 3 full weeks of “morning pages” before giving up; I missed two more M.F.A. application deadlines but had a major breakthrough in therapy about why (i.e., dreams are dumb); I taught two semesters at the law school and only said the “F” word 22 times during recorded lectures that will, as it turns out, be reviewed by the dean; I launched a compelling, albeit failed, campaign to get Maude’s non-parochial Montessori school to stop honoring “Good Friday” or at least call it something not so goddamn religious; I kept my legal clients pretty happy; I kept my streak alive of not getting a raise despite keeping my clients happy; I only watched two episodes of Ted Lasso’s second season before confessing to Jim and waiting for him to catch up; and I painted the big wall in the study a grayish-blue hue–all by myself!–which really sets off the art nicely and in a way that tends to draw one’s vision away from the stained area rug.

All in all, even with politics, pandemics and prolific poo, 2021 was a magical year.

I, the curmudgeonly author of this epistle, look forward to the new year and hope to see or hear from a select handful of you again soon.

Natalie Brandt

Natalie is a lawyer and mom trapped in Texas. Wildly outspoken about the separation of church and state, she can quickly kill a dinner party but always brings good wine.

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