Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Roundup

We're back home from Indianapolis now... It's been such a fun week of relaxing and catching up with family! Here's a brief photoblog of our time with them.

This Christmas was the first in five years where all of the Keddies were together -- David's eldest brother Donald was in Korea teaching English for several years, and though he was back Stateside last year, we were in Raleigh with my side of the family last Christmas. And though there have been multiple occasions where all of us have been together, it's still exciting to finally have everyone together for Christmas. David's mom celebrated the momentous occasion by making a real British Christmas cake! This may be a little silly, but I was really excited about this -- I'd only ever read about Christmas cakes in Dickens novels.

David's dad cutting the cake; honest-to-goodness Christmas cake!

Royal icing and marzipan, over a cake chock full of golden raisins, candied orange peel, currants, and dried cherries, soaked in brandy and continuously 'fed' over the course of several weeks... And also surprisingly tasty! This was the capstone to a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner.

Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree and took turns opening presents. This year, David and I decided to get each member of his family a wireless digital photo frame. I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous about giving everyone the same present -- you could see how that could backfire, with someone being offended about not getting an original, just-tailored-to-their-needs, special kind of present, right? But David felt that this was the perfect idea for his family, especially given how into photos and pictures his parents are. So that's what we went with.

Donald opening his frame; Iain opening his;
Dad setting up the parents' larger frame

Turns out, it really was the perfect present. :) The frames are all wireless-compatible, which means that they'll stream photos uploaded to a central album. So we can all take pictures, upload them to a family Flickr account, and they'll stream on all of the frames -- in Indiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. How cool is that?

David and I got a bunch of loot, too. :) The little kid in me was excited to see that the two largest presents under the tree were for me... And then the grown-up in me was thrilled with the serving platters they contained! The lack of large serving platters was the major weakness in our current entertaining setup, so these presents were perfect. We can't wait to host our next big dinner! We also got a bunch of DVDs from Donald, the family art film lover, and a number of books. All in all, a terribly adult set of Christmas presents. :)

Christmas dinner included a set of Christmas crackers -- another tradition I associate with Britain and Dickens. (Can you tell that I love the fact that I married into a Scottish-American family?)

Proudly displaying the crowns included in the Christmas crackers

We both had a great time out in Indy for Christmas. It was great to have the whole family together!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Indianapolis

It's wonderful to be able to relax and be with family. :) Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas cards: Well, at least they got sent out...

Some background for this post: We've been crazy over-scheduled the last couple weeks. Normally, our evenings are pretty full -- we lead a small group on Monday nights, another on Wednesday nights, David leads a junior guys' Bible study on Thursday nights, and we have PEF Friday Night Fellowship on Fridays. But the last couple weeks, we've filled pretty much every single free night with a Christmas party or other event. Plus, we're starting a new ministry at our church, aimed at the twenties and thirties demographic -- so throw in an organizational meeting/Christmas party for that as well.

Don't get me wrong; we really enjoyed all of these events, and getting to spend some quality time with our dear friends. But by the time the weekend rolled around, we were kind of wiped out.

And we hadn't even started our Christmas cards yet.

See, one of the family traditions we started when we got married was an annual Christmas newsletter. We picked a fun picture of the two of us from some special moment during the year, and wrote up a summary of major events and life in general.

Our Christmas letters from 2006 and 2007

This year, we decided we wanted to do something a little different. We ordered Christmas photo cards, with our smiling faces on the front, and a standard Christmas greeting printed on the inside. We were then going to write up an abbreviated newsletter on pretty holiday paper, nest it in the cards, and then send them off. The original reasoning behind this was that we didn't really have a lot of news to share from this year, since nothing "major" happened, so we could get away with using half-sheet newsletters inside our pretty cards. So with this plan in mind, we designed and ordered our photo cards over Thanksgiving weekend.

I also decided that I wanted to hand-address our envelopes this year. I always felt bad, sending out a mass newsletter with printed labels to the 150+ people on our list -- it seems so impersonal, no? So we figured we'd try to cull the list down a bit this year, and the personal touch would be the hand-written address on the envelope.

So the tasks facing us as we went into this project on Sunday afternoon, all the time that was left for us, after having had a busy Saturday as well: (1) culling our Christmas card list; (2) me hand-addressing the envelopes (which couldn't efficiently happen until after we culled the list, right?); (3) writing the text for the insert; (4) designing and printing the insert; (5) using the PEF office paper cutter to cut the inserts in half; (6) nesting the inserts into the cards; (7) folding, stuffing, and sealing the cards; (8) buying stamps; (9) stamping the cards; and (10) bringing the cards to the post office.

In retrospect, I agree that that was a crazy idea.

We gamely set out on Sunday afternoon to get this all done. We very quickly hit Snag #1: we couldn't bring ourselves to make very many cuts to our list. The way we saw it, we could either cut the list down to just family and close friends (who already know the basic details of our lives), or we could view our Christmas letter as a once-yearly update to those we don't get to talk to very often. So after much going back and forth, we ended up with a list of 200. (Yes, that's higher than last year's list -- we added friends of ours who graduated from Princeton in '08. )

Armed with this list, I started addressing the envelopes. (Yes, I still decided to hand-address the envelopes. That was part of the plan!) And David sat down to write the insert -- he's the one who writes our newsletters, because he's a much better and funnier writer, in my opinion.

We then hit Snag #2: the holiday paper we had bought had a very pretty holly and ivy border -- which cut into the corners, such that a 1" margin all around would cause the text to be printed on top of the dark green and dark red design. So we had to fiddle with the document in Publisher and print out several test copies on regular paper before we were satisfied that the newsletter would be readable.

Finally, we put the special paper in our printer and sat back to relax while the printer did its thing. Snag #3:"its thing" consisted of pulling the paper through at an uneven rate, such that several sheets were printed an inch or two down the page from the top. And then run out of ink. But keep on "printing" until all 100 sheets had gone through the printer. Several of which consisted of just scattered spots and lines of ink -- i.e., totally ruined.

At this point, I was ready to just sit in the middle of the floor and cry. David talked me down off that ledge, though, and we tried to think through our available options. We had no special pretty paper left, I was very mad at our printer, and we were only about halfway through the addressing of our envelopes. And it was 6:30pm on Sunday night.

In the midst of this frustration, we had a sudden brainwave -- let's direct all our Christmas update recipients to this blog! It's certainly a more detailed account of the goings-on of our lives, so the people who actually want the update can come here to find it.

So we ended up just printing up cute little stickers to put in our Christmas cards, telling everyone to check out our blog.

Front and inside of our 2008 cards; click to enlarge

I'm afraid our Christmas cards this year ended up being even less personalized than usual, since we didn't even include an update in the cards themselves. So that's why we wanted to create this post -- to explain why our cards ended up they way they did, to give you all a little window into our lives... and to post the text of the update David had written for the cards!

Dear family and friends,

Merry Christmas from the Keddies! This past year has brought a sort of normalcy to us, with Christina spending her first full year as an attorney and David starting his fifth in campus ministry. Normal, though, means a vibrant and sometimes overwhelming life of long and unusual work hours, varied Bible studies and small groups, dinners and parties, travel and weddings.

Christina is enjoying her work as a corporate litigator with the Princeton office of [law firm]. As part of large teams of lawyers dealing with larger cases she’s yet to need to show up in court, but has plenty of experience writing deposition outlines, researching points of law and reviewing documents. Her primary clients are pharmaceutical companies defending against mass tort claims over alleged undisclosed side effects of products. Christina’s been privy to enough inside information to keep us from being allowed to sue half of corporate America thanks to the conflicts of interest!

David is still eager and energetic for the work of campus ministry at Princeton University. Whereas Christina works during the days and into the nights, David works during the nights and into the weekends... His focus is Bible studies with junior guys as well as sharing the teaching load at the ministry’s large group meetings. We also now minister together leading two small groups through our church, and are expanding them into a new ministry aimed at the twenties and thirties demographic. Any advice would be welcome!

We’re thankful for each one of you and welcome you to visit us in Princeton any time. If you’d like more regular updates on our life, feel free to friend us on Facebook and check out our new blog, http://keddiebears.blogspot.com.

With love,
David and Christina

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Traditions: The Tree in Palmer Square

Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, Princeton has its own tree lighting in Palmer Square, a very upscale stretch of boutiques across the street from the university. All the stores put up these beautiful garlands of fir boughs, pine cones, and red ribbon -- and since there are lots of stone archways throughout the square, there are tons of these garlands and lights everywhere. But the real highlight is the massive tree in the center of the square. It towers over all of the buildings, and is covered in thousands of lights.

So this is more of a town tradition than a Keddie family tradition... The only "family tradition" part of all of this is that every December, I walk by Palmer Square and tell myself I need to remember to take some pictures, and every December, I forget.

But not this year!

We made a date night of it tonight, with the specific purpose of walking to Palmer Square to take pictures. It actually snowed a bit this morning, and even though it had turned to rain by noon, there was still a little left on the ground tonight when we took our walk. It was a perfect, crisp, winter evening, snow crunching under our feet as we strolled down Nassau Street...

Yes, okay, so we made a stop at the bank before continuing on our romantic moonlit stroll. We've been so busy this week, with Christmas parties and other events, that we had to multitask a bit on our date night. But I was already in picture-taking mode, so here's an example of the garlands strewn about all over Palmer Square. Look how pretty it is!

We got to the square, and saw this poor guy all covered in snow... I think the statue is supposed to represent a university student, diligently reading while waiting at the bus stop. My dad always gets a kick out of this statue -- I can't tell you how many pictures we have of him sitting next to it, or of me and/or my brothers sitting around and/or on top of him. He's almost life-sized, so it almost works as a picture conceit...

Then we made it to Palmer Square proper. Isn't it quaint? Although it was all built at the same time, in the 1940s, as a part of an urban renewal project, the architects took the time (and had the money) to design each unit separately, with a mixture of styles and materials, so it looks like the buildings grew together over time. The stores are mostly super high-end boutiques, with the occasional chain store like Coach or Ralph Lauren -- so we only go there for window shopping purposes. They really do it all up right for Christmas!

And then, of course, the main attraction -- the Palmer Square tree. It's a massive old tree, with slightly thinning branches and shaggy greenery, so it looks a little sad in the summer. But in December, those seeming flaws come together to make for a stunning Christmas tree -- because of the thinning branches, you can see all the lights on both sides of the tree at once, since the lights on the opposite side shine through the gaps in the branches. And the shagginess of the greenery catches the light and looks majestic at night time. There's a metaphor in there somewhere (I'm thinking something along the lines of the Velveteen Rabbit), but instead of trying to be witty, I'll leave you with a picture of the tree itself:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Small Group Christmas Party!

David and I have been involved in a grad student / young professional small group through our church for the last several years. The leaders of our group, our dear friends Erik and Erin, moved out to New Mexico at the end of the summer, when Erik received his PhD -- and we miss them so much! They passed the baton on to us, so we're now leading two small groups. It's lots of fun -- we really love our groups! And it's such a blessing to us, being able to do ministry together.

Anyways, another one of our Christmas traditions is to bring the members of both groups together for an annual Christmas party. So last Saturday, we invited everyone over for a dessert extravaganza -- and wow, what an extravaganza it was! (We're still looking for ways to give away the leftover cookies...)

Desserts I made: sugar cookies with Christmas sprinkles, peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies, chocolate peppermint cookies (h/t Rachael Ray), and the cookie platter plus fudge, cheese tray and candy canes

And that was before our guests arrived, many bringing their own treats with them!

Some of our small group, plus Erik and Andrea's gingersnaps and date bars,
Emily's peppermint biscotti, and Carrie and Matt's Texas sheet cake.

Oh, and note the centerpiece on the table -- we finally figured out a way to get rid of all the extra cranberries and popcorn from our garlands. Here's a close-up of the centerpiece (and, incidentally, of the fudge):

One of the main "planned" activities for the party was a massive gingerbread house decorating undertaking. Michael's sells these gingerbread house kits, which have been a big hit at other parties we've gone to over the last few weeks, so we decided to jump on this bandwagon. :)

And a shot of the finished product:

The verdict: gingerbread house decorating is tons of fun, no matter how old you are!

We do really love our groups, and feel so blessed to be a part of this community!

(And we still have tons of cookies left over -- even after we brought them all to another Christmas party last night! So if any of you want any, please let us know!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Annual Ornaments

Another Christmas tradition we've started for our little family is getting one special ornament every year. So far, we've managed to find a meaningful ornament each year, which somehow encapsulates the happenings of that year.

For 2006, our first Christmas together, the year of our wedding, the choice was obvious. And when I saw this beautiful little ornament at the Lenox outlet, for 25% off, I knew this was the one. The ornament that would be the start of our new family's annual Christmas tradition. And hey, it kind of looks like us, too! Or at least, it looks more like us than the only other bride and groom option available from Lenox -- which was blond.

For 2007, the year I graduated from law school, we celebrated the end of an era -- no more commuting to New York three days a week! No more getting further and further into law school debt! An NYU Law ornament seemed fitting to commemorate this new chapter in our lives together. David really did live through the law school years with me, driving me to and from the train station every day, being my sounding board for legal concepts I was trying to get my head around, listening to my Bar/Bri bar review iPod lectures with me -- so this ornament memorializes a joint effort!

This year, we didn't really have any huge, defining, milestone moments in our marriage. It was a year of settling into our jobs and continued, gradual growth in our lives together. We weren't sure what kind of ornament would best encapsulate this year of our marriage. And then we saw this guy, and knew this was it:

It's a little brass model of the FitzRandolph gates, the gates that stand in front of Nassau Hall. These are the gates that seniors walk through on graduation day, symbolizing their exit from the nurturing arms of Princeton out into the real world. Tradition holds that if an undergrad is so bold and foolish as to walk through these gates, he will not graduate from Princeton. (Yeah, so, I totally broke that tradition too many times to count, especially on Communiversity weekend...)

So yes, David and I are both Princeton graduates. But this particular piece of Princeton tradition is fitting for 2008. This year, we realized that we had settled down here in Princeton, and made this little town our home. It's easy to think of Princeton as a transient locale, especially since the average resident lives here less than four years. For the first couple years of our marriage, we'd assumed that we would live in Princeton for a little bit, and then move on -- to Philadelphia, for David to go to seminary, and then to some other distant land, wherever David received a call to a church. But we've come to realize this year that we've really put down roots here in town. David still plans to go to seminary, but he'll likely take classes on a part time basis while continuing to work for PEF. My job situation is also really ideal -- being in a branch office of a large firm means that I get interesting and challenging work, but a much more relaxed office culture. We've also been so blessed with a rich community of friends here.

So the FitzRandolph gates ornament will forever remind us of 2008 -- the year we became townies. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Vespers 2008

We got to partake in my favorite Advent tradition this past Sunday -- the interfellowship Christmas Vespers service. Representatives from all of the evangelical groups on campus help put together a beautiful service of lessons and carols, reflecting on the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The organizing genius behind the service is Jamie Rankin, professor of German at the university, and also musician extraordinaire. He came up with the idea about ten years ago, arranged choral music and solos, and it's grown from there. It's always an evening of beautiful music and reflection on scripture (from creation, to fall, to the promises of a Messiah, to the birth of Christ) -- and it's also a really great opportunity to fellowship with believers from the different campus groups. Not to mention other Christians from the local churches.

David and I always sing in the Vespers choir. It's essentially a pick-up choir, which meets briefly for a couple run-through rehearsals before the service -- but what amazing musical talent these singers all have! (And it doesn't hurt that the acoustics in Rocky Common Room are amazing, and therefore quite forgiving...) It's the one time every year I get to do any choral singing, and it always reminds me of how much I miss it. Not that I really have time these days to do anything serious in music... I'm really just thankful that I can be a part of this choir every year!

I never really get any good pictures of this service, because (a) I'm in the choir, and (b) I wouldn't feel super comfortable clicking away in this setting. So here are a few pre-Vespers pictures:

Shots of the congregation, from the back and from the front, as people were coming in before the service began. You can get a sense of how beautiful the Common Room is -- I always feel that Vespers is exactly the right use of this room.

Some of the men in the choir, milling around before the service. The choir processes in at the beginning, singing an acappella, chant-like arrangement of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"; the men are lined up on one side, and the women on the other.

Just a few of the instrumentalists. This year, we had two guitarists, two violinists, two violists, two cellists, a flute, a djembe, and Jamie on the piano. You can see the chairs for the choir behind the strings, and the mics where the soloists and the readers stood.

Always a lovely way to refocus in the midst of the busyness of the Christmas season.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together
For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

PEF Christmas Party 2008

PEF had its annual Christmas party last night after Friday Night Fellowship. As always, it was a really fun night of fellowship and Christmas spirit -- complete with gingerbread houses and caroling! I've uploaded a bunch of pictures onto Facebook, but here's a brief run-down of some of our favorite moments from last night.

Just a small section of the amazing spread at the party... I love Christmas cookies. :)

One of the new events at the Christmas party this year was a gingerbread house making contest. We've had gingerbread house decorating in past years, but it was usually done with graham crackers, empty mini milk cartons, and tons of icing and candy. This year, the icing and candy remained, but we went with these amazing little gingerbread house kits. And wow, did the students deliver with creative and beautiful gingerbread creations!

The artists, hard at work.

Here are just a couple of the entries:

Gingerbread train and caboose; Nassau Hall, complete with ivy (click to enlarge)

I took a bunch of pictures of the gingerbread creations and their makers (all of which, again, are available on Facebook), but I had to post at least this one picture of proud undergrad gingerbread house architects:

Because, of course, the best part about making a gingerbread house is testing to be sure that your materials are sound.

My other favorite moment at PEF Christmas parties is the caroling. We all gather in the front room in Murray-Dodge, pass out the old carol books, and sing our hearts out.

Jamie Rankin, German professor and pianist extraordinaire

Part of the large circle of carolers

What a wonderful way to celebrate the incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Our Little Tree

One of the (many) things I love about the Advent season is getting to establish our own family Christmas traditions. Since we always spend Christmas with one set of parents or the other, we haven't really gone all out in terms of decorating our own little apartment... But we've slowly introduced a few annual traditions, which we add a little to every year. Last year, we finally bought ourselves a little artificial Christmas tree -- it's the perfect size for our apartment. And by "perfect size," I mean "fits on top of our subwoofer."

Isn't it cute?

This year, we decided to add a new tree-trimming tradition: stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands!

We approached this project as we approach all other projects -- by starting out with lots of internet research. I read Martha Stewart's directions, and several "fun crafts to do with little kids" websites, and figured I would split the difference. It was actually really easy, and lots of fun -- I think this new tradition is a keeper! And the garlands look really cute on our tree.

I totally overestimated the number of cranberries needed for our little Charlie Brown tree... David raised an eyebrow when I came back to the cart with three boxes of fresh cranberries, and looked quizzically at me when I tried to explain that Martha used nine boxes to decorate her 9' living room tree, so 3 boxes should be right for us... Next time, I'm totally listening to him. He's better at the numbers and stuff.

So after finishing the garlands for the tree, and looking at the two and a half leftover boxes of cranberries... I decided to keep going, and put garlands up elsewhere. :)

Garlands are now gracing our living room bookcases. I particularly like the way they look next to our Early Church Fathers set. :)

And we still have two full boxes of cranberries left. And loads of popcorn. So either I'm going to garland the entire apartment, or we'll be eating lots of homemade cranberry sauce this month...

More posts on our Christmas traditions to come soon!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hypochondriacs should not be pharmaceutical defense lawyers.

I never thought of myself as a hypochondriac. It's only weirdos like Howard Hughes (as depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio -- I really disliked that movie) and Woody Allen who get it in their heads that they're always sick, right?

Then I started this job.

One of the main reasons why big law firms have New Jersey offices is because many major pharmaceutical manufacturers are headquartered in this great state. So when I started working at my firm last year, they staffed me on one of the ongoing pharmaceutical mass torts, and I've been working in this group ever since.

The first mass tort I worked on involved a drug that allegedly caused plaintiffs to have heart attacks and strokes. As the most junior associate on the case, I was mostly tasked with reviewing plaintiffs' medical records and flagging things like pre-existing risk factors. Let me tell you, I learned a lot about heart attacks and strokes -- more than I ever wanted to know.

About a week into this assignment, I started to notice minor chest pains. Then I realized that the pains in my legs? The ones I had had off and on for years? Those must be blood clots! And oh no, was I feeling numbness in the left side of my face? Everybody stand back, I'm about to have a STROKE and DIE!!

Luckily, the client settled that litigation just a few weeks later. And mysteriously, my pre-stroke symptoms dissipated.

The next mass tort I was staffed on dealt with diabetes claims. Did you know that over 25% of Americans 20 years and older have impaired fasting glucose? And that you're at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of it? And that there were 5.7 million Americans with undiagnosed diabetes in 2007?

I spent weeks reading lab results and poring through medical records. One afternoon, I stood up a little too quickly from my desk, and felt a little lightheaded. Uh-0h, lightheadedness? This must be a sign of low blood sugar! My glucose is erratic! And wait a minute, my mother has type 2 diabetes! I must be one of the millions with undiagnosed diabetes! And I haven't had any insulin treatment, so surely I must be developing diabetic complications! I'm going to go into diabetic SHOCK and DIE!

And then I had my yearly physical. And, um, my glucose level was a mere 90. Well in the normal range. So I'm trying to keep that particular "sickness" in check.

Most recently, I've been working on a case where plaintiffs have suffered corneal infections. Many of these plaintiffs were contact lens wearers; many also suffered various forms of trauma to their eyes. So the records this time around are full not only of doctor's notes and lab results, but also beautiful full-color pictures of infected eyes pre- and post-corneal transplant. Not a particularly happy set of records to have to review.

Guess who no longer feels truly comfortable wearing her contact lenses?

It's safer this way!