The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
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Christmas 2017:
The annual report from Gideon Lawton Lane

Annual Christmas letters get a mixed reception: tossed unread, browsed lightly, responded to. In the aggregate, though, they have some historical value, some bits of information about who’s doing what. So here’s the archive.


Friday 15 December 2017    

Dear Friends,

We are barely three weeks into the holiday season and the Stollen count already stands at six. The total includes loaves that are new to the brand: one made in Richmond, where Susan, George, and Thomas are living in their new home, and the other in Brooklyn, where Anson and Reva are celebrating the holidays in their new apartment across the street from Prospect Park. And from Dan in Madrid comes a request for the family recipe that produces roasted butternut squash soup.

Calm, creative, principled, engaged living is a rare and increasingly precious commodity in these days of poisonous politics and low-life name-calling by people in high elected office. Quality of life is more important than ever, well worth cultivating. Home baking and cooking is not a bad place to start.

We’ve been adding to our fund of experience. In Venice for three days in late April, we were amazed at the crush of crowds but reliably informed that the high tourist season had not yet begun. We walked almost all day every day — did not set foot in a single gondola — and reveled in a city that has no automobile traffic. We visited the Doge’s Palace and other museums, to be sure, and were bowled over by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. But we also took a more relaxed tourist approach, stopping on bridges to study the Venetian equivalent of garbage trucks, delivery vans, police cars, taxis, and other quotidian transports, all waterborne. We dined well and healthily, photographed constantly, and thoroughly enjoyed our headquarters at the Hotel Metropole.

Barely a month later we suffered a relapse. Neither of us had ever wanted to go to Las Vegas, but that’s where our New York Times Canyonlands trip began in late May, which is how we ended up spending a night at the Venetian. Elderly songsters in gondolier costumes were working the lobby when we arrived. An escalator took visitors to the second floor, where, yes, one could board a gondola for a Disneyesque trip down the Grand Canal and a view of Venice at sunset. It was a reasonable facsimile except for the air conditioning grates visible in the evening sky. We stood for a while on a fake bridge, but didn’t step into a gondola there either.

The Canyonlands — Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante, Bear’s Ears (though at a distance) — was spectacular. The vistas defied capture by camera. The hiking, often with a vertical drop of half a mile or more (plus return climbs), left us exhilarated and exhausted. The New York Times arranged for a variety of Ph.D.-level guides to visit with us and talk about geology, flora and fauna, petroglyphs, anthropology and more, even an evening of astronomy in the desert with a half-dozen enormous telescopes, observing the rings of Saturn, moons of Jupiter, and astral clusters zillions of lightyears away.

Closer to home, the voices still work, and singing with the Providence Singers continues to be an amazing experience. We just released our fourth studio recording, Dan Forrest’s Requiem for the Living, a deceptively powerful work.

We’re pleasantly amazed that the morning exercise routine continues Monday-Wednesday-Friday at the gym. We find ourselves laughing a whole lot more and have no idea why, considering everything the daily news offers up for our attention. But laughter is a whole lot better than the alternative.

Workmen have been here. They sawed off our decrepit deck and built a new one entirely of sustainably harvested Brazilian hardwood, trimmed in mahogany. We found an Old World stone mason, who laid a new driveway of, yes, Venetian pavers with a granite perimeter. Buried pipes now carry rainwater from downspouts out toward the street, so the homestead is drier now and looking a lot younger than its 32 years.

The garden is now lighted, both with soft-white floodlights and yellow bug lights, a project we began on the day of the solar eclipse. The patio now has an exotic golden glow in the evening. The garden itself furnished us with a year’s supply of rhubarb butter, nearly 20 pounds of sauerkraut (our homage to Frau Erica), four dozen jars of sour cherry jam and jelly, jalapeño jam, pickled beets, popcorn, squash and so forth. There is also a new rack for firewood, with a bed made of crushed white marble. (That would have been an extravagance, but it was also the cheapest option among the gravels at the Middletown Home Depot.)

We hope this finds you and yours healthy and happy, unfazed by the nasty headwinds of national and international news, and looking forward as we are to gentler times and enjoyable visits with family and close friends.

With love,

Mark and Alli
mark-nickel@cox.net
401-835-1913
allison-mcmillan@cox.net
401-225-3659