My 2014 Holiday Letter: Shades of Grey

Dear all,

The card’s in the mail, the holiday letter’s on the blog. Ah yes, 2014. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . no, been used. And truly, that doesn’t cut it. Because while we all experience bests and worsts, they’re rarely just that, right? Life is complicated. There’s all kinds of shades of grey to contend with in the span of a year.

Take sleep. It always seems to fall by the wayside. Which is a shame, because we are all better with sleep. Sneaky stuff like work and Spanish quizzes interfere. But then again, so do good fiction and riveting tv and late nights with good friends. So here’s to more ZZZZZs in 2015, knowing that sometimes we give up sleep for a good cause.

Then there’s school. I’m not going to lie, the new elementary school grading system makes me crazy. Instead of As, Bs and Cs, the kids now mostly get “Ps” for proficient, which basically covers work that falls in the 70-98 percent range. There’s also an “ES” for “extra superior” or “exceptionally special” or something like that; an ES is harder to earn than a sports trophy was in the 70s. (Yes, I’m still bitter—the children each have like 37 trophies, I’m still waiting.) But there’s much to like about school too. My kids have some outstanding teachers; true guides who lead them to research and question and analyze and write really good stuff. And then there are the classmates: peers who are smart and funny and energetic—who have a light in their eyes that gives one hope for the future. That’s a blessing.

Like many families, we were saddened by the loss of family and friends in 2014. What we can appreciate, with a little distance, is how they continue to teach us. At a service for my mother’s dear friend, we reflected on Carolyn’s ability to be still, to listen fully and engage wholly with that one person or task before her. The story made me picture her roses. Carolyn was a careful and patient gardener and her flowers responded, the most beautiful in all the land.

In the world of freelance/novel writing, I’m learning that patience is a virtue and focus is essential and since neither of those are my strong points, there have been bumps. But time and wise women like Carolyn remind me to be a patient gardener and focus on my work, one word at a time.

There are areas, of course, where there is no grey, like our household’s ongoing dispute on how best to load a dishwasher. My methodology has knives and fork prongs facing down, for safety and better cleaning. The husband prefers the “blades up, living on the edge” position. But even here, we both know that’s a small thing in the scheme of things; that it’s something to laugh over. Unless, sadly, someone gets cut, which can only happen with his version.

Now here’s a hard one: how does one face a wider world that’s not only complicated, but sometimes scary?  I’m not going to lie, with each heartbreaking news story, I have that gut instinct to hunker down and hold my family close in a tight little bubble of  love and protection. Of course, it would never work. Because if you know my family, you know the children would take each other down after 3 days. And my husband or I would raise our voices and the wine would run out and it would get ugly around here, fast.

Plus—and I’ll repeat it over and over—the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself. Because it’s usually the bad stuff that makes the news, while the good just plays out quietly in communities across the world. So here in O’Keefe-land, we’ll talk to our kids about the news; we’ll discuss ways things can be made better. Take Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzei, a teen who’s started a campaign to end child marriage and labor and enhance access to education for all. She’s hope personified.

The truth is, leaving our own worlds for a look beyond is truly enlightening, whether we find that space in books, film, art or trips. My family gained new perspective this summer traveling out west, in conversations with hikers and Harley riders and bus drivers and baseball ushers. We saw marvelous sights and read glorious books and yep, we bickered and sobbed, lost wi-fi and got blisters and had an altogether excellent time, except when we were grumpy pants.

Colorado, last leg on amazing trip. Kids fought all the way up the mountain over music choices. There’s your grey.

Colorado, last leg on amazing trip. Kids fought all the way up the mountain over music choices. There’s your grey.

So it’s good, I think, to set a goal of being informed, open, and ready to face new experiences—the best and the worst, with lots of grey thrown in there. 2014 was that kind of year for us, and I look forward to many more such years. And maybe a little more sleep, if possible.

Cheers and happy holidays,



Reprinted with permission by Kristin O’Keefe from her blog, Dreadfully Busy

Kristin has worked as a bartender in Scotland and a speechwriter for college presidents. She’s currently a highly underpaid blogger at and an aspiring novelist. In her spare time she carts her two children around the D.C. metro area in a duct-taped minivan. Kristin’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and McSweeney’s. While she is dreadfully busy, she tries to find time to read the work of smart, funny women. That’s a lot of reading.

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