Hello everyone, and Happy Holidays to all from the Willamette Valley, the Christmas tree capital of the USA! Have you got your tree yet? We’re still browsing the dozens of farms within driving range of our house, and also the Christmas sections of the local home improvement stores, where quality plastic trees are grown. Back in the day, we could never have considered an artificial tree. Blasphemy! A fresh Christmas tree was part of our holiday religion, along with homemade chocolates and this Christmas letter, mailed out before January and on physical paper. But, just as all of you have seen in your lives, my priorities have drifted as I have struggled to find time to decorate and festivate between creating my holiday Pandora stations and hiding from my children.
So a plastic tree may be anti-Oregonian, but would definitely allow more time for eating the chocolate I intended to put in my kids’ stockings. The decision is not made for this year, but we do already own a small auxiliary plastic tree which we bought on sale after Christmas a few years back. Putting this one up early takes the pressure off the timing of when to buy the real tree.
Now for the news:
Our family has been growing this year!
Kimber and Ray brought baby Ben into the family, and not to be out-done, McKay brought Myles in. He is not as beautiful as Ben, but he’s definitely bigger, so she gets points. They were married the week of Thanksgiving. After the ceremony, Kimber said to me, “Dad: two down, three to go!” I’m not sure that was a joyous thought! They’re all so young! Gary Huxford, an admired friend, gave me the perspective I really needed: “Don’t think of it as losing a daughter, think of it as gaining a bathroom!”
The other kids will in fact find the bathroom competition less fierce. But on the downside, McKay was one of our better bathroom cleaners.
It has definitely been hard letting go, especially since the distance will be much farther than with Kimber. Last month in our family prayer I mentioned McKay’s upcoming wedding and began to cry. Then the kids began laughing at me, and I began laughing at myself, while still crying. Then Chad, who recently had oral surgery and finds smiling painful, began chiming in to the now stalled prayer, “Ha ha . . . ow! Stop it! . . . Ha ha . . . ow!” The situation became increasingly desperate, as I was now laughing at Chad as well as myself. The sanctity of the family prayer was at stake. Knowing I wasn’t going to get the job done, I begged, in a laugh-cry-choke-pray sort of squawk, “someone please take over for me!”
After a few more seconds of unsuccessfully stifled giggles, Wendy had enough composure to grab the controls and drag the prayer across the finish line before the fuel tank exploded.
Speaking of laughter, I have often postulated that God must have a sense of humor. To my mind that has been proved this week. On Monday as we were setting up the wedding it rained something like five inches – enough to overwhelm the drainage trench and sump pump at our house (not the worst of the problems around town), and pretty soon half the wedding prep volunteers became flood control volunteers. The always-amazing Jessops saved the day with sandbags from the city, and luck / God saved the Jessops from 7500 volts.
Then on the Wedding day we had the start of regular drizzling November day. Expectations for photos outside the temple were low, but – miracle of miracles! – the sun was blazing after the temple ceremony! We got everyone outside, from babies to grannies, and just as the first photo was shot, we went into the soak cycle. God has great comic timing! Alexa Tadlock, in the great Mabee tradition, said, “well, it is a WET-ing, isn’t it?”
McKay and Myles honeymooned their way from Oregon to New Mexico, where they will be living for the next few months while he finishes up school. He’s a great kid and we’re glad to have him in the family. I don’t think he knows what he’s gotten himself into yet.
Prior to her Wedding in November, Mckay’s year included education at the Oregon School of Massage and a job at Jamba Juice. I had never heard of Jamba Juice before McKay worked there. Now the nice young ladies on the night shift know me as McKay’s dad and Chad as her sister. They also know that a “Chad Special” is a Berry Upbeet with Daily Vitamin and Weight Burner boosters.
Chad has earned a reputation for consistency this year. He put himself on a controlled, healthy, balanced diet, and has never departed from it. He lost 80 pounds and is by far the fittest person in the family. If we’re having desert and he wants to cheat, he will simply ask to smell our treats. There was a day he worried me though: he picked up two M&Ms off the table, and just when I thought he was going to break his commitment, he put them up his nostrils and shot them at his sister. What a relief.
Besides being consistently healthy, Chad is also consistently fun. He composed the great song, “Let those poopies out!” in honor of our little friend Case, who was potty training this year and had trouble “letting go”.
Between the music and the fitness, he also has time for fashion consulting.
“Dad, pull out your shirt! You look like a dork with your shirt tucked in. Don’t wear black socks with athletic shoes! Don’t wear dress shoes with jeans!”
He probably wouldn’t want me wearing dress shoes with athletic shorts either. I think I’m going to need his coaching for a long time. He is far more aware than I am of what looks good or bad. Then again you should have seen him dressed as “super fan”, or wearing Hannah’s “Party Pants”, or getting his back waxed.
In the spring Chad and Lilli and Hannah all participated in the High School production of “Honk, Jr.” (the ugly duckling story). It was his first and probably last high school musical. He did a great job as a happy, mellow-but-not-stoned frog. Lilli was a duckling and Hannah was some other kind of bird, and she was very birdlike.
She was very eel-like when she was in the “Little Mermaid, Jr.” this fall. She is still a great singer and now has an important role in the musical “Once upon a Mattress”. We’ll tell you more about that next year. She wouldn’t want me making a big deal out of it. Apparently I’m a bit of a stage parent. But hey, I haven’t driven her to American Idol auditions yet, so I think I’m a model of restraint!
Hannah has been a great sister to everyone, and is usually helpful in all the right ways. She is happy all the time and is the only teenager I’ve ever been well-acquainted with who has the ability to laugh at herself. She makes friends easily, and met a really nice boy while we were camping at the coast. The story starts out kind of romantically, where they found each other because they were randomly using the same radio channel on the walkie talkies. Pretty soon Zach bicycled over with a big group of friends who all wanted to meet Hannah. There were all about 8 years old, but Hannah made them feel all grown up.
She was given a ukulele last Christmas, and Chad gave her some lessons, but so far she prefers the piano. In the spring they had a community talent show, and she sang and played the piano. Chad rocked the house with Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukulele, and Lillian competed with her dance teacher doing a tap dance. Surprise of the night was that Lillian came home with first place!
Lilli is doing great! She’s our only home school student at the moment. She studies, works, pretends, plays, dances and sings her way through the day. OK, I’m being generous about the “work” part of that equation, but it does happen occasionally.
She and I did an overnight backpacking trip in August, and she was an absolutely delightful partner. Here are a few of her observations during that trip, during which she talked almost constantly:
* (store stop) Dad, change your shoes before someone sees you!
* (in selecting a hat, which I thought was to keep the sun off) I need to look adventurous and cool!
* (as we’re driving to the trailhead) I’m so excited . . . I’m losing my excitement . . . real fast . . . OK, I got some excitement back!
* (during the hike in) I’m not having fun at all. The backpack is not fun, just running around and climbing boulders will be fun. . . . And fishing, and playing with other kids.
* (after taking many, many, stops on the hike in) I’m an adventurer! I only take important stops! . . . well, NOW I do.
* Dad! Your legs are longer than mine! I’m short if you haven’t noticed! Take shorter steps and fewer of them!
* I’m going to list everything that hurts! (and she did)
On the hike out we were both commenting on how much quicker the hike was going than on the way in. I said, well, it’s downhill and our packs are lighter. She said, “yes, and I’m not complaining the whole way like I did on the way in.” Truer words were never spoken! I hope to go on many more hikes with Lilli and whoever else will go over the next 30 years!
Lilli helped me get ready for a big hike in Northern Idaho with Jim and Ethan Hewitt. The three of us packed to some secluded lakes at around the 7500-foot level. Granite and quartz boulders; pine and aspen; wild plants of a million varieties including celery and several kinds of berries. Clear lakes and relatively blue skies – there was a lot of smoke from forest fires, but it was thinner at our elevation; warm days and cool nights; lots of fish biting; great food created by Chef Jim. And plenty of strenuous exercise, for those who like that sort of thing.
Aside from my backpacking adventures, several of my Saturdays were occupied with the Front Entry Safety Project. I poured a concrete walkway from the front porch to the driveway, replaced the stairway and added railings, and trimmed and painted the porch. I had to think long and hard about it, but I decided that nine years after building the porch it was not too soon to finish the job.
I hate to admit it but I had put off the walkway job for several years for one reason or another. Three years ago Hannah broke her foot on the stepping stones that were there but I still didn’t get it done. I sorta kinda had the intention to do it this year, but then Wendy tore her Achilles tendon the same way Hannah got hurt, and that changed everything. Only by getting on it quickly could I possibly prevent the injury that was likely coming next . . . probably to my right eye since Wendy is left handed and she is the daughter of a boxer.
Wendy had a great year and was as busy as ever. Her additional commitment this year was CET (Children’s Educational Theater). She taught technical classes and was the technical director for six shows. Lilli was able to attend this camp too. Hannah I went and helped with set construction and it was a good family experience.
She designed the sets for the high school productions again this year. My favorite was Cinderella. She is a stickler for detail, and probably 300 man-hours of painting went into it. Cinderella’s home was vividly painted, and it would rotate out and become a shop or disappear altogether. It is great to see the community coming out to support these shows and the high school kids getting great experience.
We both enjoy taking in theatrical performances, and luckily we live close enough to Portland to go see the Broadway touring series that comes there. We saw some fun shows this year, and they provide some inspiration for Wendy’s sets and lighting ideas. In October we were realizing we might not have much chance to celebrate our anniversary because of the timing of McKay’s wedding. So we agreed we would just skip it this year – just go out to dinner or something. But THEN I heard that Sweeney Todd was playing at Portland Center Stage, and, knowing this is one of Wendy’s favorite shows, I took the opportunity to be sneaky! . . . In a good way, for once.
So I took the day off work and peeked into her calendar to be sure I wouldn’t disrupt her schedule too much, and I took her to Portland without telling her what we were going to see. She wasn’t very cooperative at first. She thought she might be heading to an art exhibit or Ice Capades, (not sure why she’d drag her feet for those, but anyways . . . ) she screamed with delight when she saw the sign for Sweeney Todd, and I knew that I HAD SCORED! It’s not every day a couple gets to enjoy such deep and ugly irony, and we thoroughly loved it. Brutal abuse, retribution, bloody murders, beautiful music, and a barber shop. You might say it’s barBERic! Ha ha!
We did eventually get around to buying each other anniversary presents: his and hers cordless drills! And it was HER idea! I LOVE this woman!
In June we went to the Canon Beach sandcastle competition. Several of our kids were participants on the Jessop team. The 4 day trip started out to be a very wet one, but eventually dried out. Myles came to visit McKay and get to know us a little better; Chad bicycled up and down the coast; I ate a LOT of marshmallows.
It was baby Ben’s first camping trip and he had fun! Kimber is such a sweet mom, and Ray is a loving daddy! They are building a solid family, and he is a lucky boy with so much extended family close by. He is a funny kid! He is now 9 months old and finally has his first two teeth. But meanwhile he is already walking. He is a little shy and both his conversations and his complaints are subdued.
Kimber shares her amazing talents in sewing, dancing, writing and art, and makes us all happy. Raymond is now a bus-driver – the perfect job for a gentle, giant, mechanically minded guy who needs a little fallback from software writing. He made a game for the Android phone, called Space Chaser. It is pretty cool because you control the ship by tilting the phone. He had some problems with it at first – he said it had a memory leak. I know all about memory leaks. That’s why I have to carry my blackberry wherever I go, because mine leaks like a sieve and the only way I will follow through on a great idea or even a promise is if I create a reminder. But Ray is not forgetful and neither is his spaceship. I think a memory leak in programming is where you forget to put something away after you used it. That is also a problem I have, but not as commonly as misplacing things.
In June I came out of a store and could not find the car. I checked the blackberry, but I had not left a note saying where it was. Noticing my confusion, several people walked up to me and said, “Is THAT your car?” It was parked innocently 30 yards away in the store’s driveway, where even at my most sleepy and distracted I wouldn’t have left it. There must be a malfunction.
I suspect the air conditioning.
You see, if you arrive at your destination while an interesting story is playing on talk radio, you have to put the car in neutral and leave the car running to enjoy the air conditioning while you listen to the end of the story. This is an older model, and the radio and air conditioning not integrated to the parking brake, and thus the car was able to roll away from the place where I parked it.
After the November election I have given up listening to talk radio. Problem solved.
So there you have it, the most newsworthy events of our family’s year neatly summarized in one letter.
May you have a joyful and peaceful Christmas and a successful new year!
John, Wendy, and Family
And a bonus tip for your quality holiday: when you buy your fresh Christmas tree, be sure to give it a fresh cut to keep it green, and then look at the newly exposed wood for the Made in Oregon insignia.