Family Christmas Letter, 2011

This has been a year of change.  Jon’s graduation came up too fast and January spun into May in a blur of scholastics and firefighting.  The idea of apprenticing with Uncle Barry in California surfaced, and within twenty days, his graduation party happened and he was gone.  When the dust settled, the house had changed dramatically.   More than just the move-around of rooms, we realized how Jon’s strong personality had driven much of our days.  I was excited and deflated all at once.

Jon had the whole world opening before him and a chance to see how another family worked.  The other kids had the opportunity to test their wings without his oversight and commentary.  The first thing they saw was how many of the household chores he had been doing as a matter of course.   As Jon readjusted to life outside the home as an adult but still under a family roof,  progress reports on my childrearing and homeschooling began coming in.  I thank the Lord my brother was honest with me about what he saw.  He challenged me to re-look at what we’re doing.  Summer turned into a basic retraining intensive.  I also saw that some of my foundational goals for homeschooling had been achieved.  While they didn’t score any points with the relatives, I was encouraged.

 Meanwhile, Jon was a fish out of water.  Dropping techno-happy, 19-year old Jon into the world of antiquities was like dropping Bill Gates into the Civil War era.  Jon lives for computers and “bleeding-edge” technology – his mechanical skills just allow him to use them efficiently.   He learned new skills and honed old ones with his talented Uncle Barry, who also steered him to his first car.  He bought a ’98 Mercury Mountaineer and eventually drove it back home from California.  That was a cool trip: he spent some time with Grandma & Grandpa Elving in Murrieta, CA and toured the USS Midway with them.  From there, he went to spend a weekend with his Aunt Amy, Uncle Kolby, and Grandma & Grandpa Bryant near Phoenix.   It was another day’s drive to the White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo, NM, to spend the night with Dad, who was there on a business trip.  Texas tested him and his truck with every type of weather it could imagine for his final day on the road.  I was happy that he had a warm bed and a hot shower for each leg of his trip – I’ve never had that luxury, and it really helps.  He’s decided, now that he’s done farming, auto restoration, and home renovation (another live-in work opportunity this year), that he wants to pursue a more technologically driven field and college in the fall.

David missed his brother terribly and didn’t want to “become him”, as he thought would be required.   He eventually developed his own brand of hands-on household maintenance, totally different from Jon but just as essential.  He took up rock climbing for a while, and really enjoyed it.  It’s just a bit expensive for someone without regular income.  While he was figuring out who and what he wanted to be, he began spending a good deal of time stargazing on our roof.  One night, he noticed a lot of cracking in the ground that could turn an ankle where he normally lands, so chose a different route down.  He  jumped onto the driveway and nearly broke both heels.  He was on crutches for several weeks and didn’t walk normally for a month.    He’s finally decided to pursue firefighting for himself, instead of merely following Jon or Dad.  He completed the Cadet Academy over the summer and expects to graduate from his Firefighter 1 class in February.  He is working toward full certification as soon as he graduates from cadet status on his way to TAMU.

Faith has really grown into a lady.  She turns 15 this year and her dog, Sheba, is still the center of her universe.  We had thought, because Sheba has birth defects, that she was infertile.  She wasn’t, and presented us with a most colorful litter of puppies at the first of the year.  The puppies were a lot of work; 6 of the 7 were males, and there was a lot of rough and tumble.  We lost two to a nasty illness that was never identified.  Faith proved herself to be a lot stronger than she wanted to be, caring for all of it.  She enjoys rock climbing with Dave, playing with her hamster, or walking Sheba.  She despises Geometry, although she’s very good at it.

Michael turned 13 this month.  Algebra is the most memorable part of his year.  He has struggled mightily and is finally claiming it for his own.   He enjoys computer games, playing with technology, and target shooting with his airsoft rifle.  He spends a lot of time honing his foreign accents, facial expressions, and mannerisms into interesting characters.   His quick wit brings these out at the most unexpected times and keeps us on our toes.  My favorite moment was when I couldn’t find Faith one afternoon, so I asked Michael if she was out back or if she’d just vanished.  He never looked up from the cookie dough he was stirring.  “Well, either that, or my buyer came through.”   It took me a moment to register before I fell over laughing.

Tommy is now 9.  He has really taken off with reading and is ploughing through all the Pathway Readers in his spare time.  Schoolwork comes so easily to him that I have trouble keeping him occupied.  He is usually off on his bike someplace, and all the neighbors know him.  He was out watching a neighbor bale a field one day, and got invited to ride in the big, new, air-conditioned tractor and learn how it all worked.  Another day, though, he went to watch heavy graders too close to the highway construction site.  A couple workers and the local constable backed him off the road a bit and then called me to come get him.  He’s the first of my children to have a run-in with  the police.   Hmm – not sure that’s positively notable!  We’ve found him some more worthwhile pursuits closer to home.

Rachel was with Tommy on that excursion, safely strapped into the bicycle trailer hitched behind his bike.  She loves spending time with her brothers, although riding on Jon’s shoulders is probably her favorite.  She is beginning to read and write and loves to put her spelling words on the white board next to Tom’s.  She will help anyone who will have her to  cook, and is quite the able kitchen assistant.  She lost her first tooth last month.  I don’t know if I’m happy or sad that my baby has hit her first real milestone on the way to adulthood.

Bob has traveled a lot this year, away from home nearly 60% of the last 5 months.  But that means business is good, and he’s been able to visit his sister, Beth, twice, and his parents once.  When he’s home, he’s very active still with the fire department and even earned Board Member of the Year for 2011.  He was out of town for the ceremony, so Tommy was honored to accept the award and handsome utility knife for him.  Bob may never see that shiny little implement again….  (just kidding!)

God blessed me with a new walking partner this year – Jake, one of Sheba’s pups.  After reminding the kids incessantly that we were not keeping any, I’m the one that did.  Oh, well – he’s diligent in waking me every morning, rain or shine, and encourages me to go farther and faster than I’d ever do on my own.   It’s a hoot to watch him bound around in search of bunnies and keeps me laughing through my daily exercise.  This is good time to mull over my thoughts, pray, or just enjoy the morning before the daily routine begins.

May the gift of the infant Lord grow to bless you in the coming year –

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