What a whirlwind year this has been! Sometimes I wish the "Y2K" bug had struck last winter and given us a bit of a break from the regular routine. While it's been busy, this has been a good year, though--as I hope it has also been for each of you.
It's amazing to think that Thanksgiving marked the start of my 18th year on the staff of Bishop Garrigan High School. I really like this year's senior class, but it's hard to believe they were born the year I started teaching. My schedule changed a bit this year. For more than a decade I'd been teaching Geometry. This fall, I dropped that class for Algebra. I can't say I like that as well, but it's probably good to get out of a rut.
One big plus is that after taking a class last summer, I've now moved over to the highest position on our salary schedule (M.A.+15). Combining that with a big donation the school got to help improve teachers' salaries, I got the biggest raise in my life this year. A smaller, but also much appreciated bonus, is that I now have a good computer in my room at school. In fact, I'm writing this letter at school, while my students are taking a test.
I still keep busy with a variety of activities. After a few off years, our quiz bowl team has been a bit more successful this season. Each fall we host an enormous quiz bowl tournament here at Garrigan. It's a lot of work to set up; but the kids really enjoy it, and it's fun to see a lot of my family when they come up here to help out. I'm pleased to say that we always get lots of compliments on the tournament, too. It really is one of the best run quiz bowl competitions anywhere.
Another big activity is speech. We had a very good year, including a trip to the All-State festival. Each winter we host the district speech contest, and this year for the first time I was in charge of figuring out the schedule. It was a lot of work, but the contest turned out very well. Related to speech is the "Bear Facts" radio show, which I am in charge of producing each week. I hear lots of nice comments about the show, especially from older people who use it as a way to keep in touch with what's going on at school.
Probably my most time-consuming activity is student council-which involves organizing Homecoming, overseeing our magazine fundraiser, and supervising the intramural basketball program. On top of that, I'm in charge of keeping up the school website (which the kids have done a great job of updating this fall), I'm the P.A. announcer at football games, and starting this year I'm co-chairing out district's school improvement committee. It adds up to a lot of work, but I suppose it keeps me out of trouble.
When I'm not at Garrigan, I continue to work as an adjunct instructor at Iowa Lakes Community College. I've been working there eight years now, and at one time or another I've taught virtually every math class they offer. I really like the wide variety of students I see at Iowa Lakes-everything from accelerated high school kids to adults in their 60s-and it's a lot less work for substantially more money than I earn at the high school.
As gas prices soared to new records this past year, I put lots and lots of miles on my car. Much of that was just shuttling back and forth to Spencer, where I taught one of my Iowa Lakes classes. I also took several long weekend getaways. The first was right after Christmas last year, when I went down to St. Louis. While there I saw my first-ever hockey game, which I enjoyed immensely. I also made repeated trips to Chicago (where I almost feel like a local now), and I went on hiking trips to the Black Hills and to Effigy Mounds. The last of these trips was right after Thanksgiving, when I also got the first traffic ticket of my life. I was driving with traffic on a four-lane stretch of U.S. 218 north of Cedar Falls, which apparently still has a 55-mph speed limit. It made me long for the "good old days" when I started driving. Then the maximum on every road was 55, and you didn't have to wonder what the speed limit was in a given area. Oh well-it's not like there haven't been any number of other times I deserved a ticket, but didn't get one. I guess things even out.
The big event of the summer was the trip Margaret and I took out east at the beginning of August. We took the train out to Boston, where we got in touch with our family's Pilgrim roots. Then we went down to Philadelphia, where we spent another couple of days experiencing history. Some of you have read my travelogue about the trip, including our unfortunate experiences on the train to Boston. The good news is that after complaining to them, Amtrak chose to apologize to us in the form of a large certificate good toward future travel. That means that right now I'm planning another train trip for next summer-this time going over the Rockies to California.
When I'm not busy with school or gallivanting around the country, I help out at my church where I serve as the primary worship leader and also am on the board of directors. I'm also still on the board for the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Currently I serve as newsletter editor and webmaster for the group's home on the internet.
The internet is one of the chief ways I relax in my free time, too. I enjoy planning trips online when I travel, taking care of my personal website, or just exploring cyberspace to find out new things. When I'm not online, I enjoy such things as reading and that great American passtime-watching television. I've really gotten into the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire craze, calling their toll-free number whenever it's available. Two dozen times I've made it through their phone quiz (with three increasingly difficult questions), but they've never called me back. The calls are free, though, and I'll certainly keep trying.
The family is doing pretty well. Steve's life is settling down a bit, after a couple of hectic, tense years. Leap Year Day last February marked the fourth (or first, depending on your point of view) anniversary of their adopting the kids, and they had a big get-together to celebrate the milestone. Steve is now working at Pella Windows, and Terry teaches Spanish at a little school near Oskaloosa. This fall she tried her hand at directing a play for the first time, and I was pleased to go down there to see a very nice production of the mystery parody Done to Death.
Paul and Nancy are as busy as ever. It reminds me of how long I've been teaching to realize that Rachel, who was in diapers when I was staying with Paul as I student taught, will be graduating in May. In addition to teaching, Paul is now the full-time lay minister at a small Methodist church near Ottumwa. I had the opportunity to hear him preach this fall, and he did a wonderful job.
I see the least of John and Janet, but things seem to be going well for them. Janet has a new job, as an executive assistant to the president of an insurance company. She finds it far less stressful (and far more money) than being a travel agent. John continues teaching English at Andrew. I was pleased to get a chance to visit with him briefly at all-state last spring.
I talk with Margaret almost every week on the phone. She had thyroid surgery this fall. She's still overly tired, but seems to be coming along all right in her recovery. She lives in Decorah and enjoys eating out and going to plays when she's not busy correcting papers. Since it's the year the rest of the family is at their in-laws for the holidays, she and I are planning a quick, cheap trip southward at Christmas. We're planning to spend Christmas itself on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, near where I went to graduate school. Then we'll spend a couple of days in New Orleans before heading back north. It will be a different sort of holiday, but it should be enjoyable.
I hope the holidays are enjoyable for each of you, too. My wish for everyone is that you may have a great Christmas season, and that 2001 will bring wonderful things to you and to our world. Best wishes to you!
The background music on this page is "Welcome Christmas", as sung by the Whos in the Dr. Seuss animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas.