greetings one and all,
As I put up Christmas decorations this winter, I pondered just what a time of traditions the holidays are. Near the top of my tree you'll find the old cross of glass balls my parents had when they celebrated their first Christmas together after World War II, and on the door of my apartment you'll see the pine cone wreath that hung on our front door when we lived in Michigan back in the '60s. I still outline my windows with multi-colored lights, just as I've done every Christmas since I was in college; and I still hang a paper chain with the students' names from the lights of my room at school, a tradition I started 21 Christmases ago. Another old tradition is this holiday letter, bringing wishes to friends and relatives and updating you on what has transpired in the past year.
Last Christmas we had an extra-long holiday break (two full weeks), which gave me the opportunity to do a bit of traveling. I headed down to St. Louis, where I saw my first-ever professional football game, and then went over to Chicago where I saw the outstanding musical Hairspray. Our family Christmas was at Steve and Terry's house down in Oskaloosa. Some recent family events made it a bit bittersweet, but it was certainly good to see everyone.
I traveled quite a bit more through the year. We had what amounted to an actual spring break this year, and I took the opportunity to see a basketball game up in Minneapolis and then catch the St. Patrick's festivities in Chicago. Then at Memorial Day my sister Margaret and I went to see our brother Steve in Florida. While there we made a quick, but most enjoyable side-trip to the Everglades and Key West. I took the quiz bowl team out to Washington, D.C. in June, and in August I went down to Alabama to see a former student of mine play AA baseball. An unexpected bonus was visiting with several of his classmates from Garrigan who were down there at the same time.
I'm looking forward to more travel at the holidays. This is the year all the married members of our family are at their in-laws for Christmas, so Margaret and I are planning to go off on our own. We'll be taking Amtrak out to Portland, Oregon. That's one of the few places in America I've never been before, and I'm definitely looking forward to it. I've also heard the train trip through the mountains in winter is supposed to be spectacular, and hopefully it will be. In the coming year I'm planning to make separate short trips to New York and California.
I was able to pay the bills for all that travel from working my tail off in my secondary job at Iowa Lakes Community College. I taught two very full Statistics sections last spring, both Stats and a Finite Math class in summer, and a new course I've never taught before-Math for General Ed-this fall. Every one of my classes this year has been over the college's TV system, with students in five different towns around the area. That requires me to be extremely organized, but for the most part it works okay.
My main job, of course, is still at Bishop Garrigan High School, where I just began my twenty-second year. There's times when it seems much longer than that and other times when it seems as if I started yesterday. In addition to teaching algebra and advanced math, I continue to work with speech (and the fall "extravaganza" where I served as MC and has a small character role), student council (where we totally re-vamped homecoming and also completed a big project installing doors on the stalls of the boys restrooms at school), intramural basketball, broadcasting, and the school website. I'm also the PA announcer at football games and the official scorer for track meets, and I enjoy watching the kids play basketball and baseball or run cross-country.
My biggest activity is probably quiz bowl, where the #1 duty is organizing the enormous tournament we host each fall. With sixty-six teams, it's the largest event of its kind in Iowa. I write eight rounds of questions myself, which saves money and also gives me control over the content and difficulty. We had some additional quiz bowl events this past year, too. We participated in a special charity event last winter, and we also held the "Bishop Garrigan Trivia Challenge" as a way of raising some money for the kids going to national quiz bowl. The national tournament was a special thrill for the kids this year, since our superintendent and his wife flew out to Washington to watch the kids (who proceeded to win in front of a "real" audience) and treat them to a special dinner. It's looking fairly likely that we'll be going to nationals again this coming summer (our eighth trip to the event), this time in Chicago.
I continue to be active in the First Congregational Church, which is pushing harder to bill itself as part of the United Church of Christ-now that the UCC is advertising nationally. I lead prayers each week as "worship leader" and I'm the person who prepares communion at church. (I'm not sure I really knew anyone did that until I took over the duty.) Last February the church put on a one-act play in lieu of the sermon one week, and I also starred in that show-the first real acting I'd done in quite a while.
On top of those things I enjoyed getting together with most of the family to see Jesus Christ, Superstar at the Des Moines Civic Center last winter and seeing everyone again for Tim's graduation and as we celebrated some milestone anniversaries (Paul & Nancy's 25th and Steve & Terry's 15th) at Labor Day. I also took two online classes during the summer, edited four newsletters and maintained the website for the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics, enjoyed some of the special events during our town's sesquicentennial, went to one wedding and three funerals, saw a wonderful performance of Steel Magnolias at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota and a fascinating production of Hair in Minneapolis, watched two controversial films that were among the year's most popular movies (The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11), went to Omaha to see the final game of the College World Series, logged over 300 walking miles for our school's summer fitness program (for the 6th straight year), cheered on our football team as they played at state in the UNI-Dome, nursed my aging car through some costly repairs, and bought a new laser printer for my home computer-the output of which you see here.
The rest of my family is mostly doing all right. Steve is back in Oskaloosa, though his job at Pella Windows seems to be a victim of that "booming" economy our President thinks is so wonderful. He's now delivering agricultural supplies part time, as well as doing housekeeping work. Terry is also working two jobs, as a legal secretary and a checker for Wal-Mart. They had another grandson this spring, Chris and Sheila's son Owen. Owen's middle name is Joshua, in honor of his late uncle. Hannah is back out west and on her own now, and Michelle is at home where she seems to be a typical teenaged girl. She works at the local movie theater and seems to be doing okay in most of her classes at school-though I've occasionally gotten calls or e-mails from her when things have gotten tough in advanced algebra.
Paul and Nancy continue to be among the busiest people I know. In addition to teaching Spanish and history in Oskaloosa, Paul is a Methodist pastor, with two small congregations-one Anglo and one Hispanic. I saw him preach to both groups last Easter and surprised myself at how easily I was able to follow the Spanish service. Nancy was slowed down a bit by shoulder surgery this year, but she continues to keep busy teaching special ed and leading the music at her husband's church services. Timothy graduated from high school last May and is majoring in communications at Grand View College in Des Moines. He had the pleasant surprise of getting a single dorm room when his roommate was expelled from school earlier this fall. Rachel is now a senior education major at Simpson, and she'll be doing her student teaching next spring. She seems to be dealing well with all the hoops the new education laws make beginning teachers jump through.
Those same changes from the "No Child Left Behind" act have made Margaret start counting the days until she retires from Crestwood High School-even though that's still a couple of years off. She's easily one of the best and hardest-working teachers there, but the new laws don't seem to care about that; they just care about getting the paperwork in order and doing additional work that has little or nothing to do with actually teaching. Even then, it seems nothing is ever "good enough" under the new laws. The good news is that Margaret is really enjoying the college class she teaches, and she may continue doing that after she quits secondary teaching. Her health is also better; in fact, she's feeling better than she has in years. She's gotten a lot of work done around her home and yard this year; the place looks about the best it has since she moved there after Brian died.
John and Janet also keep very busy. I went over to Maquoketa last summer and saw John direct and Janet star in an excellent community theatre performance of Gypsy. Janet had an especially eventful November, when her boss (an elderly insurance company executive) and his wife were in a serious car accident in Africa. Her past experience as a travel agent was useful as she arranged to have them air-lifted to a hospital in Switzerland. John continues to be the English department at Andrew High School. Each fall he writes an original play for his students to perform; this year was a collection of Halloween stories that was apparently very well received.
The extended family is doing well too. On the Miller side, I've seen Aunt Alaire a couple of times in the past year, and I had a nice visit with Uncle Harvey and Aunt Max and my cousin Ceil and her family in Iowa City at Easter. My cousin Chris is apparently back in Afghanistan, so he'll certainly be in our prayers this holiday season. I haven't heard much from the Burrow side this year (indeed about the most contact I've had was seeing my cousin Denny, who plays steel guitar in country singer Tim McGraw's band, on TV), but hopefully no news is indeed good news. I'm looking forward to reading about everyone in their Christmas letters.
I hope this letter finds all of you in good health and fine spirits. May the holidays bring you happiness, and may 2005 be a time of peace and joy for everyone all over the world.
The background music on this page is Meridith Wilson's "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas".