In December 1982, when I lived in a tiny efficiency at 19th and College in Cedar Falls, I spent nearly my last resources to buy a string of Christmas lights which I taped up around the window. The lights became the backdrop for one of the few real parties I’ve ever thrown in my life, an eclectic, laid-back affair where John Denver’s Christmas album alternated with Queen and Joan Jett on the record player. That old string of lights is long gone now, as is the store where I bought them—Woolco—but the tradition lives on. It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving now, and I’m busy lining the windows of a much larger apartment with holiday lights. The lights have been joined by boxes of decorations which now lie in a pile on the floor but will soon be making their annual festive display. With that in place, it’s time to get to work on another holiday tradition, the twenty-fourth annual Christmas letter of my adult life.

I started making an outline for this letter on Thanksgiving night, while I was sprawled out on the bed of a cheap motel in Cedar Rapids. That seemed a remarkably appropriate setting, because when I counted things up I’ve actually spent more than a month away from home in the past year. Most of my trips have been short ones, but I’ve definitely covered a lot of territory.

There were three main trips during the year. The first happened right before New Year’s, when my sister Margaret and I spent a long weekend in London at “Festive Season”. Much of my family’s ancestry traces to England, and I’ve always wanted to go there. It was more than a little on the pricey side, but definitely a “jolly good” trip.

Probably my favorite getaway of the year came at Easter, when I cashed in some “frequent flyer” miles (the quotation marks are intentional, because most of them were acquired from various bonus programs rather than actually flying) for a red-eye flight to Anchorage. I was a freshman in high school when I was last in Alaska, but the memories came flooding back. I know of nowhere on the planet more
gorgeous than our 49th state, and I’d love to go back there again.

The last of the big three trips was in June, when I helped out as a chaperon on the last trip Margaret made with Spanish students. She took a group to Cuzco, Peru, where they stayed for a week with local families. I was probably more apprehensive than the kids at spending a week in the home of people I didn’t know, but it was a wonderful experience. My rusty Spanish came back quickly, and I got a peek into people’s lives that can’t be found when staying in hotels. While Peru is far from my favorite place on earth, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

I had a few other weekend getaways scattered throughout the year. The excuse for most was seeing baseball games, but I also managed to do some sightseeing, visit friends and family, see a couple of plays, and even catch my first-ever arena football game. The coming year is likely to have a lot less travel (since I’m still paying off London eleven months later), though I have committed to spending Easter down in my grad school home on the Guff Coast. It will be fascinating to see how things are progressing a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina.

The travel has helped me keep my sanity in a very busy year. My schedule this fall at the high school has me booked up every period of the day, with no free period. In addition I’ve taught night classes all year at the community college, and it looks like next spring I may also be teaching an online course there—my first venture into that field. At Garrigan I still work with a wide range of activities. They include quiz bowl (where I hosted an enormous tournament that ran eerily smoothly), broadcasting (where we celebrated the airing of our 600th “Bear Facts” episode this fall), student council (which includes things like planning Homecoming and supervising intramural basketball), and speech.  I'm also the P.A. announcer for football games, I upload all the pages for our school website
(garrigan.unlimitedweb.net), and you may see me cheering for the Golden Bears in baseball, basketball, or cross-country. This fall I even took the stage again as part of our “Extravaganza”, a variety show that brings together students, faculty, and alumni. I can’t say I was especially proud of the show we did, but it was well received.

Away from school I continue to be very active in the Congregational church. The national United Church of Christ is celebrating fifty years of existence this year, and our local church is preparing for its 150th anniversary. I still serve as worship leader each week, reading assorted prayers and making transitional remarks throughout the service. I also serve on a variety of church committees, the most recent of which is the group organizing the search to replace our retiring minister. I’m also still on the board for the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics, where I continue to work as webmaster and newsletter editor.

While I can’t say I’ve had a lot of truly free time in the past year, when I have I’ve taken to filling much of it by giving homework help to kids who ask questions on the Yahoo! Answers website. It’s fascinating that while my main field is math, that’s not the area where I give the most advice. There are lots of math nerds on the internet, but experts in fields like geography and languages (where having taken high school French seems to be all the qualification I need) are in short supply.

It was great to see most of the rest of the family at Thanksgiving. My sister Margaret has the biggest news of the year. She retired from her job as a Spanish teacher and is enjoying life immensely. This fall she went on a bus tour around the South, and next spring she’ll be heading off for Egypt. She still earns a bit of money on the side serving as a translator for the local school system, making newsletters, report cards, and the like available to parents who only speak Spanish.

I’ve seen less of John and Janet than anyone else in the family, but they seem to be keeping busy and doing well. John is also looking at retirement, and he’s already scaled back some of the activities he works with at Andrew High School. In addition to working as a professional assistant, Janet has started a home business selling cosmetics. She was in a play in Dubuque this past year and is looking at doing another next spring.

Paul and Nancy remain some of the busiest people I know. As a result of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, the state decided Paul was not qualified to teach economics and government, even though he’s been teaching those subjects for decades, has a master’s degree, and was years ago awarded a “permanent” certification. He’s rushing to take courses to meet the new requirements. He was also at Duke University this past summer (parking each day next to the infamous lacrosse field), where he continued taking classes in theology for his second career as a Methodist minister. Paul and Nancy’s daughter Rachel is back in Oskaloosa, now working as a teacher for homebound students. Their son Tim is a communications major at Grandview College. I even managed to tune in on the internet once and hear him broadcasting on their campus radio station.

My brother Steve’s life has been in a downward spiral for nearly a decade, and things pretty much hit bottom this past year. There were two big positive events for his family, though. Early in the year his older daughter Hannah delivered her first child, and at Memorial Day I was pleased to on hand when his younger daughter Michelle graduated from high school. Hopefully the coming year will bring more good news for them.

I hope there’s good news in the coming year for all of you, too. May the Christmas season fill you with happiness, and may 2007 be a time of joy and peace for everyone.

Best wishes to you!




Christmas Letters Index


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