Christmas, 2007

Greetings, One and Alló

Iíve got fewer Christmas decorations up this year, mostly because I just havenít had time to get everything out as Iíd like to. Itís been an incredibly busy year, and the fall especially has just raced by non-stop. The holidays are here again, though, and itís time to send out my good wishes to family and friends far and near.

I didnít have any huge trips to far-off places this year, but I did have a couple of pleasant getaways. The most memorable one probably came at Easter, when I returned to the Gulf Coast for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. It was fascinating, though also
also a bit sad, to see all the places I remember so well from grad school. Surprisingly, itís true that the tourist areas of New Orleans were largely untouched by the hurricane. The residential areas were gutted, though, as were most of the areas along the Mississippi coast. Whatís most amazing is that the area really is coming back, slowly but surely. My old friends in the South are certainly in prayers this Christmas as they continue to recover from the storm.

For my other main trip I went out east in August.  I flew to Allentown, Pennsylvania (which happened to have the cheapest airfare I could book) and spent two days in New York City, where I attended services at Riverside Church (a gorgeous house of worship modeled on

Chartres Cathedral where my parents went on their honeymoon) and saw a number of offbeat attractions. Then I made my way through the lovely countryside of upstate New York. Iíve always wanted to get to Cooperstown, and I finally had a chance to do that this year. Probably the most memorable part of the trip was driving along the spectacular gorge of the Delaware River on the border between New York and Pennsylvania, definitely one of the most beautiful places Iíve seen anywhere.

Garrigan is now preparing for its fiftieth anniversary. Interestingly, on November 21 I began my 25th year of teaching, so Iíve been part of the school for half of its history. My schedule changed a bit this year, but itís busier than ever. I still teach math most of the day. Whatís new is that Iím now the sole person in charge of maintaining our website (which has to be close to the largest school site anywhere). Officially I ďteachĒ a class called Specialized Technology Topics, but thatís essentially an independent study set-up where my role is to organize the students who create different pages for the site. I also do all the uploading and routine site maintenance, chores that routinely take at least an hour a day (and sometimes as many as three).

The activities Iím responsible for have also increased a bit, since Iím back to working with both individual and large group speech. Iím actually looking forward to doing individual speech again. I like it a lot better than the group events, and I really feel Iím more qualified with it as well. We started speech earlier this year, so we were already well into rehearsals by Thanksgiving. Thatís another of the reasons Iíve been feeling rushed this fall.

I also still work with student council, broadcasting, and quiz bowl. After a couple of ďrebuilding yearsĒ, the quiz bowl team has been very successful again this year. Iím not necessarily expecting to head back to nationals (and it would be a challenge to make such a trip with the new requirements on travel we have), but weíve already gotten one trophy this year and the kids have been competitive at every tournament weíve been to.

I continue to work as the PA announcer for our home football games, and this year the team gave me a lot of good things to talk about. They went undefeated for the regular season (for only the second time in school history) and managed to defeat a rival theyíd never before beaten.

I also worked at some track meets and went to numerous Golden Bear baseball and basketball games this year. I managed to see a Cardinals game at the new stadium in St. Louis, and I got to both Omaha and Des Moines, where I saw my former student Brad Nelson playing AAA baseball. I also saw Steve and Terryís nephew, Ryne Malone, playing A-ball for the Cubs (managed by his namesake, Ryne Sandberg) in a game at Cedar Rapids.

I always enjoy going to plays whenever I can. This year the best show I saw was Avenue Q, which I saw at the Civic Center in Des Moines. It was funny and had well-written, memorable music. I also toured the new Guthrie Theatre building in Minneapolis, which was fascinating to see. I must say, though, it seems a bit too grandiose and not very practical.

Iím not really sure Iíd care to see a show there. I still keep busy with a second job at Iowa Lakes Community College. 2007 was actually a bit lighter year there. I only taught one course in summer (compared to the two Iíd had for several years prior), and this fall Iíve only got ten students (split up among all five of the sites the ILCC TV system broadcasts to). The Finite Math class Iím teaching this fall is just about my least favorite subject to teach, but the check it brings in definitely helps out with the bills.

Iím still active in the First Congregational Church in Algona. Our long-time minister retired over the summer, and now the church is at a bit of a crossroads, trying to decide where we want to go in the future. Weíve never been a large church, and as numbers dwindle the question really is how to make it economically viable to keep going. Iím on a task force thatís looking into that question, and thatís been occupying lots of time this fall. I also continue to serve as worship leader (the position most other churches would call ďlectorĒ), and I chair the worship and music committee.

Iíve been on a bit of a health kick this past year, probably the equivalent of ďmidlife crisisĒ. Iíve tried to eat a bit better (though thatís no small challenge with grocery prices skyrocketing), and Iíve exercised a lot. Iíve managed to walk over 1,000 miles this year, and Iíve also done regular work-outs with free weights. I feel as if Iím in the best shape Iíve been in in years, so it was a bit of a shock to visit the doctor in September and find that both my weight and my blood pressure had actually gone up. They adjusted the blood pressure medication, so hopefully that will get straightened out in the coming year.

The worst event of the year probably came in early November, when I found I had been a victim of identity theft. Someone had apparently gotten my social security number (no surprise with all the data leaks weíre constantly hearing about) and attempted to obtain a credit card in my name. The good thing was that the fraud was committed in California, the only state in America that actually requires creditors to investigate if the address on an application doesnít match the address in the credit reports. I think Iíve got things worked out now, but it certainly was a wake-up call.

I had several opportunities to see others in the family this past year. John and Janet celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary this summer, and we had a nice gathering over in Maquoketa to mark the milestone. We also had a family get-together in August where we basically just gathered at a restaurant in Cedar Rapids and sat around and talked all afternoon. Margaret and I had Thanksgiving dinner at Alaireís in Iowa City, and after that I joined Paul and Nancy up in Minnesota to visit my brother Steve. Weíll be having the family Christmas at John and Janetís later this month.

Most of the rest of the family is doing pretty well. My sister Margaret in particular seems to be flourishing. Sheís thoroughly enjoying retirement. She still works part-time, teaching a college class and tutoring Hispanic students. Mostly her work is on hours she sets, though, and she doesnít have the at-home paperwork she had as a full time teacher. The big event of her year was a trip to Egypt last winter. She could pretend to be Cleopatra as she sailed down the Nile. Sheís taking another cruise this coming winter, this time to Central America. She recently added a new deck and sunroom to her house in rural Decorah, which she enjoys immensely.

My brother Paul continues to be one of the busiest people I know anywhere. Heís still working to get his government certification (so he can be ďqualifiedĒ to teach a course heís taught for decades), and in addition to teaching Spanish and social studies, he continues to work as a Methodist ministeróserving a tiny rural church (one that makes my church look enormous) and also the Hispanic congregation at Central UMC in Oskaloosa. While he already has as high of standing as he will ever have in the Methodist church, he continues to study theology. Next summer heíll be back at Duke University for more of the Advanced Course of Study for licensed pastors. Paulís daughter Rachel is now working as the district librarian for a fast-growing school system west of Des Moines, and his son Tim will be graduating from Grand View College next spring.

My brothers John and Steve also seem to be doing well. John has cut back on his extra activities and is looking forward to retiring from teaching in the not too distant future. Steve is in Minnesota now, and his daughters are both grown up. I was pleased to see Hannah this summer when she was back from New Mexico with her baby daughter. She is now expecting her second child. Michelle is studying at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, and she also seems to be doing fine.

Iíve seen my Aunt Alaire a couple of times this year, and she writes frequently. She still lives in the senior housing unit in Coralville, and she seems to be doing well. Margaret introduced her to Curves, and Alaire has been working out there regularly. She enjoys it, is looking good, and she seems to be getting around better than she used to. I havenít seen the rest of the aunts and uncles this past year, but reports are that things are going okay for them too.

I hope all is well with you and your families this Christmas, too. May the holidays be a joyful time for you, and may peace flourishóboth in our homes and in the worldóthroughout the coming year.

Merry Christmas!

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