Christmas 2008

Seasons Greetings, Everyone—

It’s time once again to take a break from the rush of day-to-day commitments and send good wishes to family and friends. 2008 was certainly a challenging year for many, but I hope you survived it well and are looking forward to a truly merry Christmas.

I saw in the New Year in the Pacific Time Zone, on a train heading eastward through the snowy Cascades of Washington state. I spent the week after Christmas in Vancouver, which was a truly enjoyable trip. Vancouver is a delightful city, one of the most lively and diverse places on the planet; and I had a wonderful time. I came back revitalized and had a nice spring at school.

The holiday train trip out to British Columbia was by far my biggest trip of the year. While I traveled quite a bit more, everything else was more along the lines of a long weekend. I spent a very snowy Easter weekend in Wisconsin (where I discovered Milwaukee is just about the dullest city in America) and made two trips to Chicago (just about my favorite city anywhere)—one with our quiz bowl team in June and the other on my own in August. I took the August trip by inter-city bus, the first time I’ve done a “real” trip in that manner. It was interesting, though not something I’ll be rushing to do again. Trains, planes, and cars are all preferable to taking the bus.

I also made multiple trips to the ballparks in Des Moines and Omaha, destinations that have become extremely familiar to me in recent years. One of those trips was during the summer flooding when they played a game but didn’t allow any fans inside the park. I spent that day hiking around the city and seeing the “tourist attractions” of our state capital.

The ballpark trips were to see my former student Brad Nelson, a man who had a much more interesting year than I did in 2008. After a great season in AAA ball, Brad was finally called up to the Milwaukee Brewers’ big league team. His first major league hit was shown on ESPN’s Sportscenter, and he did well enough in a pinch-hitting role to make the Brewers’ post-season playoff roster. I think all of Algona was cheering his success. I was also delighted to be on hand when he and Jill Goodman were married in November. While a lot of the guests there were in awe of seeing Brewers’ shortstop J.J. Hardy (a groomsman—and a nice guy who I first met a few years ago), I was more interested in catching up with Brad and Jill’s old friends, other students I’d taught back at the turn of the millennium. It’s amazing just what a wide range of careers they’ve all gone into, and I’m pleased to say they’re all pretty successful at what they’re doing.

Garrigan is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and I’m almost embarrassed to say I’ve been there exactly half the time the school has been around. This was an extremely busy year at school, though mostly things went pretty well. My quiz bowl team went to the National Academic Championships again last summer, and the kids have already qualified for yet another trip in 2009—tentatively in New Orleans over Memorial Day weekend. Homecoming was a much bigger event than usual, because it incorporated the kickoff of the fiftieth anniversary celebration. With a few minor hitches that also went well, though, as did our speech season and the continual updates on the school website.

In addition to teaching at the high school, I continue to work as an adjunct instructor at Iowa Lakes Community College. The mix of students there is changing, with fewer high school kids and older adults and more students of traditional college age. In my opinion that’s not really a good change (the “traditional” students seem lazier and much less motivated), but I’m adapting to it.

After years of growing more and more cynical, I must say I was delighted at this year’s election. I honestly liked both parties’ final nominees for President (if not their running mates), and it was refreshing to mostly hear articulate arguments about real issues. I must say I’m rather looking forward to having a President who is my age. I certainly don’t see myself as “too young”; and even if the President-elect is inexperienced, it’s hard to imagine he could mess things up much more than the older folks did.

By far the biggest amount of my “free” time this past year has been spent working at church. We’ve been between ministers for over a year at the First Congregational Church, and serving on the pastoral search committee was practically a full-time job. Things got even more frantic when our interim minister resigned shortly after school started, and it fell on me to line up supply speakers to fill our pulpit. With short notice and a bunch of cancellations, I even ended up “preaching” myself on two different occasions, and years of working with public speaking as a contestant, a coach, and a judge seem to have paid off. My presentations were surprisingly well received. It’s certainly not something I’d want to make a full-time job, though, and I was as delighted as anyone when we hired a new pastor in November. Unfortunately she won’t be starting until February, so there’s two more months of speakers to line up.

My brother Paul is, of course, a professional clergyman, and it looks as if ministerial work may be his full-time job starting next year. He’s hoping to get a grant from the missionary arm of the United Methodist Church to head up Hispanic ministry throughout the state. If that doesn’t work out, he’s likely to be appointed to serve a small church in Des Moines, where he’s be doing services in both English and Spanish. His wife Nancy has resigned from her job as a special education teacher, and Paul will likely not be getting out of teaching next year as well. His daughter Rachel seems to enjoy her job as a librarian for the Earlham school district, and she is on track to receive her master’s degree from UNI in May. Her brother Tim graduated from Grandview last spring, and he’s working for a small radio station in Norwalk.

For many years now my brother John has been the English department at Andrew, and he’s also looking forward to retiring from education. His wife Janet continues to work as a personal assistant for an insurance executive who is one of the wealthiest men in the Midwest. As the financial industry falls like a house of cards, I’m pleased that I haven’t read about her company in the news.

My sister Margaret has been “retired” for two years now, but she continues to be among the busiest people in the family. She’s been teaching community college classes and doing translation for the parents of Hispanic children in the Cresco school district. Some of those students’ families were affected by the raids at the Postville packing plant that you likely read about earlier this year. She’s also found time for some serious travel, including a trip to Norway this fall that she obviously thoroughly enjoyed. She’s looking at taking a train trip across Canada next spring, something I’d love to do myself.

My brother Steve is in northern Minnesota and seems to be doing well and keeping as busy as any of the rest of us. I got up to see him a couple of times this past year. Margaret arranged for the rest of the family to get together at a bed-and-breakfast in Marquette last spring, and it was great to see the whole family over Thanksgiving.

With most of my relatives in the Cedar and Iowa River valleys of eastern Iowa, I was definitely following the news when record floods hit early in the summer. Most of the family came through things all right. Unfortunately my Uncle Harvey and Aunt Max had just moved into a new condo development off Dubuque Street in Iowa City. The place was quite near the river (apparently on land that legally should not have been developed), and they pretty much lost everything. They’re still in temporary housing months later. My aunt Alaire in Coralville fared better (it helps to be in an upstairs apartment), and the Burrow relatives around Waverly seemed to be comparatively unscathed.

I certainly hope all of you fared well this year, too—weathering the storms of both from the elements and the economy. I wish you all a wonderful and blessed Christmas, and here’s hoping 2009 is a bit less newsworthy of a year.

Merry Christmas!

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