Christmas, 2005

A timely snow day on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has put me into the holiday spirit and given me the time to put up the Christmas decorations, wrap some presents, and start writing this annual update.  I hope this letter finds all of you in good health and good spirits.

I'll begin the review of the past year with last Christmas, which was one of the most unique holidays of my life.  With the rest of the family at their in-laws, my sister Margaret and I spent the holiday on Amtrak's Empire Builder en route to Portland, Oregon.  We had a wonderful time exploring a city neither of us had been to before, and it made a fun and different way to spend our Christmas vacation.

I've done quite a bit of other traveling this year, though nothing that's really been a major trip.  Instead those rock-bottom fares that are bankrupting all the airlines allowed me to have a number of affordable weekend getaways to surprisingly distant places.  Given the high cost of gas and the low cost of airfares, flying across the country was as cheap as driving to Chicago.

Most interesting among my jaunts was a trip to New York at the Fourth of July.  I stayed in a remote part of Queens and took the subway pretty much everywhere there was to go in all five boroughs of the Big Apple.  I saw many of the classic tourist attractions (and a lot of stuff most people don't see), took in a ballgame in the rather unfriendly confines of Shea Stadium, and had fun wandering through a variety of colorful neighborhoods.  It was a jam-packed couple of days, but thoroughly enjoyable.  An added bonus on that trip was that I got a complimentary upgrade to first class, the first time I've ever flown in the big seats up front.

As had been true the past few years, part of my travel involved baseball.  Brad Nelson, our former Golden Bear turned pro, spent most of the past year in AAA bal, and I was pleased to see him play in Des Moines, Omaha, and Oklahoma City.  His team, the Nashville Sounds, ended up winning their league championship.  Everyone around here is crossing our fingers that 2006 is the year Brad makes it to "the show".

My biggest trip of the year is yet to come.  Thanks again to those bargain basement airfares, I'll be ringing in the New Year in London.  Margaret is joining me again to travel.  We're spending Christmas at my brother Steve's in Oskaloosa, and then leaving on the 27th.  Amazingly, the fare is actually less than it cost my parents to fly to England thirty years ago.  This will also be a hurried trip (we fly back January 1st), but it should be most enjoyable.

I manage to pay for those plane tickets by continuing to work what sometimes seems like two fulltime jobs-at Bishop Garrigan High School and Iowa Lakes Community College. I'm teaching a new class at the high school this year, a remedial class for students who have taken algebra but really aren't ready to take Geometry. I can't say it's my favorite class, but mostly it's going okay. I continue to help maintain the school website, and I keep busy with speech, student council, and quiz bowl. I was also pleased to be the game announcer for our football team, who had a surprisingly good season that took them all the way to the state championship game (where they lost to a team coached by the son of the old football coach from my alma mater, MPHS).

My college classes have been a lot of work this past year. I taught two classes in spring, two in summer, and one in fall. I switched to different books in two of the classes, which meant completely revising my notes and tests. I also had a lot of students-many more than in the past-who just didn't seem to care about much. I think in the past year I must have heard every flimsy excuse there is for skipping class, not taking tests when scheduled, or not turning in a project. Part of the change is that in the past most of my students were "non-traditionals", either adults going back to school or smart high school kids taking college classes. This past year I've had many more traditional college-age students, and you don't see a lot of "summa cum laudes" going straight from high school to community colleges.

I continue to keep busy in our local Congregational Church, where I serve as worship leader. I'm also webmaster and newsletter editor for the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I continue to walk a lot (400+ miles during the summer), which helped me to lose about fifteen pounds this past year.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in the Gulf Coast area, I spent much of September and October in a numb shock over the horror of Hurricane Katrina-a shock I still really haven't gotten over. With all the devastation in New Orleans and Biloxi, it was barely reported that the damage went far inland. Hattiesburg, where I went to graduate school, is about eighty miles from the beach. It's where the people from the Coast were supposed to evacuate to, yet even up there they got 100+ mph winds and damage that kept the schools closed for a month. I've given pretty much every spare dollar I had this fall to various relief causes, and I continue to pray for all the people I know down South.

The rest of my family is doing pretty well. In August my brother Paul completed his work at Garrett Theological Seminary, and I was pleased to be in Chicago for the event. (It's technically not called an ordination-since Paul has been serving as a Methodist pastor for several years now-but it's essentially the same thing.) Earlier in the year I was at his daughter Rachel's graduation from Simpson College. She's now joining me in the Diocese of Sioux City school system, teaching social studies at St. Mary's in Storm Lake. She's clearly feeling a bit overwhelmed, but mostly seems to be doing okay. Paul's wife Nancy continues to teach special education in Oskaloosa, and their son Tim is a communications major at Grandview College in Des Moines.

My brother Steve and his wife Terry have had a comparatively calm year in Oskaloosa. Steve is now the delivery manager for an agricultural supplies company, and Terry is a legal assistant. Their daughter Michelle will be graduating from high school next spring. Hannah, their other daughter, was back from New Mexico before Thanksgiving. I had hoped to see her, but she left again before I could make it down there.

My sister Margaret has had a hectic year, and she's looking very seriously at retirement. Besides teaching high school and college Spanish courses, she does translation work for an elementary school. I've joined her a couple of times in the past year to see plays at the regional theatre where she is a patron.

I've seen the least of my brother John and his wife Janet. They seem to be doing well, though. John continues to teach English and produce plays at Andrew High School, but he's quit working with competitive speech. Janet works as a personal assistant to an insurance executive in Dubuque.

I haven't seen much of the extended family this past year; a visit to my Aunt Alaire's at Thanksgiving was pretty much it. Reports are, though, that both the Burrows and Millers are doing all right. Apparently my cousin Chris is back in Afghanistan, though hopefully he'll be home again before Christmas.

I certainly hope 2005 was a good year for all of you. May you be filled with the Christmas spirit and have a wonderful holiday and an awesome year in 2006!




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