Here we are again, with solstice greetings from the state where acceptable forms of voter identification include hunting licenses and firearms permits, where football coaches only rent, and where state officials find it easier to carve than to observe the Ten Commandments.
Last year's missive got off just too soon to report our need for a locksmith on Christmas Eve. Everybody got places on time, but it was pretty close for a bit.
Honorary grandfather Willis Kellogg died early this year, quite a shock to everybody. Terri spent a couple of weeks soon thereafter with Carol to help with logistics (as well as the art of simply being there), leaving Bill to play Professor Mom. The kids weren't too sure he knew how to run either the dishwasher or washing machine.
Christopher's project for a class talking about medieval times was a catapult. Not, you understand, a tabletop demonstration model. We talked him down to something you could carry in a pickup truck after releasing three wingnuts, and after a trip to the hardware store and a couple of sessions of worse-than-medieval carpentry, there it was. On its first test, it flung the apple from Bill's lunchbox about 20 feet. Apparently it did OK at school.
But Bill and Terri weren't there to see its performance for the class at school. They were in Hawaii, since Bill was observing at Mauna Kea and planned a stopover with colleagues at UH. Terri found such a good airfare that we couldn't pass up the chance, and she talked Beverly into driving in and staying with the boys. It was tough - the luau, Pearl Harbor, the north coast, hiking up Diamond Head, fresh pineapple - but they kept at it like real troopers. When Beverly called on our cell phone to announce her safe arrival in Tuscaloosa through thunderstorms and tornado alerts, we didn't have the heart to tell her that we were sitting in a surfer sandwich hangout on the north coast of Oahu... Christopher did wait until we got back before bringing a large venomous snake home, spotted as he got off the school bus. The snake was gingerly returned to the wild, sent off with a sly hint that staying out of sight near 3 p.m. daily would be very healthful for everybody.
Meanwhile, Nathan (now 10) was recuperating from a bike wipeout, learning how little fun it is to pick gravel out of your leg and being really glad about bike helmets. He had great fun in the spring playing basketball with the church's "Upward" league, something he's back for this winter. His main problem in playing is that he doesn't like to guard when playing opposite his buddies. He can outshoot Bill in the front yard, which he never tires of demonstrating. He did Cub Scout camp (astonishingly enough, with Bill as the adult supervision). We all learned new things at that camp - for example, the rules about flotation devices are a little different if you're racing a canoe which has already sunk.
The summer started with a jaunt to Nashville just in time for the American Astronomical Society meeting. Bill went to sessions, everybody else went to travelling dinosaur exhibits. At Dan Weedman's public talk, Nathan was pressed into the role of the highest-redshift quasar, a role he passed with flying (infrared) colors.
Christopher spent two weeks hiking around at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. he pictures show burro racing, rappelling inverted down cliffsides, and grinning in the snow above timberline. The first thing he said upon calling home afterward was that his new Philmont belt had gotten too loose. He continues progress toward Eagle - now within one merit badge and a final organizational project.
While Christopher was clambering up and down northern New Mexico, Bill was in Arizona - first observing at Kitt Peak, through the same high winds that made the Catalina wildfire spread so rapidly, and then driving back in Terri's (formerly Willis's) Camry, pulling a U-Haul trailer of furniture. This really was an adventure in moving. On level road, he could pull the trailer at a bit over 60 mph. In 1800 miles of interstate highway, he managed to pass two overloaded tandem-trailer haulers, one pickup truck loaded with hay bales, two New Mexico farm tractors, and one dazed-looking bull in East Texas. It took a while to clean out the space in our house for the replacement couch and chairs, since our old couch was rejected by the Salvation Army.
As if we hadn't been travelling enough, we were off the next month to the west, for some time in rural Greer, Arizona followed by a little jaunt to Denver, where Bill was giving a talk to the American Scientific Affiliation. A complete coincidence that Terri has a lot of family in Boulder. We put 2945 miles and a new windshield on the rental car. Some days on the road gave us a new appreciation of the astonishing power of boredom as a force of nature. We hit a lot of the standard tourist spots along the way, including revisiting Monument Valley to repeat pictures with Christopher from 1989. (The foreground looks different.) Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde between the wildfires, Dinosaur Ridge, assorted air museums, Wupatki, Sunset Crater, Tonto Natural Bridge - sounds like a tour book. We did see the places that really look like background scenes from the Roadrunner cartoons. In one day we visited both Lowell Observatory and longtime friend Lowell LeMoine. Only Bill would think it funny to get the kids' picture in front of Percival Lowell's telescope in a big Mars year.
Christopher started high school this year, and the school was new for everybody. Bill has finally reconciled himself to the notion that someone in his family attends Paul W. Bryant High School. He though Christopher's school experience would be helpful now that most professional talks need to be in PowerPoint - but all Christopher's best tips seem to have a price tag.
We took the plunge this fall and started to fix all the things that made our house such a good deal 10 years ago. New deck, new siding, new windows, new pillars, new gutters... the neighbors will have to find something else to complain about. Bill insisted that the deck be extended westward to allow a better view of the sky between the trees. It's nice to have one that doesn't sway as someone walks - the contractor took one look and said "I didn't realize decks were still standing from before they had building codes!" And did we mention the new sewer line, which the contractor had a serious price overrun with because we were right about how long it had to be? There is still some painting to be done, for anyone who plans to visit us soon.
Terri was part of the adult supervision for Nathan's 5th-grade group at the 4H camp in Columbiana (Alabama) this fall, featuring climbing, water ecology, and samples of pioneer life. She continued leading her Cub Scout pack, for what she's sworn is the last year, which would make this fall's confusion the Last Popcorn Sale (applause all around). They had an especially good time in an overnight visit to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, with Terri having words with the tour guide after being told "It's too marshy to take vehicles down there - just pitch your tents". We slept in the SpaceCamp habitats. The scouts did settle down pretty fast after lights out, especially when we threatened to have them shut off the gravity at midnight. Nathan made it all the way up the Mars Expedition climbing wall, even at Earth gravity. The scouts were most impressed by the demonstration of Space Station living arrangements, of course led by the zero-G toilet. "I like to call this bit of plumbing... Mr. Thirsty."
We're looking into the new year with some trepidation, as Christopher becomes eligible for his learner's permit next month and has already made known to us what kinds of trucks or SUVs would not be an embarrassment to him. None of which we have are or about to have...Our email addresses are still cm8cn and wckeel, but now moved to comcast.net. The web letter, special illustrated edition, can be found in the same spot, http://www.astr.ua.edu/keel/fam/. And whether in paper, sound waves, or electrons, we're wishing you wonderful 2004!
Terri, Bill, Christopher, and Nathan