Dear Friends (and everyone else on the list who doesn't want to admit to it),
It's that time of year again - the Worm Shack is advertising Christmas specials, the Tuscaloosa Offroad Club has put lights on their 4-wheelers and antlers on hound dogs for the municipal parade, stores are displaying Looney Tunes menorahs once more, and Bill's packing up every mute he owns for the annual church musical. The tree's up, with six spacecraft ornaments, five trains, two angels playing trombones, most of the cast from the Wizard of Oz, and even a couple of amphibians. So, just when you thought it was safe to go to the mailbox - we're baaaack! This has been another wild and crazy year with the Keels. To sum up the high points - Nathan has glasses, Christopher has braces, Terri has a pack of 78 Cub scouts, and Bill - well, we'll just say that he started paying more attention to all those Preparation H commercials.
This was the year that the kids discovered Beanie Babies. They're everywhere. We lost count over the summer, probably from sunstroke after spending too many Saturday-morning hours in line for chances to buy more. This isn't just where the deer and the antelope play - we've got scorpions, sharks, dolphins, moose, lizards, and whatever that thing is under the sofa cushion.
We finally replaced the van, for the first time selling a vehicle while it still moved under its own power. The new van is a 1992 Silhouette, which is a real treat with working air conditioning, that scarcely burns any oil. We took it to Atlanta about 15 minutes after closing the deal. Just to celebrate, Nathan broke a toe on the trip - and we never did get a straight story as to just how he did it. We made a quick visit to Nashville, bumming around Centennial Park a week before a tornado did the same thing. No, we did tornadoes last year.
We spent almost 6 weeks in Tucson this summer. They thoughtfully arranged cool weather for most of the trip, but the temperature eventually sneaked past 100 anyway. This was during the Teenie Beanie craze, so Bill can still tell you where 21 McDonald's locations in Tucson are. We took a few days to do serious tourism - Tombstone, Mission Mine, Colossal Cave. The kids managed to get their pictures in the Tucson paper, including a little version on page 1 - we look forward to hearing from their agent any day now. Christopher enjoyed hikes with a local herpetologist, especially when he was the first to find the horned lizard and a young diamondback rattlesnake, not to mention a decidedly deceased skunk. Bill took the kids up to Kitt Peak for the evening viewing program, which was pretty good, but they liked the roadrunners along the road better. Terri got to visit with some high-school friends (some of whom were even teachers), one of whom made a big hit with Nathan when it turned out that he produces aviation videos. Nathan came to the rescue at the Pima Air Museum, when one of the lenses in Dad's glasses fell out during a tour of Eisenhower's plane. As Bill backed down the stairs feeling each step, Nathan pulled it out of the dirt below. Washed up nicely, too.
Right after getting back from Tuscaloosa, Bill and Christopher went on a fossil dig to a nearby coal mine. Please ask about our square foot of bark from a lepidodendron tree, after Bill spent 45 minutes with a rock hammer and an old railroad spike liberating it from a boulder. A week later it was time for scout camp, at a site about five miles from home. It's a sad commentary that Bill was part of the adult supervision. Only fear of public humiliation kept the adults going through the four-lap swimming test. These were the hottest days of the summer, of course, so it was pretty scary to watch the fighting to get to the ice chests and cold drinks. Still, the boys didn't seem to mind being somewhere that they were actually told to wade into the lake and pull out a net with whatever creatures they could find. And there's always that story about the Picasso fish... Terri took the trouble to drive out to camp and hike across it just to let Bill know that Nathan had finished his pre-school eye exam. Somehow, "and he's got his father's eyes!" wasn't exactly a compliment. At the end of July, the scout pack went for an overnight sleepover on the USS Alabama, anchored in Mobile. This sounded pretty safe, since the Japanese navy failed in six attempts to sink the ship, so it has a pretty good chance of surviving Cub Scouts. The most excitement seemed to be the alligators patrolling around the hull (those signs really aren't just for the shock value).
Nathan started kindergarten this fall, and has lately been regaling us by reading us the books for a change. Terri's been using all that extra time each day to... keep up with paperwork on the Scout pack. They had a really good recruiting year, doubling the pack size. Bill filled out a family information form at the first pack meeting and listed Pack 8 as Terri's full-time employer.
Bill's been trying to look relaxed this fall, being on sabbatical. He couldn't face the logistics of extended travel, so he's been doing most of his research here in town. He was part of the team for an ultraviolet telescope riding in the back of John Glenn's shuttle flight, and was off at Goddard Space Flight Center for that. Working on software to plan viewing sessions finally gave him an excuse to actually use the 20-inch Shuttle Orbiter model he bought just after finishing up at Santa Cruz in 1982. He's also been doing computer replacements, with fancy new ones at home and at work (you might need to be a Unix geek to be impressed by that one, so ask if you really care...). Speaking of geeks, we may need to worry. First the kids started calling Bill by his workstation's network name, then Nathan started reading somebody's WWJD bracelet as www.jd.org. At least it wasn't .com. And we don't even have a Web connection at home. Yet. As of the time we mail this.
We ran up to the Norfolk area for a quick Labor Day trip, centered around an exhibit of Titanic artifacts. Could we help it if there was also a set of robotic dinosaurs, the Apollo 12 command module, antique celestial-navigation gear, and a marine museum in the area? The cruise on a sailing ship did have us feeling truly nautical. Keels - nautical - think about it.
The high point of the fall was undoubtedly the Scout popcorn sale. We learned all sorts of interesting spreadsheet applications trying to get the right products shipped and the right money collected. As we understand sales technique, the followup calls are supposed to be for customers, not the sales force. Maybe next year.
November's Leonid meteor shower brought out the news media, which meant that every wanna-be inebriated teenager in a three-county area was cruising the Moundville park where the University viewing was organized. For two hours, with their high beams on. A few meteors did show above this Woodstock atmosphere, and they might have seen more without the headlights. And you get one guess who popped on a hard hat while talking to a TV reporter about meteor showers. It was plastic, borrowed from Nathan's classroom.
That was about it for our high points in 1998. Once again, we'll point out Bill is also known to friends as firstname.lastname@example.org, and Terri sometimes checks account tmk on the same computer. And if you're really with it, you can see what he's up to by pointing your friendly WWW browser to http://www.astr.ua.edu/keel. Looking deeply enough at that site will even get you the special illustrated electronic version of this very letter. Of course, those who are reading this on the WWW know that already...
Best wishes for a happy and blessed holiday season,
Terri, Bill, Christopher, and Nathan
(plus Pussy Gato and that noisy raccoon on the back deck)