The signs are all around us. WalMart shoppers swarm at 6 a.m., shoving each other out of the way long enough to swipe merchandise from shopping carts. The river parade last night included a motorboat covered with lights in the shape of a reindeer head, complete with 8-foot antlers. The household has put limits on the number of times a day Pokemons can be mentioned. And Bill just gave his introductory lecture on extraterrestrial life, partly delivered wearing a Jar-Jar Binks mask. So, that must mean... "But surely..." "Yes, it must be..." "So soon..." "But -" "I know." Here it is - our new, Y2K-compliant holiday letter! We tried seeing how the monasteries handled it last time - you know, the dreaded "Anno M" problem - but their fixes all seem to result in Latin text.
Both Terri's and Bill's moms started the year by getting out of the rat race. Right. One January day, Bill got a call from a sister (who will remain anonymous in the interests of peace) telling him that the retirement party at the hospital that night was a Big Deal, and that if he knew what was good for him... So there we were in Nashville five hours later. Then Carol retired the same week. Good thing they both took the big step - they're so busy that it's hard to see how they could have fit work into the schedule. The next week, we took one of our historical jaunts to see a collection of formerly-Soviet WWII memorabilia in Memphis. Hitler's uniform and flag standard were weird enough, but then we learned that the Katyusha rocket launchers used in the Red Army's advance across Europe rode in the backs of Lend-Lease Chevy trucks. Why isn't that in the commercials?
Nathan's in first grade (just turned seven this morning, in fact), and reading an incredible amount. His handwriting isn't up to the same standard, and working on that will have to be Terri's job. He liked visiting the Tadlocks' place in Mississippi, ending up in the lake one more time than we'd brought changes of clothes. He's riding his bike and lost his first baby teeth this fall.
Christopher is still the wildlife specialist. He liked the visit to Mississippi too, especially when the fishing spider he was bringing home ate a minnow on the way. It did get traumatic when the baby birds he was watching in the back yard were eaten by a big black king snake. The worst part was that the snake got away. He took second prize in the school science fair for showing how quickly refrigerator magnets can erase diskettes. And he saved us a whole lot of grief by noticing that sewage was backing up into the downstairs bathroom right before we were to leave town. Bill probably got stares when buying the second mop, what with the blue jeans rolled up to the knees and that faint aroma of manure - a lot like Li'l Abner. Christopher led the way to Arizona this summer, flying out a week before Terri and Nathan. Then at summer's end, he got his braces off, moving on to a retainer. Let me tell you, that was a popular and long-awaited day.
What about Bill? He stayed in town watching over the roofers, since the shingles were pouring down the gutters in bits with each rain, and comforting poor Pussy Gato, who thought all those noises must be from 600-pound racoon paratroopers. And he did feel called for an evening of nostalgia in Huntsville on the 30th anniversary of the first lunar landing, sharing the evening with other people who also think it's interesting to see which pattern of roll stripes they put on the new life-size Saturn V replica. And he's now actually heard Buzz Aldrin say "magnificent desolation". After sabbatical it was back to a busy load this fall, highlighted (more or less) by someone who wandered into class, aced a quiz, and signed the name "Seymour Butts". At least that wasn't the lecture about Uranus, or it could have gotten out of hand. He rushed back from a meeting in California to try catching a satellite launch in June, but (after numerous delays) it left without us. So we spent a week in Orlando - Terri could have done without the bruised rib from one of the rides, but she did get to see one of her high-school teachers who plays with Mariachi Cobre at Disney World. As usual, Christopher collected reptile guests along the way, and one of you out there will recall the fun of hearing Bill on the phone while the lizard ran down his shirt. He's been busy enough to just plain forget things like dental appointments - so people's names don't have much of a chance. You might have seen the press release from Stony Brrok this year about the most distant known galaxy, codiscovered by Sam Pascarelle and informally named for Sam's 32-year-old sister. That story hadn't been on the wires for two hours before someone around here got a call from their 32-year-old sister, wondering what it must be like to have a successful astronomer brother. Thanks again, Sam.
Terri turned 40 this year, which had Bill standing in the snow at Ohio pay phones to line up a surprise party. Carol even showed up for the occasion. Life with the Cub Scouts has been intense this fall, with so many campouts that she (whose idea of roughing it formerly involved a turned-down bed with chocolates on top) actually bought a tent this year. She also stayed with the scouts when they slept over at the Birmingham Zoo this fall, muttering something about not keeping the animals awake. Pack 8 led the whole district on fundraising sales of popcorn this year, so we had the spectacle of $13,740 worth of popcorn sitting in our house for distribution. The smell is mostly gone by now.
We live in a rougher neighborhood than we thought. It's bad enough that the Tuscaloosa police helicopter has hovered over our neighborhood twice this week (reassuring when the searchlight is in your back yard), but a couple of bozos brandished a pistol at Christopher and a friend while they were collected for the food bank in Scout uniforms. The police weren't too interested in that one - which part of young hoodlums, red pickups, and guns would be news around here? Sigh. And the house has seen major upgrades, what with both the air conditioning and heater going out this year. We anticipate a really nice card from White Appliance.
So we're ready for the season, with secret boxes wrapped and new ornaments on the tree (this year it's three Star Wars craft, a moon rover, and two differently colored Titanics). Bill can still be reached electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.astr.ua.edu/keel, or, in a new twist at home, email@example.com. Terri is now firstname.lastname@example.org, so we've finally taken the plunge and let the net into our house. Is the wired world ready for this?
Wishing you a season of peace and joy,
Terri, Bill, Christopher, and Nathan