Here we are again! Even though we've barely had to break out the long sleeves yet, we can tell the holidays are approaching. Students are copying final essays off the Web. People at work and school are sneaking around collecting contributions for secret gifts and hoping the email doesn't get forwarded to one too many recipients. It's dark by 5 pm. over here at the edge of the time zone. Mannheim Steamroller has released yet another Christmas album. And we're trying to unscramble our own cryptic abbreviations to tell which wrapped gifts are what and for whom.
When we left off last year, we had just shipped a toy train table for Nathan from Tucson because the local store was out. So far so good, it arrived in plenty of time. Bill started assembly the Friday night before Christmas to be sure everything was finished in time. A good thing, since the only instructions with it seemed to be in Chinese. A quick panic call located one in town the next day (which had, of course, just arrived after the store expected no more), and a photocopy of the instructions bailed us out. That's going to be a basic piece of furniture for a while.
We had snow on New Year's Day, which the police must have enjoyed terrifically as cars went flying off perfectly straight and level bits of road. At our house, the snow mostly showed us by footprints that deer not only live here but can jump the fence while we're not looking.
We've been more active in civic matters than we would have ever believed this year. A very local zoning issue got us to City Hall, Bill is now vice-president of the neighborhood association, and, as final punishment for writing to school-board members and city councilmen, he's on the planning committee for a high school now under construction. Many teachers and administrators know us personally, and that's not always good. Bill's still on the faculty senate, enjoying every minute of the debate as much as you might imagine. Desegregation of fraternities, same-sex benefits policies, fall break, exam scheduling, energy management - it's hard to believe that he doesn't want to do this full-time.
We took a quick trip to Memphis over spring break, where Christopher was planning to meet favorite author Brian Jacques (as in the Redwall series). This was a good chance to see some friends who'd moved away from Tuscaloosa (despite this, we did manage to track them down, just in case you might be getting ideas). Not only did he get books signed, he won a large woven wall hanging in a sweepstakes there at the bookstore. This was a big year for winning - Nathan won a backpack from a Web contest in which he had to write about why he likes the "Magic Treehouse" books.
We had to say goodbye to Pussy Gato this summer, after having her around since before Terri and Bill met. She'd been going downhill for several months, which didn't make things any easier when the time came, the day before Christopher and Bill left for UK travels. (See the obituary notice).
Christopher did his trip as part of the Student Ambassador program, in which groups of about 28 students take educational and cultural tours. He gave us a scare a month beforehand, limping home from school after some wild behavior in the gym (not even from the cave the Boy Scouts had just been climbing in), but it was only sprained, not broken. His group spent time in London, Birmingham (the other one), Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Bill figured this would be a good time to take the collaborative trip to the UK that needed to be done this year anyway, and almost got on the same flight out of Atlanta. They did meet up in the Scottish twilight of Stirling on Father's day. Christopher handed over the ornamental dagger he'd just bought for Bill to bring home (maybe watching Braveheart wasn't such a great idea). By this time Bill had missed the last train back to join his suitcase in Edinburgh, so he took a bunk for the night in the Willy Wallace backpacker's Hostel, musing at how he and Terri could afford to stay in the Golden Lion last time they were in Stirling. Christopher really enjoyed Scotland and Ireland. He did find out that the way to be Ambassador of the Day clearly does not involve flipping a canoe shared with one of the adult leaders. We saw some other facets of the ambassador experience when he got home with his pictures. Let's see - there's Christopher with a trash can on his head, Christopher waving an orc sword in a souvenir shop, with three rolls stuffed in his mouth at breakfast... His trip diary needed some polishing, consisting in large part of unfavorable comments about breakfast. We would have saved a good bit of time packing with him had we known that he would buy a T-shirt every time the bus stopped.
Christopher: the British invasion
Meanwhile Bill was going clockwise around Britain, working with collaborators in Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Durham. Former officemate Peter Allan let himself be talked into driving Bill around for a tour of C.S. Lewis sites in Oxford, including the famed Eagle and Child (alias Bird and Baby) pub. Bill did go in, for research purposes only. The view of the magnificent cathedral in Durham looked vaguely familiar, from a painting on Bill's grandmother's wall for many years. Since she was a Durham, there may be some roots there...
Also at the same time, Nathan was taking summer enrichment classes, on some favorite topics like natural disasters. Terri dabbled with being a lady of leisure, with the house all to herself for hours at a time.
Christopher was intent enough on not getting behind in Boy Scout rank that he went to camp with another troop the day after returning from the UK. On awarding the resulting five merit badges, his leader said he was "not to be outdone". Camp is really fun when the water connections all go dry. We do want to be clear that it was not one of ours who replied at a Scout meeting to a question about kinds of catfish found in the state with "Fried!". Nathan also did a stint at camp, with Bill helping out. It wasn't pretty when he was one of the adults that the kids conned into doing the human wheelbarrow, although his partner in crime described it as better than going to the chiropractor.
Nathan and Bill took in a couple of air shows at nearby Air Force bases this summer (before the planes were in use elsewhere). Maybe there's no shame in having a stealth bomber sneak up on you, but it can be quite disconcerting. They also saw World War II vintage planes being demonstrated. The current bomber demonstrations were even more impressive thinking back a couple of months later.
We managed a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains in July. We made the major discovery that the family's major shared travel interest is shopping, but did get in some trips to the highest mountain in the park, and got stuck in a deer jam near Cade's Cove. Bison, yes, and maybe wolves - but cars backed up to see a single deer? Some of these people must be city folks beyond description. There was also time for a trip to find fossil shark teeth, pulling in several dozen.
Christopher and Nathan spent some time in Nashville just before school started. This is when their younger aunt introduced the boys to Senator Fred Thompson, commenting that their father might have voted Republican, and Nathan mentioned that their dad also used to be a nerd. (At least that's a hint that it might be curable). Christopher came home with a foot-long iguana, which Bill's mom knew he couldn't complain about, Bill having kept one at the same age. Rex, in fact, knows some of the same escape tricks as his predecessor, but does eat his vegetables better than anyone else in the house.
Bill and Terri went on a Cleansing Stream retreat in Atlanta this fall, after doing the series in Sunday School. We highly recommend it, leaving us feeling sort of reamed out and, well, cleansed...
Bill and Nathan went meteor-watching on November 18, especially since Bill saw the big 1966 shower of the Leonids and is determined not to miss any repeat performances. They saw something over 1000 that night, so Nathan is now a connoisseur unlikely to be impressed by ordinary meteors. The next day was a long one, with a Cub Scout food drive and community-wide musical service at church the next evening.
And in late-breaking news - well, actually Christopher's toe sustained only a hairline fracture, not requiring any treatment more involved than tape, so it probably doesn't even count... We leave off waiting for Fellowship of the Ring to open, with Christopher hoping that a half-day of school doesn't interfere with the first showing (and working on plausible excuses in case it does). We already have most of the Burger King figures and the big action figures, the calendar, a set of Christmas ornaments courtesy of Grandma Carol, and the CD soundtrack, so next stop - the theater!
Our email addresses have changed - we finally got fed up with AOL, so we're now email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. And whether in paper, sound waves, or electrons, we're wishing you wonderful 2002!
Terri, Bill, Christopher, and Nathan