Dear Family and Friends,


In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the young lover Bassanio must choose one of three caskets (chests) in order to win fair Portia's hand in marriage: gold, silver, or lead. The gold represents what many men desire, the silver promises getting what is deserved, and the lead says the man must give and hazard all he has. Yes, Bassanio is a big spender who's over his head in debt, and yes, he wants to marry Portia because she's the wealthiest woman in the world, but he realizes that love isn't about what you want or what you deserve—it's about what you give and share. (Portia also gives him a big clue by playing a special song with lyrics that rhyme with “lead,” just in case, but that's not the point here.)

Lisa and I have spent pretty much every day of this year trying to figure out how to convince Helena and James that they need to share, but I suppose there are lessons for all of us in what we try to teach our children and why we find those tenets to be important.


First off, Helena and James are doing well, and they are learning, so it's not like we're raising total brats. Maybe it's just human nature to want most for yourself and less for the person next to you. For some reason, both of our kids love one hat. It's an old yellow crocheted hat, but each child wants to wear it when we go out, so Mommy has devised a scheme of sharing: if Helena wears it to a destination, James gets to wear it back home. So they each get to look totally stylin' half of the time, instead of Mommy taking the hat away and nobody getting to wear it.


The other day, Lisa had me go up into the attic to grab most of the rest of her toys for the kids to enjoy: Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Charmkins, pop beads, and a lot more. Of course, Lisa got a bit upset when Helena took apart some sort of plastic structure and it dropped to the floor. It was Lisa's, and sharing, even for an adult, isn't easy, especially when the first inclination of both of your children is to find interesting ways to destroy what they are given. James got a hold of the Wildlife Treasury box (the green box with the animal cards inside). Curiously, he was much more interested in the alphabet listing cards than the actual animal cards. He loves letters, numbers, and shapes. He's like a character on Sesame Street. Anyhow, James has all the letters lined up and strewn about the floor when along comes Helena. Instead of looking at all the neat pictures of animals (which I suggested multiple times), she hauls off and steals a half dozen of the letter cards. So in a house filled with roughly 1,000 toys, we had two kids screaming at each other over twenty-year-old index cards with nothing more than a letter on each.


Actually, when we take Helena and James somewhere, they tend to behave themselves, so that's probably why we end up taking them all kinds of places, including the Beach Boys concert at the Walworth County Fair this past summer. Since then, they've asked for nothing but their favorite band on the car stereo, especially “Kokomo,” which Lisa has played for them upwards of five times in one day. Both kids love Sunday School and library story times. Helena is a regular schoolgirl now, attending 3-K two mornings a week at Immanuel. They're both learning so much every day and I think they're pretty clever, but Helena still doesn't buy into the fact that stories need conflict in order to function as stories, so she makes me “fast-over” the scary parts of movies. She's even got herself convinced Cinderella's stepsisters aren't really so wicked (just misunderstood).


Speaking of Cinderella, Cousin Jason got married this year and I got to stand up in the wedding. Emily is a great addition to the family. While I don't understand my family's love for Loppy's, a quintessential small-town dive bar, the bachelor party and wedding were still a good time, or so I've been told.


Lisa and I went on our own getaway for the first time since Helena was 13 months old to celebrate Lisa's 30th and our 7th anniversary (many thanks to Lisa's parents for watching the kids) to Door County at almost the same time Jason and Emily were celebrating their honeymoon in fancy hotels there. We went camping, and I've once again declared it to be the last time we ever go camping. Rain always finds us whenever we try to camp, and while I can sleep through a thunderstorm because I snore louder than thunder, I woke up to a groggy wife and soaked tent (including its contents), and that's no way to spend a vacation. I did score a free Pert Plus in the community showers, so the fact I forgot to pack soap was at least negated. Sure, we saw all the pretty coastline and trees, but we also made the mistake of taking a wilderness hiking trail through Newport State Park. It was like we were Lisa and Clark and we were supposed to create our own path through the woods. We walked on a barely six-inch-wide trail, and there were all kinds of obstacles in the way: rocks, snakes (albeit garters), and waist-high weeds on either side. Lisa even went into the ranger station to complain about it when we were finally done (a rare thing for someone who avoids confrontation like the plague). When she asked why the trails weren't marked on the map based on difficulty, they said all the trails were that rough, though in that part of the state they claimed we shouldn't be concerned about contracting ticks nor poison ivy. Of course, the funniest part was the guy who jogged past us TWICE as we trudged through the mosquito-infested wilderness and the backpackers who had actually set up a wilderness campsite in the middle of the dense woods.


Our garage was a wilderness of stuff this summer as we held our first-ever rummage sale. Yes, it was quite a hassle, and we didn't get rich by any means, but we did get rid of a lot of stuff, including all of the baby equipment. I also had seller's remorse after selling my Sega Genesis and Atari 2600, trying to find the buyer on Craigslist to get the Sega back because I started to remember how much fun it was to waste hours of my life playing Electronic Arts NHL Hockey or the original Madden football game, and how many other memories were tied into playing those stupid games with friends. Strangely, one of the first items we sold was a cast-iron wiener dog / boot scraper that Casey and I took out of the trunk of an abandoned car back in 1990. Why I kept it, I have no idea. Why someone bought it, I can't even guess.


While I was busy practically giving our stuff away, Lisa was transitioning into her new job as our pastor's assistant. I figured she'd have to do things like pick up donuts and holy water for meetings, but she's actually doing all kinds of really important administrative stuff, like analyzing and reporting on statistics from demographics studies to figure out how best to minister to our church's surrounding area, investigating insurance options for our church and school, researching the purchase of a church bus and vehicle ad wraps, putting together a photo directory of our church membership for the 100th anniversary, and writing monthly shepherding letters to our congregation's young adults. Amazingly, she's also maintained her rigorous daily workouts (even joining a ballet class) and her experimental and healthy homemade culinary undertakings (don't get me started on those “sneaky chef” recipes), while taking the kids to school, activities, and playdates. She makes me want to sit on the couch and eat Cheetos just thinking about it, but we don't have those in the house anymore, so I sometimes get stuck folding laundry instead.


Luckily, I only need a little over half as much sleep as Lisa, so I can get things done at my own pace, though I'm still way behind on many projects, like the half-painted trim, the half-written play (Boston Store: The Musical), the half-completed Website ideas, my newest being the hosting of online school newspapers for schools that don't have enough money left to print actual newspapers anymore, which will be roughly every school sooner rather than later. One project I did complete was a new Website for a friend at school whose wife runs a beauty salon: And this is like the first Website I've ever designed that I actually got paid in real money ahead of time to complete. Around the same time, I helped design and I'm also getting real money for that one, too, so maybe there's a future in this Internet thing. By the way, if you have real money and want a Website, I can build one at about 20% what the pros will charge, so go ahead and start that business of yours, and it couldn't come at a better time, since Wisconsin is officially open for business.


You often hear that Christmas is a time of giving, or maybe even a time of sharing. Sure, it doesn't always feel great when you put thought and effort into buying a great gift for someone and they get you an obvious re-gift in return (perhaps even one you gave them a year ago), but you make the choice whether to let it ruin Christmas. We hope you find a way to share with others, whether it's your wisdom or your wealth. And I wish us all the right to the health and education that we deserve, even if it costs something to share these rights with others.




Brian, Lisa, Helena, and James

Cousin Mia, James, and Helena

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