Dear Family and Friends,

I was backing up our picture files for the past year the other day and was surprised to see that we’d taken around 1300 photos during the year (and we’ve still got Christmas to go).  Amazing, hey? Fifteen years ago when I got my first good camera, I might have gone through five rolls of 35mm film a year, sometimes less. One-tenth the pictures. So we’re much better off, right? Maybe those pictures represent a lot more of nothing while we’d like them to represent a lot of more of everything, or maybe those pictures do help us remember what’s important. 




 

Actually, the year has been fairly upbeat, save for the loss of Bandit, our family dog. While he was inherited as an old guy (about 10 years old), he did become part of the family, and he IS missed. The only sad part is that we never knew him as a healthy young dog. Helena even asked if Bandit was going to poop on the floor while in Heaven with Jesus. I told her he wouldn’t, though he did manage to poop, pee, or puke there and just about everywhere else while he was with us. Lisa keeps reminding me that he was a smart, gentle dog who was good with the kids and who couldn’t help his ailments.

We put Bandit down at age 15 in the midst of the Cash for Clunkers programs, and I couldn’t help but make a couple of connections. Like many clunkers, yes, he was old and had seen better days, but he still kept on going. And it would have seemed weird to simply trade him in for a puppy. The other way I looked at it was that if I’d had all the money I’d spent on him back, Lisa and I could have traded in my truck and been able to afford a brand new Nissan Frontier, Suzuki Equator, or Toyota Tacoma (and, no, I am absolutely not kidding on that one). We could have proudly supported the Asian automotive industry like most of the people who took advantage of the program (based on a 13% market share swing during its implementation). The crazy thing is that my “Category 3” Suburban only qualified for money towards another truck, so even if I’d wanted a little car to replace it, no deal. And my 1983 Mercedes was both too old AND got too good gas mileage to qualify. Therefore, I will still drive my Suburban on veggie and probably donate my Mercedes to juvenile delinquents. Congrats to any of you who have consumed the latest in government cheese. And I also mean that in multiple ways.

The year did have some moments that flirted with disaster, including Lisa’s father’s heart attack (No, it didn’t happen on 11-5-08 or 1-20-09). It did, however, happen in February in Wisconsin, which is fitting because there isn’t much else to do here during the winter months. While stressful, the whole situation was a wake-up call that has resulted in eating fish twice a week and other healthy adjustments for Papa Rick.

Lisa has been quietly making strides in her resolution to stay in great shape after having two kids, and she also convinced me to join her at the health club. I enjoyed going a couple of times, and I might even get back into shape someday, which is especially important now that I’m over (gulp) thirty-something and still trying to play baseball. Even if I don’t get buff, they have free babysitting, so I can sit on an exercise bike and watch music videos or sit in the hot tub with wrinkly old men while the kids drive someone else crazy.

Ah, yes, the kids. We drove down to Indiana with them for cousin Nate’s graduation and had our first indication that James gets carsick. Unfortunately, it happened before we even got out of Wisconsin. And it happened multiple times. Then it started to get hot. Then we got stuck in a two-hour traffic jam in the middle of Indiana (with no air conditioning in the truck!). I mean, it’s Indiana—where was everyone going? From previous trips there, I pretty much thought people sat on their porches with IU or Purdue flags flying, tipped a few back, and listened to John Cougar Mellencamp songs while paint chips fell off the sides of their homes. Wait, that’s not fair: they have pig farms, too. Anyhow, on the way home, James gave his final performance near the airport and I decided to just get home instead of stopping to clean it up. I think Lisa said it was “heartless.” I thought it would be better to get home and hose everything down. The best part of the whole trip was Papa Chet just sitting there, not worried about any of the goings on. Lisa asked why he was so calm about the whole situation, and I said that he (1) grew up on a farm (my reasoning for a lot of what he does and says) and (2) is generally clueless about most events happening around him.

James is also mostly clueless (16 months), but he is starting to say “words.” Basically, he knows how to say “hi”, “yeah”, “no”, and he can roar like a tiger and bark like a dog— pretty much all he’ll need when he starts trying to pick up girls at the clubs. He also wants his mamma all the time, and he usually screams at me, especially when I’m in charge of watching him when Lisa has to leave the room. Helena is out of diapers all day and we’re starting at night right now. She can pretty much do anything she puts her mind to, both wonderful and mischievous. She refuses to learn French (I can only speak it to her when we are driving to any given destination, but not while driving home or at any other time), but she also tells me daily, “Daddy, I love you so much!” Just like her mother, she tells me when I’m being silly, wants each day planned, and loves reading and singing.




We didn’t go on any other road trips this year, but the kids did get out quite a bit, mostly participating in Rec Department classes: swimming for James this summer and for Helena in the fall, as well as Music for Tots for both of them and library reading classes for Helena. James still wanders around a lot and generally doesn’t care for doing any of the structured activity, though he does like music (so he’s a lot like the sophomores I teach). Helena loves doing all of the activities and gets so excited about every aspect of her classes. She’s now signed up for pre-ballet and tumbling. I told her she’d have a lot more rules to follow in ballet than in her “dance moves” she normally demonstrates. In a way, that will be kind of a sad moment. She’s so happy just hopping around, kicking her leg once in a while, and wearing an 80s-style headband, and now she’s about to realize there are rules that dictate how she can have fun. With more rules to be added, and for the rest of her life.

Helena’s got a couple of parents who can explain to her a lot about the rules of the game. Lisa was told in July that she was going to lose her job, which bothered her quite a bit because of all the effort she’d put forth and the accomplishments she’d made. She was offered another job with the church almost immediately because they value what she’s proven she can do, even if her part-time job was converted into a fulltime called church worker position combined with Youth Director and Bible education responsibilities, which she’s not ready to embark on right now. Her current job will end when the new hire comes aboard (sometime between March and August; after that, she will work as the assistant to the senior pastor). Lisa knows how to follow the rules, and even though she sort of lost her job based on rules, she also sort of kept her job because of them. On the other hand, I was given the opportunity to defend my writing and my web presence to my administrators at work. I thought I was providing students with an entertaining way to learn and receive the information they needed to succeed in class, but we can’t forget those rules.

With my other endeavors, I’ve got the fundraising sites (InnovativeSchoolFunding.com and ParishFunding.com), and we’re starting to make good money for other people. I still try to write a little, too, but I get to write about as much as I get to watch sports on TV—Helena has said she wants to be a basketball player when she grows up, but she doesn’t let me actually watch that or any other sport, unless it involves Barney or The Wiggles playing the sport. I did pick up two new domains to see what can happen: AuthorPilgrimage.com (about journeys to pay homage to great authors) and zonatah.com (the official site of the Arizona and Utah adventure series, as well as my new creative writing home). I run realwisconsinnews.com, mcnewsy.com, blogtire.com, evanpaydon.com, and dsmvacations.com (the only site I’ve actually been paid to create), many of which are mostly under construction.

The biggest disruption to our world this year was remodeling the kitchen and bathroom. Mostly just updating, but we’re still cleaning up the mess (literally and figuratively). Issues we had included a completely debris-covered CD/DVD/VHS/cassette collection on day one, a cut phone line on day two, a vanity installed that left no room for a toilet, a toilet installed that was defective and was just replaced, tile laid in the wrong direction, a shower head that didn’t let water come out and a bathtub that didn’t drain, a quote that included laminate countertops that had to be upgraded to quartz in order to get it right, and various other problems Lisa had to manage. In all, however, we are happy with the results and glad I didn’t try to do it myself, because if skilled laborers mess up as much as these guys did, I could only imagine what kind of destruction I could have caused.

And the reason we keep following rules, disrupting our lives, going on road trips, and taking pictures? Mostly family. Helena and James were excited to welcome Amelia Raml to the family as their first cousin. They love their grandparents and get to see them quite often. Lisa and I love and appreciate our parents, siblings, children, and other relatives (even if they live in Indiana). And the pictures represent those people. I converted all of my 1999 European trip photos to digital this year, and I was sad when I saw so many beautiful buildings and wonderful scenery. At the time, without a digital camera and 5000 pictures to burn, I rationed the photos to ones everyone takes, leaving out many opportunities for pictures of people. Even more, I was saddened that everyone I know today was not there to enjoy it with me and appear in those pictures. My friend Casey and I had a great time… our last hoorah before marriage and family and obscurity, but there are still many great times to be had with family and friends. So maybe a photo is too often us grasping at holding onto something that is fleeting, trying to make it permanent, but if it can help me retain that moment when my existence was intertwined with someone I love, I can’t argue with filling up the old hard drive.

Love,

Brian, Lisa, Helena, and James

P.S. Total photos since 2003: 10,000; Top number photos for one year: 2324 in 2007; 2009 photos of Grandpa Rick: 22 (not including this Christmas); Photos of Bandit in 2009: 10 ; Photos of Indiana trip: 6 ; Photos of remodel: 46 ; Photos of Mercedes for sale: 49 ; Photos of Helena and/or James: about 500

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