Holiday Letter 2011

December 2011

 

Friends-

 

Holiday Greetings from Elmira, New York where “Holiday Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not meant as an attack on Christianity, but rather as a time-saving, super-natural-being-neutral, salutation. It really is a time saver compared to going through our recipient list and guessing everyone’s favorite flavor of religion and it saves a bit of ink compared to the interactive opening of “Happy Holidays / Season’s Greetings / Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah / . . . . (circle one)”. But, as a nice girl once said to Eric, “enough with the preliminaries”; it was a very exciting year here and we have highlights to share. And, of course, lowlights. Among the latter, our better-than-natural-green-spray-painted-genuine-pine-wreath, retired to the basement after nine years of service, has now moved on to a new home in a landfill. RIP Pine Wreath.

 

On both the home improvement and prognostication front Eric fell short in 2011. We will get to Ellen’s shortcomings eventually. In our 2010 recap, Eric included this attempt at predicting the future:

“In 2011 we doubled the number of bathrooms in the house from three to six. Well . . . this does depend a little bit on what you mean by “bathroom” . . . and “house”. We added a full bath to what was formerly the garage and is now a workshop. We’ll count this one, even though you have to walk outside (if you are in the house, you don’t have to leave the garage) to use it. The reasoning behind a garage bathroom is not clear to everyone, but it should be obvious by 2016. We also converted a closet on the second floor to a bathroom. This one takes a bit of “tricky accounting” as the conversion simply involved emptying stuff from the room. It was a bathroom when we bought the house, but it was never used as one and was quickly filled with . . . crap. Yes, we had been using a bathroom as a closet since 1999. We also use the back stairway as a closet, the pantry as a closet and a 7-by-10 room on the second floor that doesn’t seem to have any better reason for being there as a closet. But, we digress. Finally, the three to six change, also assumes you are willing to count the utility sink near Eric’s basement office as a bathroom. Eric does.”

That whole paragraph was not included just so Eric could make a joke about urinating in the sink . . . that was really the plan for 2011. And, as they say about the best planned lays laid plans this one went awry. Ellen and Kate did get the forgotten bathroom cleared out and in working order (and, while they were at their October version of spring cleaning, the back staircase). The garage bathroom may have been optimistic, though it could have happened if our plumber spent less time with his family and more time in our house, but we did make strides in that direction. Perhaps in 2012. On the bright side, we did get the garage insulated as Eric learned the (abstract) art of applying spray-on-closed-cell-foam. We also upgraded the electrical service in the garage and made some wiring improvements inside the house as well, including hooking-up Kate’s kiln.* The home data and phone networks were also improved prompting Eric to move back to the third floor (this has made the basement sink less convenient, but it’s good to know it is there when needed). Also, If our plumber can be trusted, the third floor should have heat by the end of this year.

*Part of what makes December hectic around here is the almost tradition of trying to make sure the preceding year’s gifts are used, in use or usable as appropriate. The kiln, for example, was a one-off project because Kate received a pottery wheel last Christmas and what good are half finished cat bowls?** So a kiln was delivered in July . . . and hooked up in December (there was no rush as the cats had plenty of bowls from when Ellen took a pottery class; plus, who wants to fire-up a kiln in the house in August?). Other various items that have been around between six and twelve months have recently been put into use (Eric hung some framed tiles he bought Ellen last year) or will be very, very soon (Eric will wear a sweater someone bought him last year to Ellen’s father’s house this weekend while Ellen will almost certainly read the instructions for that laminator someone got her for all the elementary school artwork around here). Of course, the biggest time waster in December is trying to use restaurant gift cards. We went out to dinner twice this fall which increased our total for 2011 to three (we go out to dinner on Kate’s birthday . . . apparently that is not negotiable. Connor can be bribed and is happy ordering out). We are not a family that likes to eat out. Eric doesn’t like to leave the house, wait in line, have chance meetings with people he knows, have chance meetings with people he doesn’t know or answer pointless questions.*** Ellen doesn’t like to spend money. So we eat in. But we have these gift cards that Ellen carries around wrapped in rubber bands . . . they look like a small plastic brick . . . so we try to use them every now and then. This means taking Connor to a restaurant. Apparently, our limit on taking Connor out to eat is twice in two months. I think the only gift cards we use reliably are to Dunkin Donuts.

** Thirty years ago those cat bowls would have been ashtrays. Kate, whose vocabulary is pretty good for an adult, had never heard the word “ashtray”. So she makes cat bowls. We hope, someday, she makes cocoa mugs.

*** For example, “How would you like that cooked?” That’s like an adult version of the game children play where they sit in a circle and whisper a phrase in the ear of the kid to their left and when they get full circle they all laugh about how “Ride a bike down by the lake” became “Put a spike in a birthday cake” . . . except there is a better chance the kids are trying to get it right.

In other news this year: Eric got tricked into another Outer Banks trip, but he has no one to blame but himself. Of course, a good time was had by all and we have now seen everything there is to see in the Outer Banks twice so we will be looking for a new vacation spot this year. Everyone is encouraged to make suggestions and/or join in. Also, on the news front, Ellen switched jobs when the company she worked for since 1999 went out of business (for reasons we can’t say). Finally, in one of the bigger surprises of the year, we received a call out-of-the-blue from Vin Geiger who needed help with his daughter’s math homework.

We still have two children. ADD and EDD. That is an A for attention and an E for empathy.

Connor has had a successful year to date. In 2011 Connor survived the second half of fourth grade, baseball season, summer camp, soccer season and half of fifth grade. All major accomplishments for Connor. When you view survival as victory you never see yourself as a loser (unless, of course, there really is an afterlife . . . and even then it is only once). To repeat ourselves from our 2010 update:

Connor made it through another year which is no small feat if you are Connor. To repeat ourselves from our 2009 update:

“He maintains a surprising level of inner confidence when faced with novel scenarios despite the fact that all of the history he has experienced should make new things terrifying.”

Connor handles new situations like a deer handles headlights. In a sense, the whole world is a giant obstacle course cleverly designed to trip him up in the most insidious of ways.

While Connor benefits from repetition more than most he still finds himself at a disadvantage because so much of life is new every day.**** As a parent we prepare him as best we can (well . . . better than some other parents would, at least . . . no one here is at risk of winning any Parent of the Year award) but we still know that his fortunes are sometimes dependent on the goodwill / competence / quick reflexes of others. In other words, no matter how many times we tell him to look both ways sooner or later his well-being will come down to someone hitting their brakes. He truly is an accident waiting to happen. We are oddly OK with that.

Still, he maintains a sense of humor that almost makes him worth keeping around. Here’s an example: “Watch and learn guys. If you cough into the ice cream container you get to eat the whole thing.” Which is funny . . . until he coughs. And here is another Connor-ism, in response to Ellen asking him what he is doing wandering to bed after being directed to brush his teeth: “I’m sorry My Darling but my brain isn’t processing right now.” Which would be cuter if he was joking . . . and “now” didn’t mean “always”. Boarding school remains a possibility.

**** So much of what Connor experiences is new; so much of what Connor does can be filed under SSDD.

 

Kate remains Kate. At 8 she is (usually) the most mature and responsible person in the house. She can come across as competent, sweet or shy. Eric suspects it’s all an act. Ellen is sure she is really changing into someone who may someday not be a threat to society.***** Of course, Kate-isms from 2011 still sound a lot like Kate-isms from past years. Here are two:

 

“Why does it always have to be ‘happily ever after’? Why can’t someone die for once?” – At the end of a Disney movie.

“People getting hurt.” -When Connor asked her, while watching Youtube videos of kittens, what Kate would like to see.

 

There is really nothing new to say about Kate. She is so efficient that she was effectively an adult at two. If you see her in 2012 and something bad happens nearby, just remember that with Kate it is NEVER an accident. Also, if you get the chance, ask her about the meaning of Christmas.

 

***** If you have a person who demonstrates a high level intellect, an ability to manipulate others and a complete lack of empathy and then that person, suddenly, begins to act with kindness and concern toward others is it more likely they suddenly gained a conscience or that they are acting in a manner consistent with self-preservation while they slowly nurture plans for world domination? Eric and Ellen seem to disagree here.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and an interesting year,

Eric, Ellen, Connor and Kate

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