Holiday Letter 2012

December 2012


Greetings from Elmira, New York where what once seemed odd now seems normal (like parenthetical remarks).  This is our thirteenth year of sending out a form letter along with our holiday cards and looking back at older letters they seem to include items that are quite mundane.  We hope they seemed interesting at the time; but now many of them seem so . . .  uninteresting (not the old stuff about Kate, that was certainly odd, but most of the other stuff).   Of course, without these letters we may have forgotten how . . . difficult . . . Kate was until she turned six or that some people only get a single year out of a holiday wreath or that some houses have doors on their bathrooms.

This year will go into the books as a good year, provided disaster does not strike in the final few days (which is why we got the letter out early this year).   We got in a number of small and varied vacations,  saw some old friends, completed a few home improvement projects, went to no funerals (assuming you don’t count the one for our cat, Tripoli;  Eric did go to that, but he had to . . . he brought the shovel.), Ellen became completely self-employed,  Eric got a motorcycle license, Connor started at a new school, we adopted a new kitten and Kate did no permanent harm (and that is a best case outcome, because, as we have noted in the past, e.g. “Kate seemed very normal this year which is no small feat if you are Kate. When you match Kate’s complete lack of empathy with her rare mixture of initiative and decisiveness you have what some might call an accident waiting to happen. Of course, those people don’t know Kate like we know Kate. With Kate, it’s never an accident. “ (2010) and “Someday we will hear the phrase “collateral damage” . . . only the context will be a surprise.” (2009) events near Kate can be unpredictable, unless, of course, you are Kate.).

Among the vacations this year was a four day trip to New York City in April during which we saw a Mets game from the All-You-Can-Eat-Seats (yes, they really do have those at Citi Field).  It was a nice refresher course in the city of his birth for Eric (though we barely got with-in 90 blocks of the hospital where it all started for Eric [unless you believe that life begins at conception in which case it is unlikely Eric started in a hospital after all]).   We may also have visited some museums and such.  And Central Park.  And a store where they sell nothing but doll stuff (we kid you not).  In July we went to Martha’s Vineyard for the wedding of two people that none of us knew.  Seriously . . . we had never met the folks and it seems unlikely we will ever meet them again, but they seemed nice enough.  We stretched that road trip out a little on the front end by going to Saratoga Springs where we saw a horse race and ate a restaurant which made its own cotton candy (which it gave out in pillowcase-sized bags) and then to Plymouth where we saw some historical stuff (some Indian stuff and a big boat . . . and a rock).  We did manage to miss Elmira’s only tornado in recent memory during that trip.  We also squeezed in a weekend trip to West Point  to meet some old friends.  All of those road trips were done in Ellen’s MINI . . . because we all really like each other.  Ellen also managed a trip to Belize to visit her sister and a cruise in the Bahamas with some friends from college . . .  she likes vacations more than Eric.  Connor and Kate each got a week in at summer camp (which is like a vacation except without Ellen telling you where to stand and when to smile for the pictures).

It’s (almost) tradition for this letter to recount our annual battle against the leaves, but that looks like another custom that will pass by the wayside.  This year’s battle was anti-climatic and next year Connor will be twelve and theoretically capable of handling these things . . . which is why we had him in the first place  (Like his father before him, Connor was a product of convenience.  All available evidence suggests that Eric was only brought into the world to change TV channels and fetch beers from the fridge . . . once his parents bought a TV with a remote and switched from beer to Scotch [you can bring the whole bottle to the couch] he was only an afterthought.).  There is clearly value in planning ahead . . . many people are not far-sighted enough to take a course of action that will take 13 years to pay any dividends.
Home improvement  picked-up  the pace this past year as we left the roof fiasco a little further in the rearview mirror.  We still have a lot of projects with a status of “In Progress” and an estimated completion date of “Unknown” (some might even be “Never”); but we did get a few things off the list.   The year got off to a fast start when we installed heat in the attic (aka Eric’s Office) on January 2nd  (and then got air conditioning up there in July).   We also had the back patio and walkway redone and a new awning put up.  Of course, some projects didn’t go quite so smoothly.

Let us digress.  We suspect most home improvement projects begin innocently enough: someone asks a question like “How can I best use this space?” or   “What renovation will maximize the resale value of this house?”.  We are less practical.  Our questions tend to look like  “How can I make the rest of the downstairs match this $7 throw pillow I just purchased at Big Lots?”  or “What’s the reason I am most likely to leave the house and how can I fix that?” . . . it all depends on which of us is asking the question.  In fact those exact two questions have led one of us to purchase 34 (and return 33) different curtains and one of us to begin a basement remodel that includes a poker room, bar and home brewery.    Yes, while Ellen was in Belize, Eric undertook a basement renovation project  (the very-same project mentioned in our 2001 Holiday Letter: “Next on Eric’s list is converting the entire basement into a rec room.  A bar, pool table, race track, foosball, pinball, home theatre – the works. Ellen’s list may vary slightly .“)  Apparently, by slightly, we meant “by eleven years worth of projects” though even that may be an understatement as Eric started this when Ellen was out of the country and didn’t have her list to refer to . . . only his dusty list from 2001.

Unfortunately, the basement renovation was not completed in nine days so Ellen was back in time to overrule some proposed changes.  For example, Eric wanted a urinal in the bathroom.  Ellen argued that a urinal was redundant when there was going to be a sink and so a toilet would be more practical (That might not have been exactly the argument Ellen made, but it is close enough).  Eric pointed out that we already have four toilets in the house and a fifth would be redundant, but Ellen was not swayed.  Fortunately, some plumbing considerations resulted in a urinal being installed anyway  making this the first time Eric has  wanted to include a photo in the newsletter.   There is much more to say about this project, but since it seems bound to stretch into 2013 so we can safely save most of it for then.
Also under construction this year is the conversion of the garage into an “ex-husband apartment” (Eric isn’t an ex-husband yet, but like a Boy Scout he is always prepared some of the time; unlike a Boy Scout he has nothing against atheists or homosexuals.  Of course, occupancy of the ex-husband apartment is not imminent as just this morning Ellen told Eric: “You are my best husband ever . . .well . . . so far.” ) and the replacement of the screen porch at the west end of the house.  The screen porch replacement is looking a bit like a disaster in progress so I’m sure there will be more to say on this next year as well.  Sometimes remodeling is fun . . . and sometimes it sucks donkey ears.

We still have two children (From the 2009 Holiday Letter: Parenting, like home ownership, gets much easier when you decide to live with what you have instead of always trying to change something into what you think you would like it to be. (Oddly, marriage works the same way.)  ) and as the kids get older, Connor is now 11 and Kate is 9, they become less newsworthy.  Connor is still annoying, but in the same way he was last year.  Kate is still precocious, but a precocious nine year old is less interesting than a precocious five year old.

Connor, despite his best efforts, survived another year.  Mostly that means he has not talked-back to Ellen while she was holding something sharp; a fact we’ve been chalking-up to luck, but it would be nice if he was at least that aware (Connor has become anecdotal evidence against Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection).  Connor is doing surprisingly well at The Alternative School for Math and Science where he started in September.  Ellen thought Connor would benefit from the curriculum and the additional resources at ASMS but she was preaching to the choir when trying to sell Eric on it . . . he was sold on the idea when he found out Connor would be away from home an extra two hours each day.

Kate continues to be full of surprises (during our NYC trip we discovered that, given the opportunity she will put butter on bacon . . . we can’t think of a single person over 40 that does that) almost all of which were harmless this year.  In fact, Kate , who is still a ward of the public school system, has been such a model child this past year that it would be hard to believe we were once so sure she was a sociopath . . . but we have the old holiday letters to prove it.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and an interesting year,

Eric, Ellen, Connor and Kate

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