Holiday Letter 2008

December 2008

Friends-

Holiday Greetings from Elmira, New York where adventures in home improvement continue to plumb new depths of absurdity. Before continuing on with what made our life interesting in 2008, like hiring an acrophobic to replace our roof, we would like to express our sincere hope that your year was at least as interesting as ours. As the saying goes, we appreciate the company. Of interest to some, our better-than-natural-green-spray-painted-genuine-pine wreath was retired after nine years of service, but we are hoping to get at least as much use from the new one.

Home improvement remains a focus here, and at the top of our to-do list entering the year was replacing our roof. The roof was also at the top of our list in 2001 and 2007 and it will be again as we head into 2009. You already know the short version (unless you skipped the first paragraph or were confused how someone’s fear of spiders might cause problems on a roof) so here’s the explanation for our hiring decision meant solely to alleviate any budding concerns you may have that someone here in a decision-making capacity suffered a head injury. Shortly after we moved to this house we determined the roof was not adequately accomplishing its primary task. This was not especially surprising considering Murphy’s Law and the age of the roof.

We called around, asked some questions, got some quotes and settled on a large roofing company which sent some very nice and knowledgeable people to our house to discuss the work with us. An important lesson came out of this: those competent people that discussed the project with us in our dining room were not the people on our roof. Repairing a slate roof is not rocket science, but it requires a bit of patience and an attention to detail. In short, it involves making a lot of easy decisions; most of which involve either conscientious attention to detail or a kindergartner’s grasp of the concept of gravity. Further, at least one person on the job site should have the ability to add AND subtract. While we didn’t get to chat much with the roofers while they were working on our roof in 2001, Eric did get a chance to speak with one at length (well, fifteen minutes, but that was plenty) shortly after. Eric was out one day just after work, when he spots a hitchhiker carrying a case of beer and gives him a ride. Turns out the guy works for our contractor and is living in a motel eight miles down the road (we mention the distance to underscore this man’s commitment to his case of beer), had made a poor choice or two in his life (understatement is the theme of this year’s letter) and is, apparently, willing to climb on a roof drunk. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that our roof needs work again.

After some thought, and lots of advice to the contrary, we decided to replace the entire roof. Replacing a slate roof is not brain surgery, but it is a big job and requires at least one person on site that can come up with a satisfactory solution to all the issues that will arise. And so, when we made the decision to get the roof replaced it was important for us to know who would be up on the roof. Finding a new contractor was a slow process that looked like it would drag into 2009, we were being careful after all, when someone was recommended to us to solve the roof situation once-and-for-all. Based on this recommendation of someone whose recommendations we used to value and a brief interview we hired our lead contractor. And so it is rather ironic that the person we hired, specifically because we wanted to know who would be on our roof, seems to have a fear of elevations in excess of eleven feet. Somehow, we forget to ask someone applying to do work on our roof if they were afraid of heights. It seems likely that there will be more to this story in 2009’s update.

In news from other parts of the house the downstairs bathroom and back hallway are almost (forgive us for stretching the definition of that word) done mostly thanks to someone who’s work, if not his recommendations, we still value. Of course, we still don’t have a door on the down stairs bathroom; but, on the other hand, it’s no longer clear to us why anyone would even want a door on a bathroom.

We still have two children. In another ninety seconds you may wonder why.

It has been brought to our attention that Connor remains an attentive and polite student at school. This strikes us as rather unfair, as Connor has shed his quiet and lovable demeanor at home and has spent the year unwittingly promoting Eric’s boarding school agenda. He, apparently, has decided to spend his time with his family auditioning either for the nickname “Spaz” or an ADD diagnosis. He is a second grader now and as a man of the world he is bound to learn a new word or two every day. Sometimes, if he is especially proud of a word, he likes to share that word. As often as possible; this can be a lot during, for example, dinner. Connor’s word for November was “vagina”, which Eric heard more times in twenty minutes one evening than in his entire life up to that point.

Despite an inability to focus on a specific task for more than ten seconds with anyone else in the room, Connor remains a motivated worker. He shows a willingness to do homework that must have come from Ellen’s genetic material. Connor took the year off from football and basketball, seemingly settling on baseball as the sport that will do him the least physical and emotional damage. Connor is a big fan of sports (gym is his favorite class at school) and in the alternate reality in which he lives he is quite good at them. While watching Olympic gymnastics on TV this past summer Connor said “I wonder if I can do that” and then made a tumbling approach run through the middle of the living room that ended badly. Connor apparently inherited not only his work ethic, but his athletic prowess, from his mother. And, like Ellen, he is also very good at sharing, especially personal space. On the brighter side, Connor spends less than half his waking moments teasing Kate. It’s a proclivity that we have warned him about since he was three and one that we think he is on the cusp of breaking.

Our house still goes as Kate goes and 2008 went pretty smoothly. Part of the reason may be that Connor was in trouble so often. That seems to be one of the few things that brings out the best in Kate. Given a choice between Connor being in trouble and Kate being in trouble, three out of four people in the house would prefer to see Connor in trouble as that can be dealt with confidently. Conflict resolution with Kate has always involved a measure of . . . uncertainty. While Connor was trying desperately for an ADD diagnosis, Kate blundered into an EDD diagnosis. Empathy Deficit Disorder. Eric immediately diagnosed Kate upon reading about the condition. He didn’t even need to know the symptoms. Kate seems to have an especially severe case of EDD where the discomfort of others actually cheers her up.

Kate is in kindergarten this year and rides the bus to school with Connor. She seems well-adjusted and says she likes her teacher (we never really know what Kate is thinking, so we just take her word for it). Kate exhibited extended periods of “normalcy” in 2008 which we have taken as a sign of her consciously trying to fool the rest of us into a false sense of security. At school this year Kate was asked what she wanted to be when she grew-up. Kate wrote “I wont two be president” which was a bit of a surprise to us as we had already penciled her in as a coroner. Perhaps that’s just a parent’s optimism, but it seemed obvious that corpses were in her future and coroner seemed the path to them with the fewest complications. This all seemed so obvious until Eric recently came across the following passage: “ . . . there seems to be curious evidence of a link between leadership and a form of psychopathology (the sociopath) that encourages the non-blinking, self-confident, insensitive person to rally followers.”

Wishing you a happy holiday season and an interesting year,

Eric, Ellen, Connor and Kate

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