Friday, December 31, 2010

Tight Pants and the Year's End

Here is to the last day of 2010!

This has been a very good year for my family. One of the first truly good years we have had in a while. Here is praying 2011 is every bit as good and better!

Next week will see me returning to Weight Watchers. I have enjoyed my freedom from menu planning, I certainly have enjoyed all the treats around. However, my pants are definitely feeling tighter today. So, I will be glad to get back on track!

ArtGuy wrote a family Christmas letter. If you haven't read it yet, it will be below! I hate the things. I DID get two from friends this year, but they were actually good ones. Usually, they just come off so Pollyanna and fake - I just can't stand 'em. No offense meant to anyone - just a personal peeve. But ArtGuy had to write one for one of his extended family's newsletters. He show me first. I tried not to barf.
So, for Christmas, he added the deleted scenes. I like those much better!

Happy New Year! Stay safe!

Christmas letters are funny things. Some people love them, others can't stand them. I understand their purpose. They summarize the high points of the year, and are generally sent out around Christmas time to give distant family and friends  a "recap" of the year's major events. I've never minded receiving them (but my wife absolutely hates them), and actually enjoy most of them. But I think it's human nature to keep them positive and cheerful, so the low points of the year that everyone has either get edited completely out, or are quickly followed with a happy ending. But in the process, instead of being uplifting, this can have the opposite effect, because everyone else's lives seem so much more wonderful and perfect than yours.

And then, this year, I wrote one, and in the process made a discovery. After reading my first draft, I was totally amazed at how smug, self-congratulatory, and sickeningly sweet it sounded. Every bit of it was true, but it was nothing like the year we had. So after reading the letter below, please continue on for the "deleted scenes". So in addition to rejoicing with us as we recount the wonderful highlights of our year, we also invite you to laugh at our mistakes and failures, in the hopes that you will get a more accurate picture of our life.

Merry Christmas from our family!
December, 2010

The Mad Toddler – age 2
Otherwise known in Christine’s blog and Facebook page as “The Mad Toddler”, the Mad Toddler is an active, demanding, but wonderfully sweet 2-year old. He loves his brothers and our cat, Joshua, and his passion for trains may possibly rival his great-uncle Jerry’s. Our living room floor almost always has two railroad tracks (of different scales) in various stages of construction/deconstruction, which his dad and brothers create and he destroys several times a day. He also loves “big trucks” (18-wheelers and any sort of large construction vehicles) and every Monday morning, watches the garbage and recycling trucks come down our street with fascination.
 This past summer, his climbing ability earned him an upgrade from a crib to a toddler bed. So he’s no longer sleeping behind bars, he is now sleeping through the night in his own bed!.
Favorite books: The Thomas the Tank Engine series, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, and much to our dismay, a Sesame Street Coloring and Activity Book (designed with no discernible plot, we have to make up stories to go with the games and pictures on each page as a bedtime story.)

Romeo– age 8
As much as I resist labeling kids, Romeo is our athlete. He plays soccer for the nearly undefeated Knights (although we’re not supposed to be keeping score yet – ssshhhh!) He’s got a great coach and a supportive team. He’ll run up to us, dripping with sweat after practicing in the Texas heat with a huge smile on his face and say “I just love soccer!”
Outside of soccer, Romeo and spends a lot of his free time riding bikes and playing outside with his friend Speedy. Speedy happens to be on a mission to convince us to enroll Romeo in the neighborhood public elementary school that Speedy attends. “It’s free!” he says, “All you have to pay for is lunch!” Homeschooling is hard work, so his arguments are very persuasive!

Romeo is a cub scout, well on his way to earn his bear rank, and is also the youngest member of Team Storm System, a brand new FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team coached by Christine. (More on that later!)
Favorite books: The Gate of Days, by Guillaume Prevost
Favorite movies: Prince Caspian

Cookie Boy – 11
Cookie Boy is a wonderfully clever and responsible boy. At age 10, he became a certified babysitter, and is fantastic with his little brother The Mad Toddler. Cookie Boy is a cunning strategist, practically unbeatable in checkers, is more than a match for his dad at chess. He only lost his last matchup against his dad because his dad got extremely lucky and accidentally trapped Cookie Boy’s queen at a crucial point in the game. He also loves Speed Stacking. He participated in a Speed Stacking tourney earlier this year, competing with over 550 over kids from the region!
As a second year Webelos scout, Cookie Boy is about to make the transition to boy scouts. Over the last two years, he has already been on several Boy Scout campouts with his dad and his big brother The Young Adult, so he’s more than prepared.
He is also a member of FLL Team Storm System, where he’s putting his strategic skills to use!

Favorite books: The Peanuts Treasury
Favorite movies: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Young Adult – age 13
First Class Boy Scout in Troop 261. Competition level Scottish Highland Dancer who has performed multiple times at the State Fair of Texas, including the traditional sword dance as a solo. As his dad, I am amazed at his accomplishments, especially when I think about what I was doing at his age. At 12, I was torturing an auditorium full of captive parents, honking along on my clarinet at the middle school band concerts. And I, like most 12-year-old boys, could barely muster the courage to ask a girl to a dance (that involved very little actual dancing). The Young Adult, on the other hand is performing in front of hundreds of people in a kilt, nimbly avoiding crossed sword blades on the stage under his feet in one number, and twirling two girls in another. Christine and I have watched him mature and improve in his skill in many ways, and are very proud of his accomplishments (and his rock-hard abs).
At a Scottish Highland dance competition in Salado, TX, The Young Adult performed four dances, and placed in all of them. He place 2nd in one dance, and 4th in the remaining three!
See for yourself!  Two of The Young Adult’s Highland Dance State Fair of Texas performances are on Youtube:

The Texas Thistle:
The Sword Dance:

The Young Adult is also one of the older members of the Team Storm System, and is really working on leadership and management skills, as he is often looked up to. (Or maybe it’s just his booming voice!)

Favorite books: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Favorite movies: Star Wars VI

I’ve just completed my 7th year at the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. I’m currently Creative Services Manager, and primarily do anything and everything that involves graphic design for the company. From web design, signage at our annual conferences, to all printed material and even an occasional video, I have my hand in the “look” of everything we produce.
About once a year for the last 3 years, I’ve taught a 9-week art class for our home-school co-op, Orchard. (Just to put this in proper perspective, Christine has taught 2 or 3 classes, twice a year, in addition to previously holding a position on the board.)
This coming spring semester, Christine will be getting a long overdue and well-deserved break, and I will be fulfilling our family requirement at homeschool coop by teaching 2 classes, Rocket Science and Animation 101. I hope to make them fun!
Although I’m retired from being a Cub Scout den leader (I was The Young Adult’s leader for 5 years), I still enjoy camping with the older three boys, and someday soon, all four. I know Christine looks forward to that day!

Wow, what can I say? Christine does EVERYTHING. She’s an amazing mom of four crazy boys, and home-schools all of them. And even though there are many prepackaged curriculums available to teach “out of the box”, over the years Christine has cherry-picked the best of each subject and constructed a curriculum based on each of our kids’ needs, interests, and strengths. They are learning history sequentially, starting with ancient Greek mythology in the early grades and progressing through the ages, building on what they know of past civilizations. So the younger ones may not know much about the Civil War yet, but don’t hesitate to ask them about ‘King’ Hatshepsut of Egypt circa 1479 BC! For math, Christine chooses the curriculum that best fits each boy’s learning style. Currently, it’s Saxon Math for one, Singapore Math for another, and Luke is taking his math class live online from a math professor. The boys are also reading classic literature and are even learning Latin via books and DVDs.
Christine is also involved in music ministry at two parishes. She is a cantor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Plano, and is also a member of the choir at St. Gabriel’s in McKinney. Mass once a weekend is a rare occasion for her – it’s usually two or sometimes three times!
Christine is also a member of a newly formed Chant group, which meets weekly and consists of people who are interested in learning, reading and performing Gregorian Chant.
As I mentioned before, Christine prepares lesson plans for and teaches two classes every Friday at our home school co-op (but will get a break from that this spring!)
For much-needed adult interaction and conversation, Christine is involved in book clubs and mom's night outs.
She’s also a writer. See for yourself by visiting her blog, “Deep in the Heart” at, or look up her articles on
On top of all of this, Christine has taken on the enormous challenge of coaching a FIRST LEGO League Team. FLL consists of teams of kids ages 9 to 14 from schools all over the country that participate in a multi-part competition each year based on a theme. One of those parts is to build a real, programmable robot using the LEGO NXT robot set, which has to complete a series of specific tasks on 4’ by 8’ playing field full of LEGO obstacles – in 2 minutes 30 seconds or less. This year’s theme is biomedical engineering, and Team Storm System’s robot must be programmed to do things such as identify good and bad tissue, insert a bone bridge, set a broken bone, and get white blood cells to the “brain” using electric motors, a light sensor, a touch sensor, and an ultrasonic sensor. The other part of the competition is a 5-minute research presentation on their chosen biomedical engineering topic. Our three oldest boys and six other boys are worked hard to learn the programming software, program the robot, and do their research in time for the qualifying competition in November.
The hard work had a huge payoff. Team Storm System placed 2nd out of almost 40 teams in the research project category! They presented their research on using nanobots to destroy blood clots in the bloodstream to prevent strokes. The judges were very impressed! The 2nd place win means that they will advance to the finals in January!
You can also check out Team Storm System’s website at:

Christine and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. The boys and I are lucky guys, and are grateful for all she does!
And now, the DELETED SCENES:

  • Whenever The Mad Toddler's brothers or his dad build a track for his trains, The Mad Toddler destroys it. Whenever they build a block tower, he topples it. When his brothers spend hours carefully align a cascade of dominos for a spectacular payoff, The Mad Toddler throws something at it. Whenever you try to color with him, he goes out of his way to scribble all over the exact part you are coloring. He's two, and he drives us crazy! In the letter above, it comes across as endearing, but it's maddening! Christine is not really just joking when she says that all her choir practices are partially just to get away from him for a while.
  • Remember the part about Romeo's "nearly undefeated" soccer team? Guess who was goalie during the streak-breaking game? Yup. Of course it would be wrong to blame the loss on our son, but he's not the strongest goalie, and it was our toughest opponent. It's an amazing tribute to our coach's non-competitive nature that he put him in. His own mother was on the sidelines was shouting "NO! WHY?!" After the coach mercifully took him out, Romeo was devastated, in a fetal position behind the bench, in tears. His team was very sweet and supportive and did their best to make him feel better.
  • The Young Adult was the absolute last scout in his year to earn his first class rank. And he's not entirely to blame. Before moving to our present house, we only went swimming a few times a year, and a few years ago, when we enrolled him in swimming lessons, we forgot to take him. It was his swimming test requirement that held him back.
  • The Young Adult did place 2nd in one and fourth in the other three dances he performed. That part is true. But I didn't mention that his placement rank in each of the four dances also exactly corresponds to the number of dancers in his age group/skill level competing. 2nd place out of 2 and 4th out of four doesn't sound quite as wonderful, does it?
  • 2010 marked two memorable firsts for ArtGuy. His first red-light camera ticket and fine, and the first time the water was shut off due to nonpayment (neglect of bill-paying duties rather than financial hardship, but still a dose of humility.)
  • First Lego League. So much money, so much time, and so little hope. There were many times that the financial investment was the only thing keeping us going. The boys just didn't seem to "get it". They would build something essential to the robot's success, and then absent-mindedly dismantle it to use the parts for something else, and have to re-build it again at the next meeting – a frustrating waste of time when there was so much work to be done! We left out the teammate bickering, personality and age difficulties, the rowdiness and the drywall damage it caused, and the clogged toilets that only happened during lego meetings.
  • Broken promises: Early in 2010, Cookie Boy watched his new digital camera slide down an enormous boulder, bouncing to pieces as it fell down a mountain we were climbing on a boy scout campout. It had been his main birthday present in 2009. He was devastated, and I promised him I would replace it. We have never replaced it. We still mean to, but we haven't done it yet for one reason or another. If there's another Christmas letter next year, I hope to have come through for him by then.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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