Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 Letter

Warmest Greetings To You All -

I rarely ever re-read anything I have written, this is especially true of these yearly letters. I won't bore you with the reasons why, but before typing character one this year, I quickly scanned two previous letters. It seems that I often try to summarize each year with a lesson learned or a theme; the reality is all of these themes are just variations of a single theme: life is about learning. This fact is so simple and straight-forward that it often gets lost in the daily details – but the lessons are there. Sometimes they're painful, sometimes they are funny or enlightening but they are always beautiful.

I previously described Jade as a defender of justice, but I am amending that statement – she is more of a commander. She actually demands that things be fair and balanced - she can spot imbalances on a
nano-scale from a 1000 yard distance. Sitting here clocked with hindsight and perspective I can see this as an amazing gift. She is the ultimate two headed coin, oscillating from a very loving, charing person who showers you with statements like “I missed you today” and simple “I love yous” and is concerned when someone is hurt or crying, to trying to be the first person who is literally heard from three counties away. She'll devastate you with a glance of her sparkling blue eyes one second and then a brow so furrowed that you can bury you fingertip in the wrinkles the next. Jade also has an insatiable love of pink. She will wear, drink, eat or use anything that is pink. Give her a pink pen and she'll write and draw until the ink runs dry. Give her a pair of pink ballet slippers and they'll become a permanent fixture upon her feet. I'd change her name to Pink if it weren't already taken (that is a pop culture reference for those wondering what I am talking about).

Not that we had any doubt but this year Finley affirmed with every waking moment that he is a boy. All boy. He can make a “shooter” out of anything that fits into his hand: a coat hanger, a pencil, a small rubber hose or shoe lace, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't have to fit in his hand, he just needs the ability to point it – along with some sort of noise. The accompanying noise varies, sometimes it sounds like a fire hose, sometimes its like a bodily function. You never know what you are going to get – regardless it always feels a little humiliating to be the target. Finn's imagination is growing everyday and his storytelling abilities along with it. Between his expressive eyebrows (which can move three inches I swear) and the slightly crooked mouth, his face tells half the story. You are guaranteed to be entertained. I am preparing myself for a future full of learning – you see Finley is going be either a football or soccer (both football depending on how you look at it) player. He has shown impressive skills in both. He can throw a ball with great accuracy and “touch”. With most kids his age you need protection so you don't get hurt – not so with Finn, he's got a good balance of velocity and placement. The same goes for kicking. This summer while playing in the backyard he continually kicked the soccer ball right to me - I didn't need to move. That's more than I can say for him, my returns were all over the place. I'll call myself his conditioning coach until he realizes I have no skills.

Our darling Ainsley is really growing up. She is getting really tall. I don't know why, but she is all legs. She got glasses this year, the rims are partially Jade really likes them. She looks very cute and after a five month break-in period are now a regular fixture on her face. I lost count but she read somewhere between 1,432,937 and 1,434,217 books this year. At times she'll go through two or more in a day. We once again give thanks and praise to the local library. She is still taking private Irish dancing lessons. This year her crew performed two shows at the Thurston County Fair. Unfortunately this fell on the hottest day of the year, about 105ยบ. Despite lots of water and breaks, she was still pretty beat by the end of the day. The next performance was at the mall...the air conditioned mall. Nice. Our adopted family member and Ainsley's longest running friend Carol bought her piano lessons. She has really taken to it. Her teacher doesn't spend time with Mary Had A Little Lamb and Chopsticks, instead she teaches much more enjoyable pieces like Cannon in D and the Rite of Spring. Even in the early stages, these songs are nice to listen to. Ainsley also ventured into motherhood this year, become step-mom to her cousin Jamie's displaced hamster. I'd say it has been an interesting experiment for everyone in the house. Trying to get him out of our radiant heat floorboards within the first two hours of his arrival didn't set a very pretty picture of the future. The good news is we were much faster the second time.

I no longer know how to describe Christy. I don't think it is intentional but she keeps finding new ways to show all of us how much we are loved. This ranges from the constant (and I mean constant) food preparation she does for the kids, the planned and unplanned park days, the chauffeuring to music class twice a week (Finn and Jade are in chorus too), dance class, play dates, nature hikes, grocery shopping, house painting, laundry, book reading all the way down to the hugs, kisses and moments of listening and understanding. The way that she listens to my days, bounces ideas around with me, adopts my attitudes towards people she has never met and shares with my numerous frustrations with grunts and sighs of displeasure shows how much she cares. This summer we decided to finally paint our house – a project that has been looming for over a year now. We could have renamed this project the “marriage stability test”. You see, we rented a paint sprayer and I'll be darned if using it wasn't a lot harder than all the YouTube clips suggested. By the time I got half way done with one side (the side no one sees) my second guessing at the process was in high gear. My understanding and appreciation of the people who do this for a living was immensely increased – they earn every cent they charge. Nonetheless, Christy found a way to suggest different ideas to me, careful not to fracture my male ego and yet find a way to get the house done in a way so that it didn't look like Jackson Pollock painted it in the end. She is the ultimate multi-tasker. She is getting better and better at balancing what needs to be done, with what people want to have done. That is impressive to watch.

The Department of Ecology served me with lots of the painful lessons I spoke of earlier. Not in a bad way though, they were hard to consume at first but I really do believe that I am better for having navigated them. This year I learned that I can't do everything, I have shortcomings in my skills and abilities and it's OK to ask for help. I have been working on a project for the better part of a year, and when I finally had something to show people for feedback it was torn apart It turns out the software users aren't concerned with all of the cool and nifty code that runs in the background – they are mostly concerned with how the application looks and how many clicks it takes. It is a lot like stocking shelves – nobody cares how fast you can put the cans on the shelf or if you can throw a can up in the air, catch it behind your back and then place it label out with you eyes closed. They only care about the items being on the edge and easy to reach. Facing my fear of rejection, failure and humiliation, I bit the bullet and admitted my faults and asked for help. Of course, this being the State, it took 8 months for that help to come into fruition. Now I can concentrate on what I know I am good at – writing nifty code nobody cares about. While I don't have a lot to show for this year in terms of tangible items, I do have a ton of new knowledge about myself. I just hope that 2010 presents things in a softer package.

Anytime that I can do something better than Ainsley, I explain to her that it is because I am a “professional”. But I recently read that the word amateur has its roots in the word amator – Latin for lover. So I really am an amateur - a lover of this family. Make 2010 great. I hope the new year is filled with peace, love and good happiness stuff.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2008 Letter

Warm Greetings One and All -

I hope that this letter finds you all in good health and spirits. 2008 has been an interesting year for all of us, one of growth, learning, understanding and patience.

We are starting to see signs of “twiness” between Finley and Jade. They are really starting to play off of each other, both in good times and in bad. They talk to each other, laugh with each other, tease each other, make each other cry and at times, make each other happy. It is truly amazing to watch this process. They are the epitome of the phrase the “sum is greater than the parts”. Finn is the brawn and Jade is the brains. Together they form a tag team that can test the patience and endurance of any adult tandem.

Finley is teaching us what it is like to raise a boy. Just the other day, he took a hard cover book, laid it against the floor heater and proceeded to use this book as a ramp for his little radio flier trike. Once his wheels were up on the window he leaned back and in faux slow motion rolled backwards with the trike falling onto him, finishing the show with a forced grunt of disappointment. I guess I should have paid more attention in biology class to learn where in the Y chromosome all of the ramp building, hot wheel driving, tractor sounds are. These things are so instinctual that I am often surprised at how he knows what it is he is doing. For all of his bruteness, Finn is also one of the best snugglers there is. When he chooses to, he melts into your arms and radiates comfort and peace. These moments, while fading in frequency are some of the favorites and I sometimes have to plead with Christy to give him up so I can cherish one of the moments.

Jade continues to be the voice of injustice. Although this year her voice has gotten stronger and is accompanied by lots of words and tilted eyebrows – showing all types of emotion and conviction. She is strong willed, loves to read and requires both arms be in full swing in order to run. Jade loves to cuddle with Finn, rubs his head and comforts him when he is sad and can finish any line in any book we own. She also believes that Ainsley is just about the coolest person on earth and wants to be with her at all times. She is also one of the funniest kids I know.

Jade is also very intuitive and smart. A couple of weeks ago she looked Christy up and down and said. “you have cute bottom”. Something she is used to hearing herself. Of course Christy loved to hear that and Jade is currently running in the number one position in the favorite kid race. I am not too sure what to think of this since I yet to hear anything of that sort myself. Either I don't have a cute bottom or Jade isn't concerned with making my favor. Either way, I feel slighted.

Ainsley has turned into an incredible reader. She has developed an insatiable appetite for books. We are constantly reminded of the value of the public library system. A few months ago I made a deal with Ainsley that is she did a few extra chores around the house I would pay her with a trip to Borders and she could pick out three books. Two days later we are at Border's purchasing $20 worth of books. By dinner time the next day all three books were finished. That was one of the last times we purchased any books. It is public library or bust from here on out. Ainsley is continuing to take Irish dance at the Olympia Regional Learning Academy and just finished her second stint in soccer and a pottery class. Christy and I are already wondering how we are going to manage when we have three older kids, all with the own interests and events to attend. I think we will need to hire a chauffeur.

I have often said the day would come and it is officially here: Ainsley is smarter than me. The other day she was complaining that her arm hurt. We talked about that area of her arm, the triceps, looked at pictures and discussed how many muscles there were in the group. A couple of of days later, while attempting some cartwheels, she pulled up gimp and grabbed the back of her leg. On the spot I said, “I'll give you 100 bucks if you can tell me the name of that muscle”. She failed. Feeling cocky, I said “I'll give you 50 bucks if you can tell me how many muscles make up that group”. She paused...and finally answered five. Crap. She immediately started listing the things she could do with 50 bucks. I later talked her into a trade – instead of 50 bucks I would buy her an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen. She took it. Whew.

Christy is my beacon for all things that are right. Whenever I have lost my way her example of love patience, kindness and focus always brings me back to center. Whether this is not being the parent that I want for my kids, growing ever frustrated with my ineffectiveness at work or just generally adrift, she can effortlessly bring everything back into focus. I am learning that perspective is one of the greatest tools and there is no better way to gain perspective on what an amazing mother Christy is than to take all three kids to the grocery store. For me, these types of outings are measured in dog years, 30 minutes becomes 3.5 hours and four extra gray hairs. She has tried to explain how to configure the kids for a successful grocery store run...but I have yet to execute it correctly. I think I need a diagram or something I can carry in my wallet.

I continue to swim upstream at the Department of Ecology's Water Quality Program. Earlier in the year our program faced some serious budget issues which led us to redefine a 1.3 million dollar project into less than $100K. The process started an evolution for me in “thinking out of the box”, finding ways to work with what we have and developing ways to do our jobs more efficiently. I am looking at IT differently now, it is less about bells and whistles and creating more gadgets, it is about developing tools that make people better at their job and making it easier for program to meet their stated mission statement – cleaner water. Somewhere along the line everyone has lost sight of this, getting bogged down in the day to day minutia becoming complaisant with processes and no longer asking “why” or “could we do this better?” I often forget that everyday when I walk through the door I am stepping into an alternate reality filled with those who play Trivial Pursuit at their desk and where decisions are made with a different type of logic. This constant paradigm shifting is probably why I get headaches so often. Back in 2006 I received the program's Creative Thinker award for my work with a program wide reporting system. This year, I won the Agency's Creative Thinker award for saving the program over 1 million dollars by sticking with Oracle and allowing me to expand the reporting system to something that may in fact make us more effective at our jobs. For all of its shortcomings, at least they recognize good thinking. In all honesty it does feel good to be thought of highly be your peers.

As the old saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and 2008 has made us stronger. Three cases of chicken pox in August was our defining moment. My heartfelt thanks to my newly retired mom who provided the additional support we needed during this time.

I hope that 2009 brings the best year possible to everyone and that it is filled with peace, love and good happiness stuff.