Greetings One and All -
I hope that this letters finds everyone in good heath and high spirits.
The biggest news of the year is the growth of our family. On March 31st we adopted. It was something that has been in the works for quite some time really, dating back to 2003. Our new little guy is one year old and when we met him for the first time we knew in about five nanoseconds that this was a perfect match. He'd been abandoned and was in foster care for about two weeks before we brought him home.
It has been an adjustment to say the least. It has taken some time to re-adjust to having a new young one in the house. The interrupted sleep, the constant need for attention, feeding schedules and of course cleaning up his messes. He isn't all that big but his energy takes up a lot of space in our house. The one good thing is that all of the other kids are old enough to help. It isn't always as much as Christy and I would like, but it is better than being on our own. After a little deliberation, which occurred in the car on the way home, we decided on the name Memphis.
Back in 2003 when I was starting a new job in Tacoma, we moved in with our friend, Carol, until we could find a place of our own. Carol had a roommate named Sophie and Ainsley quickly fell in love with her. Ainsley's attachment to Sophie lasted long after we moved out and started the obsession that led us to getting Memphis. You see Sophie is an English Springer Spaniel and Memphis is a Black Lab. Ainsley begged us for years for a dog which was something that we were just not ready for. So a little bit ago I explained that getting a dog requires a lot of work and money. So I set a goal of $400 for all three kids to raise. This, in my mind, was the amount that would be needed for adoption, getting supplies and having a little left over for upcoming vet visits. It was also a number that I thought would take years to accomplish and therefore postpone this from becoming a reality anytime soon. Turns out it took about six months. My Grandma Virginia donated a fairly large amount, others chipped in, couch cushions were mined, savings accounts raided, purses emptied, and mounds of coins pooled. All of sudden they'd amassed $407 dollars. Damn it. Let the dog hunting begin.
Here are a few things that I have learned about owning a dog. First, it really is like having a new baby in the house, at least for the first couple of months. Dog poop has a Velcro like relationship with grass. You simply cannot get all of it off. So we have a policy of throwing some dirt on the left-overs to reduce the chance of someone stepping in it and bringing it into the house. By the way, asking our kids to wear shoes in the backyard is a senseless task, it just doesn't happen and they are pretty good at finding the spots that haven't been covered in dirt. So now our back yard is full of mini mounds of dirt - kind of like the mima mounds without the mystery and intrigue. The absolute best way to find undiscovered piles of poop is to mow or weed whack the yard - you are guaranteed to run into or step in a pile. Young dogs listen and obey about as well as a one year old child.
On the whole Memphis has acclimated pretty well. The first camping trip was a little rough, but the second was a vast improvement. I don't think he has taken to Ainsley as much as should was hoping, but I do believe that she is happy. That part helps with the other issues.
Ainsley continues to participate in the Kids as Play theater program. This year she was in Annie, playing one of the orphans. She has such a good time performing that she had a hard time not smiling during "It's a hard knock life". The play turned out great - the stage version is a little different than the movie. She also continues to take piano lessons - the pieces are becoming more complex as she works her way through the different periods of classical music. She is talented and it is enjoyable to watch her grow. She participated in an acting class this fall that focused on developing characters and writing scenes and dialogue. She decided to end her Irish dancing career but replaced it this spring with softball. Aside from being cold and little wet sometimes, this was a good time. Her team participated in a weekend tournament. They lost their first game and then came back to win every other game to play for the championship. She made a great catch while playing left field to help seal one of the victories. She also played second base and quite a few games as catcher (Christy's position). She is maintaining a few different pen pals and continues to read a ton of books. She found a cool little book club at the library that meets once a month and gives the kids their own copy of the book.
We did discover that there is one thing that she needs to work on: hair cutting. This summer she decided to give Jade a small trim. Turns out the left was uneven compared to the right, so started the back and forth effort of getting the two sides to match. The longer she cut the shorter it got. Yikes! The look on her face when she came to ask Christy for help was something else. "Her bangs are longer than the back". Huh? It all worked out though, a trip to a professional was able to set us straight and it turns about Jade looks pretty darn cute.
Ainsley is really growing up, she's almost as tall as Christy and has developed a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm not ready for this.
Finn's creativity continues to grow. The old joke about kids liking the cardboard box more than the contents is pretty true for him. More than once we've had to canvas both the East and West side of Olympia looking for boxes for him to play with. A few weeks ago we were at the Dollar Store and walked past the door that leads to their storage area. An employee was there standing next to a large stack of broken down boxes and was in the process of tearing down some more. Finn turned to me in horror and asked "Why are they ruining all of those boxes?". It was like learning how hotdogs are made. He couldn't imagine anything worse. Finn has also become a big fan of chess and checkers. It didn't take too long for him to develop the skill of looking forward and understanding how his move will affect his opponents moves. There was a time that playing with him lacked excitement and fun - there are only so many times that you can maneuver your pieces in a way to set-up of triple jump for him. This time has passed - he gets it now. You can actually play him straight up and there's a chance you'll lose. He really likes winning, maybe a little too much. Aside from cardboard, he uses a lot of scotch tape (I mean a lot). He also paints and draws quite a bit and seems to really like make the ideas in his head come alive.
Jade finished up her first year of ballet with a recital in May at the Washington Center for Performing Arts. She did a great job and looked adorable. She is developing a love of cooking often jumping at the chance to help Christy in the kitchen. She is also a natural caregiver, when someone isn't feeling well she'll fetch them water, set-up their bed for sleeping and offer up one of her famous massages. When Ainsley was three she used to develop performances for us and Grandpa Jim once stated that "you better get her on stage someday". This was true, but it is even more true for Jade. We listen to a lot of music of differing genres throughout the day. Her ability to pick up the rhythm and create a dance to anything that is playing is really impressive. She has a natural sense of the mood and can find ways to move and make her body flow that matches the music so well. There is a joy to her dance that you can sense when you watch - there isn't really any thought involved, it just happens for her. She loves musicals and picks up on lyrics pretty quickly (well mostly). The more times she sings a song the further the words meander from the original. It can often create a funny lyric, but the laughter isn't always well received.
Both Finn and Jade had a pretty busy summer. They took two sets of swimming lessons and played T-Ball for the first time. Jade was able to progress through the different levels of swimming a little faster than Finn...she's apparently part mermaid. After the first week they went to the lake to cool down and she told Christy that she didn't need her arm floats anymore. Seems she doesn't suffer a confidence problem. Finn is a talented baseball player. He has a really strong and accurate throwing arm and has great power at the plate. His very first at bat of the season was a bases clearing home run. He hits well into the outfield grass. His base running is an all or nothing effort - long strides, arms pumping with eyes focused. Getting him to slow down and stop at first base is a bit of a chore. As the only girl on the team, the Black Jaguars, Jade showed the boys that girls can play and look fashionable at the same time.
Christy continues to be the family teacher. While Jade told her once this year that she was "just pretending to be a teacher," the reality couldn't be further from the truth. She is a great educator. One of the tools she uses with great efficiency is re-framing a situation. When Edison was working on the lightbulb he tried 1000 different elements before coming up with the final solution. When asked what it was like to fail so many times he replied, "I didn't fail, I found 1000 things that didn't work". We were at a park earlier in the year and the kids and I were playing tag. After a few rounds of working hard to not be "it" and working even harder to tag one of the kids, I decided that I needed a break. More accurately, I needed an oxygen tank. Soon after sitting down, Finn and Jade started whining and telling me that they wanted to play some more. I quickly became frustrated and tersely asked the kids why they couldn't be happy with what I was able to do and to appreciate the time I had already given. This didn't work. The kids were still sad. Christy quickly re-framed their bemoaning to "you were having fun and just like playing with your Dad and would like to do it some more". They shook their heads in agreement. Oh man, when you put it that way I'm a jerk - who can be frustrated that your kids like playing with you? She wasn't really teaching me that I am an A-hole (even though I felt like one), but about hearing what the kids are actually saying. She is much better at this than I am. I just wish she was always around to translate for me.
She is getting a little help "pretending" this year by taking the kids to Olympia Regional Learning Academy one day a week. All three kids are taking classes on Tuesdays. She is living the Rockwell-esque version of a stay-at-home mom , making lunches, driving the kids to school, sitting down and doing homework, etc. She is really doing a fantastic job managing it all and this is evidenced by how well the kids are doing and how much they are enjoying their time there.
We are all so lucky to have her. She takes such great care of all of us and provides us all with an abundance of love and support that we couldn't possible show our appreciation for.
Years ago when I got my first DBA job it was really a training position. I had no background in Oracle and near zero experience. At the same time another guy was hired too. The manager at the time tried to create a small bit of competitive environment between us, trying to force us into these situations where we would try to “out do” eachother. I decided that I wasn't really that competitive and the situation turned me off and in my mind didn't work. Somewhere in my head it was "cooler" to be less competitive and more relaxed. Turns out I'm a fraud - I am competitive. I'll stop pretending now. Attending all of Ainsley's softball games taught me this - pretty quickly. Sometimes discussing (a little loudly) my disagreement with the umpire's inconsistent strike zone or calls at first base. And providing loud cheers of "run hard", "good eye", "nice throw" and "great catch". At the same time it is this machismo that makes me a good employee and push myself to be better. Maybe the State needs to hire more competitive people so that there can be a small game of one upness that will progress our ability to serve. I am not talking about the level of competitiveness that leads to a ridiculous habanero eating contest, but the kind that results in pride. "Look at this great product they've made, let's try to make one better". Dare to dream I guess.
I hope that 2013 proves to be everyone's finest and is filled with peace, love and good happiness stuff.
Tony, Christy, Ainsley, Finley, Jade and Memphis