Dear family:

Here I am, back at the computer after a long absence. Happily, we have seen many of you and at least talked with most of you, so I donít feel too negligent. I feel that I am usually "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in making decisions about how to spend my time. One of my new yearís resolutions is to get some insight into where the time disappears Ė Iíve given up on finding where our socks disappear! This has been an unusual Christmas season because I just didnít get around to keeping some of our traditions, and the fact that Xmas Eve was Sunday meant we didnít do things that we always do, like attend the Childrenís Love Feast at Central Moravian. With David in Atlanta the week before Christmas week, and with our trip to Florida this past week, Christmas seemed remarkably short. Then, some things, such as my order from Amazon, never happened. When I learned yesterday that its expected delivery date is now APRIL, I canceled the order and will have to make amends another way. We took down the decorations yesterday and while that is always a bittersweet activity, I am mostly ready to "start fresh" with the new year and try to keep on top of things.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. We have lots of great Christmas CDs, and we play more music at home than we do the rest of the year. Then there are a lot of local concerts, too. If I were in a foreign country for Christmas, music is what I would miss most. I went to two college vespers services this year, and both included Gustav Holstís "On This Day". I have strong memories of singing this song every year in the high school church choir under the direction of Mrs. Wagner. It has a distinctive introduction, and I donít believe that I have ever sung the first note because I could never figure out how to come in on time, and was deathly afraid of coming in a beat early and having to face the embarrassment, not to mention her wrath. Well, one was a congregational sing-a-long, and I still couldnít come in on time!

Just prior to Christmas we had the homeschooler competition for the National Geography Bee. This was Christopherís final year to qualify, and he went into the finals as the clear favorite, but was defeated by the incredible good luck of the eventual winner, who got softball questions like, "In what state are the Pocono Mountains?" Unfortunately, he stumbled on an incredible gap in his education which will shock his Nana and great-aunts Ė namely "In what country is Mandarin the official language?" Stephen, meanwhile, squeaked into the final round by correctly answering a question which he later told me he remembered because of a Dilbert comic strip: "Name two of the four states with perfect rectangular shape."

Christopher has written in some detail about our holiday happenings. We missed having my parents and brother Peter with us, but had a wonderful time with the rest of the family, if you donít count my fondue pot shattering in the middle of Christmas Eve dinner and my centerpiece catching on fire Christmas Day. Julianne introduced Ben to computer games; up to this point he has not been allowed on the computer because we have enough competition for computer time already. He was thrilled to discover her supply of kiddie games. Sledding expeditions, movie outings, bowling games, and a Trivial Pursuit game are warm memories Ė not to mention our traditional wivesí escape to the Moravian Book Store (we did miss Karen joining us for that, though).

I think we will always remember this year as the Y2K year. For some reason, we has a slew of mechanical breakdowns Ė our VCR, my iron, both vacuum cleaners, the camera. Just before Christmas, the pipes in our annex froze, in spite of our taking the precaution of letting it drip through the night. This meant that we had no dishwasher through the week of our Christmas company. (Fortunately, our Xmas company was John and Gail, and Gail is a great dishwasher!) As you know, the weather has been very cold and we have been blessed with plenty of snow. We thought this was hardship enough, but then Davidís computer crashed as he was frantically trying to finish reports by the yearís end. Since the computers are networked, that meant that all of us lost Internet access. We headed off to the farm, and on the way noticed that the van was indicating that the oil tank was empty. After stopping to fill it up, it was still registering empty. Allan was able to locate a shop that would tell us if the gauge was out, or if the problem was more serious. To take advantage of this, we had to cart the boys home from the farmerís market in the back of an open truck Ė I donít think Iíve ever seen Stephen look so cold!

Somewhere in here I should mention that the day before Christmas Eve a filling came out of one of Davidís teeth. Naturally, this was really poor timing, as the dentist was only available early Christmas Eve morning, and David was scheduled to preach in New Jersey then. It had to wait until the day after Christmas, so he got by using my Prevident paste and going easy on the Christmas sweets. Then he managed to lose this same filling AGAIN, this time on New Yearís Eve! So he had to gingerly indulge in the treats at our church New Yearís Eve party and wait several more days.

The van problem was fixed fairly easily, but we arrived home to find that we had no water anywhere in the house. Apparently the main supply line froze and burst. Since it was New Yearís Eve weekend, our call to the plumber went unanswered for several days. We lived for most of a week carrying in snow and melting it on the stove in order to have water to flush the toilets. (And of course, one got backed up.) We went to the YMCA for showers, the laundromat for laundry, and rotated among neighbors for washing our dishes. I felt like Little House on the Prairie. Fortunately, we had plenty of drinking water Ė our Y2K stash that we didnít need last year! When the plumber finally came on January 2nd, he put us on the emergency list, but it was two more days before they came to fix the problem. Ben was thrilled Ė all those men with a backhoe tearing up our newly planted lawn (but fortunately sparing the new sidewalk by tunneling under it). Several thousand dollars poorer, we were none the less very happy to have water again, and determined never to take it for granted.

This repair came in the nick of time, as David and I had plane tickets for the next morning to go to Naples, Florida, and would not have left without the boys having water (not that I expected them to do much cleaning). In a way, the trip to sunny south Florida and a lovely Gulf-side condominium was such an abrupt change from our pioneer-like and dirty existence that it felt almost sur-real. [Just for starters, leaving the airport the radio announced that there had been no accidents that morning, even though "there had been frost on the road"!] The timing of our trip had been determined by the fact that Ethel is now in an assisted living complex, and Don wanted us to go down before he sells the condominium, and David and I have teaching commitments that boxed us in to that one little time slot Ė between Thursday classes and while Daniel was still here to take over the chauffeuring responsibilities. Anyway, there we were, tooling around in a rental car much nicer than anything we will ever own, in a city in which (like Camelot) there is no litter and all the leaves fall into neat little piles.

As far as we can remember, the last time the two of us went away together (except to the RUM staff conference last June) was for two nights the month before Stephen was born. So it was great to have this vacation, once we were able to relax, in spite of the fact that Florida was having record cold temperatures (Don calls me the Wicked Witch of the North because it has been unseasonably cold every time I have been down there.) Since the beach and pool were out, we went to the YMCA for exercise; the Y there makes ours look like a medieval dungeon. Then we went to THREE movies and ate out as much as possible. I read a pop novel and our Christmas mail, and thatís about all I can say for myself. (I did spend a morning at the public library preparing for my MAFA lesson.) We visited Ethel each day, and although she didnít really recognize us, she did enjoy our visits. I took along some of her favorite foods, and we even convinced her to play the piano. One bizarre experience was when we took her "out" to dinner (at the dining room) because she usually eats in her room. The staff put us at the center table, and although the dining room was full, there was absolutely no conversation around us as everyone was watching our every move. Each day we read a Scripture passage with her, and on Epiphany David read the story of the wise men. She listened very attentively and at the end said, "They got a nice little write-up there, didnít they?"

Sunday was a special treat. In the morning we discovered that Dr. Chapel, president of Covenant Seminary, was the guest preacher at the Naples church we attended. On the way out of the service a gentleman mentioned that he was on the search committee for a new pastor, and when he learned that David was ordained, he asked David if he was interested in the job! Then we drove up to Bradenton and had a Greek dinner with Mary Lou Shay, Mom Greenís cousin. There wasnít enough time to continue up to St. Pete to see my relatives this time, but Iím glad David had a chance to see Mary Louís place, if only briefly.

We arrived home to find the boys unscarred by their experience, probably due to my parentsí fervent prayers, although the house did look like a bachelorís haven. (The only mortality was Christopherís new guinea pig, who died inexplicably and suddenly the day we left.) Of course, any trip away like that costs something, and I now have the extra pressure of trying to get caught up with mail, chores and errands, and email. Yes, after three weeks, the computer is now back on the job. And I am trying to get back into the routine of cooking meals again. It was delightfully simple in Florida, but it feels good to return to the real world, too!

Running parallel to all of our mechanical adventures have been various medical issues, and I want to briefly report for those that have been concerned that my various little things (heart murmur, irregular moles) have turned out to be insignificant. I did have a wart removed from my finger, which has made typing this letter a challenge, but otherwise a step in the right direction, I suppose. Christopherís echocardiogram indicated that his aortic dilation was out of the range of normal for the first time, and the doctor wants him to begin beta-blocker medication. This medication will lower his blood pressure and therefore ease the stress on the aorta. In addition, he is not to do things like shovel snow or vacuum Ė much to his delight! We will probably start the medication this week; naturally, we wanted to wait until we were home and had a little calmer environment in order give him the few days it is expected his body will need to adapt to the side-effects (mostly fatigue). His fourteenth birthday is next Sunday, and he is looking forward to locating a new guinea pig who needs his TLC.



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