Merry Christmas
Aaron's Train Andrew, Stephen, Aaron

This has been a different kind of year for us. No huge worries. No huge surprises. Pleasantly predicable. An "it doesn't get any better than this" kind of year. A chance to catch our breath and count our many blessings which, of course, include you.

The highlight of our year was the long-planned and highly enjoyable train trip to New York. We'll start with Aaron "I now live for trains" Griffin's account: "We took the California Zephyr to Chicago. And then we got on the Lake Shore Limited and then we went to Erie, PA. We saw bare butts and went through a long tunnel. We got to eat snacks on the train and draw at the Chicago Union Station. We missed the Lakeshore Limited so we had to sleep in a motel in Chicago. We rode in a taxi and city buses." He was asleep when we went through the brush fires in Nevada. "Yes, it does look like the railroad ties are on fire." The day spent in Chicago (courtesy of Amtrak) was marvelous. We returned home on the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight. It's absolutely the best way to travel with kids. So many interesting people to meet, places to see and time just to focus on one another. And the bathroom is always so handy! It is doubtful that we will ever fly as a family again. As we approached Klamath Falls after three days onboard, Bert asked Andrew if he was ready to get off. He said, "No. I want to ride on the train til I die and when I'm dead, I still want to be on the train." Amen. Yes, all this AND a wonderful visit with Bert's family. Halloween

Aaron is still obsessed. Every library book brought home from kindergarten has been about trains. They chug across all of his school papers. His one simple request was mailed to Santa in mid-October. The first book he learned to read? "Railroad Toad". If you want to know about the bare butts, you'll just have to take the California Zephyr along the Colorado River (aka "Moon River"). We took the Coast Starlight back up to Portland for a few days in early November and rode the city Max train and a trolley.

College friends write and tell that their youngest children are now off to college; our youngest are off to kindergarten. It is an exciting time for them (and for Bert!). Andrew, the tease, is a surprisingly serious student. However, we got a kick out of this: "We drawed a horse on paper. One of my burps was coming out and it wouldn't stay in my mouth and it went out loud. Mr. Hedlund laughed and smiled at me." Aaron: "I tried my hardest and Mrs. Duke gave me a sticker on my train paper. I like to go there because I like to work there. I play on the monkey bars."

Stephen and the state and local media just celebrated his 10th birthday. In lieu of an interview, he wrote a letter to the newspaper. "I know that a lot of people cared about what happened to me when I was born and it would be good to let everyone know that I am just fine and doing well in school....My parents are nice. They finally let me get a color Gameboy and one game....I'm having a good life and I hope you are too." He would much rather be a sports celebrity, however.

Tommy's first band concert is Thursday. He has moved up to middle school and is learning to play his mother's saxophone. Sixth grade has turned him into an avid reader. He is really enjoying this part of adolescence and remarkably, we are too. He's very level-headed and happier than we have ever seen him. However, he is spending an inordinate amount of time holding a little yellow box with both hands and saying incomprehensible things like, "Hey, Stephen, look! My pikachu evolved into a level 35 raichu!" (This sentence probably violates some copyright held by Nintendo Inc.) Tommy

This year Aaron and Andrew are taking tap and ballet; Tommy and Stephen are still in a coed tap and jazz class and Stephen is planning to join Tommy in his ballet class. Bert is still tapping but nervous because her teacher is hinting that some of the adults should join the kids onstage during competition. Bert thinks, "Why would the kids want to take a chance like that?", but apparently the troupe gets bonus points JUST FOR HAVING ADULTS SHOW UP ONSTAGE! Akin to a golfing handicap?! How flattering!

Dennis has expanded his culinary talents into the cured meats arena. He bought himself the largest hypodermic syringe we have ever seen to inject brine. The right medicine in that thing could cure more than meat! His pastrami is quite popular and he's sure he can master capicola and mortadella. (And HE thinks Tommy speaks a foreign language!)

We found a Suburban (such a bargain!) to pull the camper so we're planning some shorter trips for next summer. Unless, of course, we hear of a really good deal on the Southwest Chief or the Sunset Limited or the Metroliner and you want to meet us somewhere...

(Click on the photos above to see larger versions.)

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