Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas! (Our Christmas letter)

This is the Christmas letter we shared with friends and family. Cameron wrote it. Enjoy. 
God chose a stable as the setting for the greatest blessing. It seems unlikely, but such is the nature of God. We may have grand expectations, but God’s gifts do not require gaudiness or grandeur. They are grand in and of themselves.
Here at Old Capitol Farm, this year has been full of blessings. In January the basement bathroom, which typically gets left unused, was the focal point of our attention. No, we didn’t all come down with the stomach flu. Our beloved dog Laney gave birth to eight healthy lab pups in the nest we prepared for her in what had previously been the quietest room of the house. By the time these pups were ready to go to their new homes they were the most socialized, brave pups ever. The girls made sure of it. We were happy to see them all placed in homes where they would be loved and appreciated. Laney was every bit the mother we knew she would be, and Blue (Lila’s dog) was a great daddy. We have heard reports from all the pups’ new families and they are all doing well.

Lila turned five in February. She and her friends were painted as various jungle creatures. They pounced around the house and yard growling and generally having a good time. They did put away the growls long enough to come quietly to the barn and whiteness the birth of triplet goats.
Sweet Maggie turned three in March. Molly outdid herself once again with an adorable Strawberry Shortcake themed party. The weather was nice enough that folks congregated comfortably outside. The pups, which were now almost weaned, all made an appearance. You can imagine how this added to the cuteness factor.  A typical gathering at Old Capitol Farm is sure to be filled with the young of multiple species all frolicking simultaneously, enjoying youth in their own way, which is actually quite similar. 
Molly and I took the girls to Smokey Mountain National Park this spring. We tent camped in Cade’s Cove. We saw the sights on foot, doing quite a bit of hiking each day. When the girls got tired we packed them on our backs. Using this method, we even scaled Chimney Tops, one of the more rigorous mountain hikes in the park. In the evenings the girls turned in early. Molly and I would lie down with them and stroke their backs so they would go to sleep. You might guess, every night a very pleasantly tired Mommy and Daddy would fall asleep during this routine as well. The girls had a blast jumping from boulder to boulder around the beautiful mountain streams, and only fell in once. That water is cold! We saw a lot of bears, including a mother and three cubs near our campsite.
It was a year of endurance events for the Howard family. Molly ran in her first endurance race, a 10k run called the Barnyard Dash and later joined several of her friends and an Algonquin warrior (me in costume) in a 5k muddy obstacle course called the Muddy Fanatic. Go Molly! I pushed Maggie in the jogging stroller in the Barnyard Dash and managed to come in first in my age group. I let Maggie accept my trophy. To this day she swears that she won the race and won’t hear of the thought that she was accepting it for me. I love that kid. I also ran in the Derby city mini and the Tough Mudder. I was proud to have raised funds for the American Cancer society for the Mini. A growing number of our loved ones have had brushes with cancer, and many have had effective treatments thanks in part to the results of good research.
We continue our respective jobs, Molly as an American Sign Language interpreter, and me as a handy man/landscaper/farmer/musician guy. We are used to the ebbs and flows that come seasonally and are becoming more adept at predicting when Molly should take on more jobs. I am so proud of my wife. As if it’s not enough to be a wonderful partner and beautiful to boot, she is well-respected in her profession. This year she began working in the theatrical setting, even interpreting a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Old English. I am proud of her for not backing away from that challenge. Molly, you rock!

My mom and Dad, and my sister with her two kiddos joined us in a Family trip to St. Pete Beach Florida this year. It is the sight of the traditional Howard family Florida vacations going back many years before my youth. It was sort of a pilgrimage for my sister and me to take our kids there. Much fun was had, and much seafood was eaten.
And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for, drum roll please … KINDERGARTEN!
What a momentous time for Lila. Molly and I were a little concerned that since Lila had not had any experiences being away from family in a preschool that all day Kindergarten might be a little much. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about. From day one she has had nothing but good things to say about her experience. She is making great strides in reading and writing, and she seems to be developing into a good little classroom citizen. We could not ask for a better first teacher. Mrs. Churchill has laid the foundation for many young people and I believe my little girl is learning much more than just reading and writing from this caring person. I also believe Mrs. Churchill is enjoying having Lila in class. It’s a good thing too, because we’ve practically moved in! Molly and I share our music with the class every couple weeks and my mom volunteers weekly. It’s great to be a part of this school’s community.
Around my girls no mention of Lila’s experience in Kindergarten will be made without equal time given to Maggie’s experience in dance class. Maggie makes sure of that, even before we have a chance to transition to the subject ourselves. And yes, it is worth the hype. Maggie’s class is filled with other little girls her age. For an hour every week she gets her groove on while being taught some ballet basics by her wonderful teacher, Ms. Sally. It takes a special person to take a group of three year olds and keep them engaged in anything for an hour. Ms. Sally does it without ever using a cross word. Maggie has so enjoyed this class, and the fact that she takes such ownership of what she is learning is a testament to her teacher.
As you can see, the farm has been the backdrop of much activity this year. I do not expect you to believe that it has been a perfect year. And I am aware that there is a measure of cliché applied to the Christmas “brag letter”. As I reflect on the year I can recall moments that were not particularly graceful, and some that may have been downright dark. In retrospect, these moments only prove more strongly to me that our consistent efforts as a family to live graciously and gracefully in the presence of God do make a difference.
As our family experiences this Christmas season, we will not merely let it pass around us. We will, as we have been doing, deliberately invite the spirit into our lives. We will sink our teeth deeply into the season and savor its true magic. We invite you to do the same.
Merry, merry Christmas.
The Howards

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