I began writing my own holiday missives when we all moved to Northern California twenty-two years ago and left so many dear friends behind. It seemed like the perfect way to carry on relationships that might otherwise have slipped away. Over the years, I've kept a copy of each annual letter, and last year, at Dean's suggestion, I put them all together in a binder. It has become a great conversation starter, two decades in review.
Following is my 2010 letter... a greeting meant to be part nostalgic reflection and part blessing sent your way...
Dearest Family and Friends,
As I pulled off the freeway in Grass Valley the other day, I was greeted by a fleeting and beautiful winter weather phenomenon. Behind me, to the south, the sky was crystal clear and blue. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky, casting blinding golden rays into the eyes of the drivers headed that direction. Ahead of me, to the north, the sky was made black by a wall of tall storm clouds sweeping towards the mountains. The sky was cut exactly in two, one half clear blue, the other ominous black. Between me and that black wall swirled a fine golden mist, a silken veil of fog illuminated by slanting sunbeams. The gold fog descended on the roadway and enveloped my car, separating itself into its individual snowflakes, sparkling gold and silver. The first flakes were small and swirling, but soon huge quarter-sized flakes began to float out of the mist and stick on the car and the pavement. Within minutes, the ground was white and the sun was gone. The Magic of the Season is upon us!
At this point in my holiday letter, I usually lament the speed at which the year has passed. However, this year, I must lament the passing of THREE years! My last letter went out in 2007. I had such good intentions the last two Decembers, but the Fates conspired against me… against us, really. December 2008 saw my dad, Wally, in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. In December 2009, it was my mom Louise’s turn. She spent a couple of months in the hospital fighting off an infection in her heart. “Recovering” and “fighting off” being the operative words in those sentences! They are both still alive and kicking and have promised to let me get my annual letter out this year. Much has happened in three years. Though I promise not to recount it all, there are some highlights to pass on.
Dean is currently in the third year of a PhD program in the Communications Department at Stanford. He is taking classes, teaching, researching, and generally wallowing in the academic environs he so enjoys. He is also studying in the Statistics Department. For the last several months he has been working in the research lab at Facebook’s Palo Alto campus.
Dean’s girlfriend, Kat (Katrina), is in law school at UC Hastings in “the city”, while Dean continues to live in Palo Alto. Though she graduated from Placer High, right down the road from here, Kat and Dean didn’t meet until they had both graduated from Stanford, and she answered an ad for a roommate! (Ironic.) Over the summer, they traveled to Spain and Turkey for a couple weeks of sightseeing, relaxation, and lots of pictures. Prior to that, over spring break, Dean traveled with long time friend, Chris, and others to Peru, a trip that included hiking and “luxury camping” in the Andes Mountains and more photography. And somewhere in between, he combined business with pleasure and traveled to Denmark and the Netherlands. Previously, there were multiple trips to Finland for Nokia, his former employer, and fun excursions to Florence, Venice, Paris, and closer to home, Yosemite and Napa.
Dean enjoys an active lifestyle. He bikes almost everywhere and runs for fun. This year’s huge Sierra snowfall is a skier’s siren call. Oh, to be young and soooooo energetic. He also visits “home” several times each year and is really good about staying in touch with his grandparents. There are plans in the works to do some video interviewing of Grandma and Grandpa. (Check out his blog “Ready to Hand” at deaneckles.com/blog if you’re interested in what he’s thinking about and working on.)
I celebrated the completion of my twentieth year of teaching last year, two decades – unbelievable! I continue to enjoy teaching English Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders in Colfax. Adolescents are fun and enthusiastic beings who keep me laughing and energized. Despite all the negative news you hear about the state of public education, I assure you, teaching and learning are alive and well in our neck of the woods. I have an awesome group of kids this year (as every year), who teach me something new everyday.
In addition, I am trying something new in education. I am team-teaching a pair of online university courses, guiding students from the birth of their master’s projects in September to the publication and presentation of their final written theses in May. The courses are part of the MA Contemplative Education program that I, myself, completed two summers ago at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. It’s both fun and challenging to be on the other side of the virtual table, participating in threaded conversations about current topics in education and helping others through a life-changing process that I so recently completed myself.
I have not done the kind of world traveling that Dean has enjoyed, but I have taken shorter trips in recent years: twice to DC and NYC with my students, Boulder and the Colorado Rockies with Naropa friends, retreats to beautiful Point Reyes, and fun in Encinitas. I also traveled to DC to attend the Mind and Life Institute and be inspired by the Dalai Lama, and to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park in Southern California for a lovely retreat. I enjoy tasting the local wines with friends at the sweet little wineries right here in the Sierra Foothills, and try to get out to do some local hiking, too. (Read my blog “It’s Dawning On Me” at itsdawningonme.blogspot.com to check in on what I’m thinking and doing.)
My folks, Louise and Wally, are no longer able to participate in the kinds of adventures we used to take, but we get together almost every week. I drive up and we share dinner; sometimes I cook, sometimes we go out. Mom still gets in a few bridge outings a month, but Dad has gotten out of the bridge loop these days. What has been a fun hobby for all of us has been a new interest in genealogy. We have been doing extensive research online, with the help of Ancestry.com. We have dug out all the old boxes of pictures, letters, and other documents that have been hidden away for a long time. We have traced a dozen family strands back to the 1600s, thanks to those Quaker ancestors who were very good bookkeepers, cataloging everyone’s movements in great detail. But there are several intriguing mysteries yet to be solved, one of which includes a mysterious oil well!