Dear Family and Friends,

I’m sitting in the living room as I begin this year’s letter, looking at the refinished floors and painted walls, listening to Heavy D & The Boyz on a 90s radio channel. I look out the front window and see the recently black-topped street. I realize that a theme is beating me over the head, but I’m just not sure which one. Old stuff? Old stuff that is renewed? Old stuff that should be destroyed and forgotten? (Sorry, Heavy; RIP) Maybe because I myself am getting older, I’d like to think the imagery that has come to me is not about withering away, but renewal. Lisa, Helena, James, and I have had a year full of experiences, some of which were brand new, but many of the experiences were just new versions of old memories, lived by the next generation.

James started 4K this year. He’s excited about school, but he already has the attitude of a typical teenager when it comes to talking about his day. “What did you learn today at school?” I ask at dinner each night. “Nothing,” James replies. Sometimes he changes things up a bit and says, “I don’t know.” Therefore, I can’t really tell you what he’s learned in 4K at Immanuel, but, as far as we know, he is attending school and possibly learning something. He’s set to attend the German Immersion School with Helena next fall.

Helena, on the other hand, loves school and loves telling us about every aspect of her day, including who got yelled at by the teacher and what she ate at lunch. She likes to help other students and has declared that she wants to be a teacher. I remind her that a more lucrative career choice would be to marry a nice doctor, but she’s determined to embrace a career full of underappreciation. She actually enjoys school so much that she wants to live there, and she wants all of us to stay with her. I argue that there are no showers and that the kitchen shuts down before supper, but she still thinks she’d enjoy sleeping on the mats, always ready to learn.

Lisa is in the process of signing up for classes to renew her teaching license. In the process, she may or may not be able to get a religious certification so that she can become a called worker for our church. You might imagine being called means the pastor will pretend to be Jerry Lewis and yell, “Hey, lady!” From what I understand, however, it’s more spiritual than that, and Lisa will appear more official in her newly-renamed position of Dir. of Organizational Research. I’m very happy the church values her as a dedicated and talented employee.

Lisa also finally took me up on my offer to build her a website that can showcase her writing and research talents, so we created It’s a site dedicated to what makes a family happy, or at least what we’ve tried. Each of the eight menu items start with Rs, so it’s kind of an eight R-step program. However, the one we left out was “time,” which isn’t an R-word, but it is what we lack to write the articles. Whenever Lisa plans something really cool for herself or the family to do or complains about what we did wrong, I remind her to write an article about it. Maybe we can help others, and maybe it’ll be taken more seriously than an ignored Facebook post telling friends what was eaten for dinner and what time is bedtime. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure all YOUR fb friends are riveted by those posts. The idea is to document the good and the bad in a way that helps others, kind of like what parents and teachers do with their own decisions to help the next generation.

Lisa and I have tried to help Helena and James make the right choices when it comes to their recreational activities. It’s a tough decision whether to be a drill sergeant dad or a dad with kids who are awkward in competition. Helena’s been clamouring for karate lessons recently. I told her she can learn all she needs to know from me, so I taught her wax-on-wax-off and the crane kick. Since I can teach her karate myself, she will probably continue with some variation of her classes from this year: gymnastics, tennis, swim, hip-hop dance (with Miss Donna, not MC Hammer), and Disney dance. James also took gymnastics, Disney dance, and a creative movement class. He seems to like it more than kicking or catching balls. James does love playing hockey on the driveway with mom, though (gives her a chance to relive her high school field hockey days). Both kids might try ice skating. Overall, Lisa and I generally want to leave the decisions about activities up to the kids, just like our parents had rightly done with us. However, that means neither James nor Helena will be the next child prodigy-turned-pro/our retirement plan.

Since living in Florida is part of Lisa’s parents’ retirement plan, and since Disney World is also in Florida, our family spent last Easter break in Florida. The most important lesson I learned was that putting on a talent show at school all day and then driving for 23 hours was not a terribly good idea, even though Lisa took her turns at the wheel. After that, I learned that it pays to get to Disney World as it opens. You might even want to run to rides when you get there--just imagine you are your semi-slow coworker or relative and have fun with it. You can really own it if you wear that fanny pack. The kids loved Disney World and were the right age for it. James and Helena both said their favorite ride was the mini roller coaster. We also stayed in Ft. Myers, as I kind of figured going to a beach while in Florida is required, especially if it’s my one and only visit.

Lest you think Lisa and I suddenly came into a lot of money, the Florida vacation involved driving and staying with family and tenants of friends (long story). You might again mistake us for high-rollers when you hear we also went to see The Wiggles in Chicago. However, we scored on a $50 a night room most likely deemed acceptable by the health department and upper-level tix.

Because I’m not alone as a teacher losing money and losing rights, Lisa and I also decided we wanted to help Helena’s school by hosting a German intern who can work with the students, even as the district lays off teachers and increases class sizes. We also thought it would be a great experience for the kids. Janette will be staying with us through the end of the semester. She’s studying to be a high school English teacher, so she needs to spend a semester here to work on her English skills. The German Immersion School uses these interns to help teach German, which means that their English practice should come at home. Since Lisa speaks Spanish and I speak French, Janette has to practice her English with us, even if Helena would be fine talking to her in German all the time. We were a bit surprised to find out that we had been selected to host two interns this school year,  which most people don’t do (the second, Davina, will come in January and live with us from March through June),so we’ll see how that works out in our rookie season. Lisa and I figured that hanging out with an intern could make us feel younger, but when I took several Germans to Madison and I heard the other interns talking about their “host dads,” I got kind of depressed and told Janette she had to call me her “host cousin.”

Then again, I guess I am getting old: old enough to realize the importance of helping Helena’s school, of a family trip, or of having a job you enjoy. I’m old enough to know better most of the time and to get frustrated when others seem too ignorant to behave the way Jesus would want them to, but I have hope. Janette said that they’ve moved past the actions of the past so much in Germany that she went and watched the play of The Diary of Anne Frank with an open mind and without overwhelming guilt. If Miwaukee can get my road redone for me and Heavy D can still get air time, I’d say the chances are pretty good that we can bring back good ideas from the past and make them new again. While there are no new books of the Bible (that means you, Mitt), the Christmas message that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection gives us hope of eternal life with Him is timeless and unchanging, It’s helpful to be annually reminded of this hint of things to come when we’re feeling a bit old and frail. As we celebrate this Christmas season, may you find renewal and rebirth in your life. You might get some cream for darkening your hair or lightening your wrinkles, but we can all feel renewed if we remember what Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure once said: “Be excellent to each other.” This concept works whether you’re teaching your elders or grandkids, whether your best days are long past or still on the horizon, always.

Merry Christmas!
Brian, Lisa, Helena, and James