Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Letter

For those who are interested in learning what we've been up to in 2016, here's a much longer Christmas letter with lots of photos.

Megan has enjoyed her Daisy Girl Scout troop this year.  Both of her leaders are amazing women that I know from church, and her large troop of 17 girls is full of energy.  Megan likes that she often gets to do craft projects during her meeting times and that she gets to see some of her friends from church and preschool.  I like that her troop exposes her to all kinds of different things during the year.  Last February, the troop went snow shoeing at a nearby nature center.  I was able to bring Amelia along, and the girls had a great time.  I was proud that they were able to answer a lot of the nature questions that the guide asked.  They got so warm snow shoeing that they took their coats off.

I served as the cookie coordinator for Megan's Girl Scout troop, and boy howdy is that a lot of work!  The sale went very well, but I was kept busy for the month of February.  Thanks to everyone who bought cookies from the girls!

Also in February, the girls participated in their first science fair.  They picked their topics completely on their own, even though I tried to influence them to pick things I was interested in!  Amelia chose to study paper airplanes and what type of paper would result in a plane that flew the farthest.  Megan wanted to do a project titled "Sink or Float", so we made hypotheses about whether certain types of materials would sink or float, and then had fun finding exceptions to those general rules.  Grandpa brought a pumice stone to our house so that Megan could have a rock that would float, at least temporarily.  Grandpa and Grandma were at our house for the science fair, so they helped finish up the displays.  Our school district does an elementary school wide science fair every other year, so we will have to wait until 2018 for our next science fair.

In March, we were thoroughly sick of the cold weather, so we found a great deal on airfare to Atlanta and decided to take a spring break trip.  We spent a few days in Savannah, GA, and then drove to Hilton Head, SC.  It was so lovely to be someplace warm and not have to wear coats!  The kids loved the beach; although Nathaniel wasn't too interested in going in the water, he enjoyed collecting shells and playing in the sand.

I also found a National Park to take them to - Fort Pulaski, near Tybee Island, Georgia.  It was a really cool old fort, and the girls had a good time earning their Junior Ranger badges.  For Nathaniel, we found a railway museum that featured an old rountable and included a (very short) ride on a real train.  He loved it!

Ben, Amelia, Megan and Nathaniel had never been in South Carolina before, so I made Ben pull off the road when we entered the state to get this photo.  Everyone except Megan thinks it is hilarious that the slogan says "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places" and Megan is looking so grouchy.  She was mad because I made her put her book down and get out of the car.  It reminds me of road trips when I was a kid, how we often wanted to stay in the car reading our books instead of getting out to look at Native American burial mounds or Civil War battlefields.

Amelia celebrated her First Communion in May, and we were thankful that Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Becky's family were able to come up to attend the ceremony and have a little party at our house afterwards.

Both of the girls played soccer in the spring, but neither one seems to have a hugely competitive nature.  Amelia loved running up and down the field, and she did score a few goals in the season, but she didn't like having to steal the ball away from other players.  Unfortunately, Megan got elbowed in the face in the first few minutes of her first game (and got a black eye because of it), and was nervous about getting in the fray the rest of the season.  She said she had a good time, but wasn't sure she wanted to play soccer again.  That's Megan in the first photo in the red shirt, and Amelia in the second photo in the yellow shirt and the white hat - it's cold in Wisconsin in April and May!

Amelia turned 8 in June and Megan turned 6 in July.  I convinced them that they could have a joint birthday party, so they each invited a few friends to come to our house for lunch, cake and a treasure hunt, and then we took everybody to the movie theater to see "Finding Dory".  Thankfully Grandma Jane and Grandpa Jeff were in town to help with the party, and to sit with Nathaniel during the movie.

At the end of June, we left for a road trip to Colorado.  Ben had a lot of vacation this year, so we left a few days early and decided to meander our way south on our way to Colorado.  We stopped at the train museum just east of Des Moines, IA, so that Nathaniel could see all the model trains.  This is a really cool little place that we spent almost two hours at; we highly recommend it if you are ever near Des Moines and looking for something to do.

We discovered that there are lots of really interesting things to do in Kansas, including Moon Marble Company and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, the Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina, and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.  They had an animatronic dinosaur that would periodically roar and move it's head.  The kids were startled at first, but then they embraced it and took turns pretending to run away from the scary T. Rex.  I would highly recommend stopping at these places if you are ever driving across Kansas.

Once in Colorado, we drove over to Four Corners, where the kids had a blast going to a different state all by themselves. 

Then we met up with Grandpa and Grandma Dueber and the Weidner Family at Mesa Verde.  The kids LOVED climbing up the ladders and going through the small spaces on the guided tours of the dwellings, and they learned a lot about Native American culture, too.

We spent the 4th of July in Mesa Verde and watched the fireworks at a community park in Cortez, with the mountains in the background.

I am guessing that Kim and Amy are the only ones who will read this far (so if you are reading this, please comment), so I will include these photos of us trying to play King Elephant before the fireworks started.  The kids COULD NOT get the hang of it (and neither could the adults, it was truly hilarious) and Brian decided that he was going to be a walrus.  Because, you know "I am the Walrus."

From there we went to the Great Sand Dunes, where the bigger kids spent most of their time engineering a dam.

In Colorado Springs, we went to the Olympic Training Center and the Garden of the Gods, where Nathaniel announced that he was a little mountain goat because he loved climbing the rocks.

Then onto Denver for my cousin Angela's wedding, where it was fun to get to visit with a lot of my aunts, uncles and cousins, and finally the long drive home.

We had barely arrived home when I took the kids on another road trip to visit family.  We started at Grandma and Grandpa Dueber's house, where Grandma and I took the girls downtown to the Art Institute, the Bean, and the American Girl store.

The girls spent a few days with Grandma Jane and Grandpa Jeff, while Nathaniel and I hung out in Glenview with Mom and Dad.  Nathaniel enjoyed getting to eat ALL the blueberries he wanted, going to see the trains at the Botanic Gardens, and playing in the sprinkler (it was very hot).

Then we all spent a few days at Jeff and Jane's house, where we ate shaved ice, played at the splash pad with all the Johnson cousins (it was still very hot), and visited Great Grandma Marion.

Finally, we drove across southern Indiana (hilly, who knew?) to get to David's house in Lexington, KY.  Nathaniel and Jonathan enjoyed seeing the model trains at the children's garden and playing trains together.  In the first photo, they are even wearing matching construction vehicle shirts.

I think the highlight of the girls' time in Kentucky was getting to take two EXTREMELY bubbly baths with Abigail.  I do not know how David and Julie ever got the bubbles out of their tub.

In August, we went back to Becky and Brian's house to participate in the Games of the 2nd Weidner Olympiad.  The kids had a marvelous time competing in events like fencing, javelin, pole vaulting, and synchronized swimming.

In the fall, Amelia joined a group called Girls on the Run, which teaches girls about their limitless potential and enables them to boldly pursue their dreams (paraphrased from their website).  They do all this while training to run a 5k - turns out Amelia LOVES to run!  She is already anxiously waiting until spring when she can start running with GOTR again.

Amelia also started taking piano lessons in the summer, and she loves it.  She practices enthusiastically most days, and has even started composing her own pieces.  Her teacher finds fun books for her to play from that have accompaniment parts, so I enjoy getting to play with her (when she lets me).  We played "Silent Night" together at her recital this past weekend; she played perfectly, but alas, I did not.  Amelia has perfectionist tendencies, so it is good for her to see other people making mistakes.  This photo was taken by Megan, didn't she do a nice job?

Megan asked if she could take gymnastics this fall, so she is in a once a week class with a few of her Girl Scout friends.  She loves it, especially her fearless jumping on the tumble track.  Here she is demonstrating something on the bar, but I am not a gymnast so I don't know what it is called.

On the second day of school this fall, I had surgery for a severely herniated disk that had pinched a nerve so badly that I was having numbness in my leg, tingling and numbness in my foot, drop foot, and pain down my entire leg.  I was able to hobble around, but kept tripping and twisting my ankle any time I tried to walk on uneven surfaces like grass.  It was not a happy time.  After the surgery, I was unable to lift or bend for 6 weeks, meaning I was unable to take care of Nathaniel.  We are so thankful that Mom and Dad and Jeff and Jane were able to take turns staying with us for almost the entire six weeks.  The kids LOVED having all that extra time with their grandparents, and I enjoyed having people take care of my kids and my house and me!  My foot has improved so that I can walk mostly normally now, and the pain in my leg is almost gone (although that may be due to the medicine I am taking).  I am doing physical therapy, and the doctors say that they are hopeful that my nerve will recover in a year.  Thank you to everyone who has been praying for my recovery; if it is not too much to ask, please continue to pray that my nerve keeps recovering so that my walking will continue to improve (and that I might even be able to stand on tip toe or take a few running steps again), that the pain will keep decreasing, and that I will stop falling and twisting my ankle.

I didn't take many photos during that time (because I wasn't doing anything), but I love this one of Megan snuggling with me:

And before we knew it, Nathaniel was turning three!  When I asked him what he wanted to eat for his birthday dinner, he said "Cake!" When I told him he had to pick a real dinner food, the only other thing he would say was "Boogers!" so I decided on my own to make him pancakes and sausage.  He changed his mind several times about exactly what kind of cake he wanted, but surprisingly settle on a green dinosaur.  Jeff and Jane came up to help us celebrate his birthday. 

 We have traveled a few more times this fall and winter; to Glen Carbon for cousin Abby's 4th birthday and cousin Tony's baptism.  Then to Glenview for Thanksgiving, and again to see Aunt Becky's nativity scene display and make gingerbread houses.

It snowed while we were there, so I took the girls sledding at the nearby hill that I grew up sledding on.  They LOVED it.  We have always sledded down our neighbor's backyard in Madison, and they have been content with that little hill up until now.  But now that they have experienced a real sledding hill, I don't think they'll settle for our neighborhood one again.  As Megan came down the hill the first time, I could hear her screaming "This is totally amazing!"  At least she didn't say totes amazeballs.

Amelia loves to read; she will read just about anything she can get her hands on, but particularly loves mysteries.  Noah recently got her hooked on the "I Survived" series of historical fiction stories about boys surviving terrible disasters like the sinking of the Titanic; she has read all of them in the last month.  She can often be found reading in very interesting positions.    Good thing she always wears shorts underneath her dresses.

Megan has discovered the camera on my phone, and loves taking photos with it.  It is so fun to see her perspective on the world.  She also enjoys editing photos after she has taken them.  I just downloaded a few free photo editing apps with crazy animal faces and other fancy things, but up until now she mostly liked to tweak the colors to make them very bright.  The first is a selfie, the second is on a hike at Gibraltar Rock, where she and Amelia were posing like they were Washington crossing the Delaware (why, I do not know.)

As I mentioned in my short letter, Nathaniel still loves vehicles of all kinds.  I don't know if you noticed, but I mentioned taking him to see trains several times in this letter.  I decided to count all the times we took him to see trains (model or real) this year and I ended up with 9.
March - Savannah, GA - Georgia State Railroad Museum
May - Wilmette, IL - outdoor model trains at Chicago Botanic Gardens
May - Glenview, IL - Grandpa took Nathaniel to the Glenview Metra/Amtrak station at rush hour, saw 9 trains
June - Des Moines, IA - Trainland USA
July - Wilmette, IL - outdoor model trains at Chicago Botanic Gardens
July - Lexington, KY - outdoor model trains at Kentucky Children's Garden at the Arboretum
November - Wilmette, IL - indoor holiday trains at Chicago Botanic Gardens
December - Madison, WI - indoor model train under the Christmas tree at the capitol building
December - Madison, WI - indoor model trains at Olbrich Botanic Gardens

Oh, and we are taking him to see the trains at the St. Louis Botanic Gardens in a few days, so that will be 10 times this year that we have taken him to see trains.


  1. I loved your year in review! Thanks.

  2. I read the whole letter! I forgot about playing King Elephant and Brian being the walrus. I laughed again quite hard that I worked myself into a coughing fit (although that is not hard to do these days). I appreciate your year in review too!

  3. I loved reading every word of your year in review. Thanks for writing it. We will definitely keep you in our prayers.