Our annual holiday letter, 2013

Dustin, Fiona, and Susan at Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 30 November 2013.
Dustin, Fiona, and Susan at Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 30 November 2013.

Dear family and friends,

Twenty twelve ended just as every year should: snow-covered and in the company of family. Fiona made her first visit to Susan and Dustin’s old stomping grounds in Salt Lake City as we joined Susan’s family to celebrate Christmas. Fiona had fun exploring Temple Square for the first time, but that was nothing compared to what is quite possibly the World’s Coolest Playground behind city hall in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan. (Seriously, this playground was the coolest ever.) Dustin, of course, had to ride all the new rail lines that had opened since his last visit, which was even more fun with Fiona at his side—she seems to love riding trains even more than he does.

We were not content to let 2013 pass us by without taking it by the horns. In February, we thought Susan’s midwinter break sounded like a great time to help Dustin check another state capitol off the list in his quest to see all 50. So we took the train (of course) to Springfield, Massachusetts. Fiona was such a trooper as she braved the bitter wind and cold on the walk from the train station to the hotel. After spending the night there, we rented a car and drove up to Brattleboro, Vermont, and on to Concord, the capital of New Hampshire. We stayed at a delightful old hotel near downtown and continued our family tradition of hedonism, by which we mean ordering out pizza and watching TV in our room. The evening turned tragic, however, when a brief scene from King of Queens showed the main character repeatedly running into a padded wall at a baseball stadium. Fiona, full of empathy, was mortified, and it took a few minutes to calm her down and assure her that no one actually got hurt.

Fiona had a great time exploring the capitol building—Dustin’s 33rd—the next day. We love how she enjoys exploring new places. What we don’t love, however, is the tendency of adults to make up stuff that they tell to children. Like in this exchange we overheard while passing a group of school students on a tour of the capitol:

Student: “Why is the dome gold?”

Chaperone: “Because we have had a president from our state. If someone from your state is elected president, your capitol gets a gold dome.”

Let’s just clarify that the chaperone’s explanation is a complete fabrication.

As spring turned into summer, Fiona finished her first year of preschool, but Mama and Daddy kept her busy exploring the city. The best thing about living in New York is that you never run out of stuff to do. That, and that it’s so close to the beach, which makes it perfect for celebrating Fiona’s birthday, smack dab in the middle of summer. Her Nana, Randy, and Aunt Amanda joined us for our annual Train Trip to the Beach, this time on the Long Island Rail Road to Long Beach, Long Island, where Fiona got to fly a kite for the first time. It was a great way to celebrate the ripe old age of three.

Turning three also meant it was a great time to learn how to swim, so Fiona took swimming lessons at the YMCA in Jamaica, Queens. On our way there for Fiona’s first lesson, Susan and Dustin showed their New York bona fides by deftly changing Fiona into her swimsuit while riding the subway. You gotta do what you gotta do when you gotta do it.

No summer, of course, is complete without a trip to San Francisco. Well, that’s how summer 2013 worked out for Dustin at least. His mom had always had an itch to visit the City by the Bay, and though Dustin had been there plenty of times before, he was more than happy to tag along. It’s always a thrill riding a cable car up and down those incredibly tall and steep hills, or catching a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also always wonderful to come back home to Susan and Fiona, who had spent the week lounging in Maryland.

When fall arrived, it was the beginning of a new adventure for Dustin and Fiona in a homeschool version of preschool. Being a preschool teacher for his own daughter has been more of a challenge than Dustin thought it would be, but Fiona seems to be learning and happy. She has become very chatty and is a great conversationalist—if you catch her at the right time. We are constantly amazed by the things she somehow knows. Recently, she mentioned seeing an “excavator,” which we gathered was some sort of heavy machinery at a construction site, but she said it was not the same as a backhoe.

One of the things we love about New York City is the opportunity to spend time outdoors in nature. (We know, that’s unexpected.) On Thursdays, Dustin and Fiona join some other parents and children from our neighborhood for a forest school at Forest Park, Queens. “Forest school” is sort of what it sounds like: you go to the woods and, as Fiona describes it, “play with sticks.” It’s a great opportunity to get out, enjoy nature, and make new friends. Besides forest school, we are able to take the train to all sorts of interesting places that are not too far away. Dustin, Fiona, and some friends recently went on a field trip to see a waterfall in New Jersey. And in September, we all went on an excursion to a couple of farms upstate, where we met some baby cows, sheep, and goats (who tried to eat Fiona’s belt) and then picked a huge bag of apples. Within a few days, the apples had been transformed into applesauce, apple butter, and apple jelly, all of which were gone within weeks. So much for storing up for the winter.

We’ve had the opportunity to check a couple of big items off our (read: Dustin’s) bucket list this year. The first came on Independence Day, when Susan and Dustin visited the Statue of Liberty for the first time and climbed all the way to the crown. It’s definitely not for the claustrophobic, but the climb up the narrow, twisting staircase through the middle of the statue’s internal framework is well worth the effort. It was the first day the statue was open since Hurricane Sandy last year heavily damaged infrastructure on Liberty Island (though, fortunately, not the statue itself), and there was no better way to celebrate the Fourth of July.

And recently, just after Thanksgiving, Dustin had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. As the tour guide, Ed, pointed out, it is one of those rare places where nature and architecture enhance each other. It is beautiful, and we thought it was a perfect spot for our family Christmas photo, which looks a little off because a certain someone—cough … Fiona … cough—damaged our camera a few days before. As she would say, “It’s okay. I can give you a hug and a kiss you can feel better.”

But these experiences will pale in comparison to what comes next. Around the time you read this, we will welcome a new addition to our family. Fiona’s baby brother is due on 23 December, but Fiona’s late arrival (ten days!) taught us that we can’t be sure if Baby Brother will help us say farewell to 2013 or welcome 2014. Either way, we’re excited, and we’ll keep you posted. Look for an announcement soon.

And with that, our 2013 comes to an end. Looking back, this year has definitely had its challenges. But we’ve also been incredibly fortunate, most of all to have each other and to count you among our friends and family. We hope 2013 has been as good to you as it has been to us and that 2014 will be even better.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

With our love,
Susan, Dustin, & Fiona

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