Our annual Christmas letter, 2017

Solar-eclipse ready
Colin, Fiona, Heath, Susan, and Dustin at Cumberland Park, Nashville, 21 August 2017, ready for the total solar eclipse.

Editors’ note: This is an “extended version” of the letter we sent with our Christmas cards. See the notes for more details that had to be taken out to cut the letter down to length in the editing process.


Dear family & friends,

Our year really got going in February, when we left on a road trip that took us to Baltimore; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Niagara Falls, Ontario, which was Heath’s first trip outside the United States; and Palmyra, New York, where we visited a few places important in the early history of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the Sacred Grove, the Hill Cumorah, and the Grandin Print Shop. 1

Spring break rolled around in April. Dustin took a trip to his hometown, Charlotte, for the first time in seven years and spent a very busy week catching up with family and friends. Susan stayed home to hang out with Fiona, Colin, and Heath. Fiona learned how to use the sewing machine, and they had some adventures.

In May, Susan and one of her colleagues started a petition calling for paid parental leave for teachers in New York City’s public schools. As of this writing, over 82,000 people have signed it, and the teachers’ union is (finally!) getting serious about making a deal with the city government. 2 But Susan’s biggest achievement in May was finishing her first handknit sock! It was just 7½ years in the making. Now on to knitting its match. 3, 4

We spent most of August visiting Dustin’s family in northern Georgia. We took Amtrak’s Crescent, or the “bed train,” as Colin calls it, there and back. (A sleeper car on a train really is the only civilized way to travel.) We ended up putting 3,022 miles (4,863 kilometers) on our rental car with road trips to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, as well as Tallahassee (Dustin’s 39th state capitol) and St. Augustine, Florida. But the highlight of the trip — and really all of 2017 — was our road trip to Nashville. Dustin visited his 40th state capitol, but even more memorably we sat on the shore of the Cumberland River across from downtown Nashville and watched our first total solar eclipse! Fiona and Colin are anxious to see the next one, which we hear will be in 2019 and viewable in Argentina and Chile. Now to learn Spanish for our trip there (you should know not to put it past us …).

We returned to reality and started school again in September. Susan is now teaching 12th grade government and economics, which she thinks is pretty interesting, especially because her students are old enough to have a fairly rational conversation about important topics.

In October, Dustin, Susan, and Fiona came to the unexpected conclusion that homeschool is the best option for Fiona right now.

Fiona started homeschool with Dustin on 1 November. A few days later was Susan’s birthday, when we continued our annual tradition of celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and burning Guy Fawkes in effigy.5

As soon as Thanksgiving was over and December rolled around, Colin started asking every fifteen minutes, “Ma, it’s Christmas now?” He is now old enough to look forward to Christmas, but not old enough to understand just how far away it is.

Fiona (7) can often be found reading a book or writing a comic book of her own. She’s going on two months as a home-/unschooler, and recently finished a project on salamanders (her choice of topics). Her favorite things about homeschool are being able to spend a lot more time outside and being able to do math at her own pace.

Colin (almost 4) spends most of his days constructing and reconstructing his wooden train tracks. His repertoire is far beyond the standard systems you see on a Brio box, and have recently included 8-foot-long (2.5-meter) viaducts, double-decker bridges, and stations that incorporate the bedroom furniture. Whenever Susan gets home, he comes running and announces, “Ma! I built something else for you!” He also recently became obsessed with Diesel Ten, a character in the Thomas the Train series, and he asked that he be included in this letter.

Heath (2) learned to walk in 2017. When it became official, Susan carried him, barefoot, to Carter’s (only a block away), where he picked out some shoes and wore them home. He was so pleased. He is such a happy little boy and is very proud of all the things he’s learned to do on his own this year, including open a bar of chocolate, put on his own shoes, climb ladders, and bring Colin the thing he’s asking for. He can often be found building things near Colin or snuggling with Mama or Daddy.

As always, we’re grateful to count you among our loved ones. We hope that 2017 was as good to you as it was to us and that 2018 will be even better.

Merry Christmas
& Happy New Year!

With our love,
Susan, Dustin, Fiona, Colin, & Heath

  1.  In the Baltimore area we spent a really lovely few days with Dustin’s grandmother and aunt. While we were in the area, we took a side trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, mostly so Fiona, Colin, and Heath could see the singing cows on the Hershey factory tour. Then we went to Canada because, as far as we’re concerned, every good vacation should end with a visit to Canada. We stayed with some good friends near Niagara Falls. Colin loves waterfalls, so we were excited for him to see the biggest one around. Unfortunately, he thought it was a little too big — it scared him a bit. We stopped off in Palmyra on our way home. 
  2. In case you’re wondering, the NYC DOE offers no paid parental leave to anyone, and won’t even allow fathers or adoptive parents to use their own sick/vacation days after a child is born. Susan is happy to give more details if you’re interested. 
  3. Too bad that humans have two feet, rendering a single sock not terribly useful. Maybe Susan will have a finished pair by … 2025? 
  4. In June, Heath discovered our matryoshka doll and has been obsessed with it ever since. Fiona finished first grade. A few weeks after that, she announced that she had read 40 pages of a book in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series while riding the subway with Daddy. When Susan quizzed Fiona about it, she realized that Fiona had actually read 40 pages and understood them all. Susan was astonished — and embarrassed that she didn’t know Fiona could read that well. 
  5. For Thanksgiving, Dustin’s brother came for a visit. In addition, four Mormon missionaries and a friend joined us for Thanksgiving dinner — it was a really lovely evening. The next day, we did our annual walk the length of Central Park, this year from north to south, 110th Street to 59th Street, which made for a walk of about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). 

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