Dear Friends and Family: I ask you: Can one ever have too many pets? We have a bustling household now, filled with representatives of every link in the food chain: five humans (no, we are not Chinese, but we are capable of eating dogs, that is, if we really have to); one dog; two kittens; one mouse; and a lovely assortment of cheese. We also have some inhabitants that we can’t quite identify, but they make their presence known by scratching incessantly from inside the walls. At least we know they have claws and a fondness for digging. It’s pretty lively here. The kittens were adopted from a friend this November. Henri (the dog) isn’t quite sure what to make of them, but he seems to think that they are squeaky toys. Our little boy cat, Brodie, allows Henri to do whatever he wants. What Henri wants to do is shadow Brodie around the house like a parasite. Our little girl cat, Nessie, hisses and swipes at Henri’s nose. I don’t think they’ll be close. If those names sound familiar, it’s because our ex-cats were also named Brodie and Nessie. These new kittens look just like our old dead cats (when they were alive). If Henri is fascinated with watching the kittens play, the kittens are mesmerized by the mouse. They sit outside her cage watching her for hours. Far from being terrified, the mouse is happier than we’ve ever seen her. She used to hide for days in her little house, but now she spends her time strolling around her cage, waiting for the cats to come and play. While our pets are the central organizing drivers in our lives, we do have other big news. We no longer have to use a wrench to turn on the shower! That’s right—we have an actual handle on the cold water valve now. Since we needed to replace the handle, we thought it prudent to take care of the water leaking from the back of the valve as well. And since we had to do that, we figured we should tear out the wall to make sure there was not water damage from the leak. We always hated the pink tile, so we decided to just take it all out and replace it too. Oh hell! We left town, had the whole bathroom ripped out, and came home to the bathroom of our dreams. We all share one, and if sharing was difficult before, now it is unbearable because the new bathroom is the best room in the house. Everyone who goes in just wants to sit in there and admire the gleaming whiteness and shiny chrominess for hours. Duncan started middle-school this year. It hasn’t been as tough a transition as I expected, but then Duncan says that most of the kids in his class are nerds. In fact, he dressed as a nerd for Halloween, and most people noticed that he carried it off with ease, and even seemed to enjoy it too much. Perhaps he will remain a clean cut young man with his pants hiked up to his midriff. Jessie’s eyes are clearly set on the future. Jessica is busy making plans for her career as a Massage Therapist. Thank God there are people in the world who are willing to touch other people’s feet. I am not one of them. But Jessica is just what we aging baby boomers will need in the next 10-20 years as we have aches and pains in record numbers. I allow her to practice on me whenever she wishes. It’s a tough sacrifice, but a Mother has to be supportive. Michael is going to a new preschool this year where he has a speech therapist and an occupational therapist in the classroom, and he has just blossomed. Most of the time his new gregarious nature is a thrill. However, at dinnertime, when the five of us want to catch up on the day, Michael rewards us with an account of his school day. It’s the same every night, and he can make it go on forever: “I got on my bus. We drove to school. I got off the bus and walked into the school. I took off my coat and hung it on the hook. I found my name and hung it up. I found a book to read. We read. The teacher collected our books. . .” If one dares to ask, “What happened today that was different?” or to speak on any other topic, Michael will scold and firmly insist that we stop talking. For a four-year-old, he can hold the floor for an impressive length of time. Peter joined a business networking group this year, and has made many nice, new friends. His business has not gone through the ceiling, but I must say that he has found myriad new ways to spend what little money we have left. He says that it is research; before he feels comfortable making a referral to a business, he must use it himself. In his quest for knowledge, we have tiled our bathroom (heck, we remodeled too), had massages and back re-alignments, sipped fine wine, added a sprinkler system, changed internet service providers, upgraded our home and auto insurance, visited a social worker, and taken out a home equity loan (bathroom again). Before he’s done we will probably put an accountant and a lawyer on retainer, hire a financial planner, buy a funeral plot, go in for some acupuncture, re-decorate, get some career coaching and sell our house. If you are looking for referrals for any of these services, ask Peter. Myself, I spend my days feeding, grooming and walking animals. Sometimes I take a break and fold some laundry. Other days I might clean the bathroom, or sweep. Oh heck, let’s face it, I sweep most days. Sometimes I pick up and put away toys, drive kids from here to there, and back again, or run a forgotten item to school. I spend quite a lot of my time shouting helpful advice such as: “Go take a shower! You stink! And be sure to use some deodorant!” “Get your clothes off the floor!” “You can’t wear that !” Or the ever popular, “You wore that yesterday!” “Put the cat down!”, “Walk the dog!”, or “Get the dog off the cat!” “Why don’t you get a Kleenex?!” or “Don’t eat that!” “Quit Eating!” or, “Get back to this table and eat!” or, “Hey! I was gonna eat that!” I know—not pretty. But I have three kids to raise, so to save energy, I must be clear and direct with Peter. I did have some fun taking an editing class at the university. I enjoyed getting out of the house and seeing the campus again. Nothing has changed at UW, except that the cute guys seem a lot younger than they used to. The downside of the class is that I am now painfully aware of my own inability to diagram a sentence. Every time I write a sentence I worry that my reader will be snickering at my juvenile mistakes. Are you? ARE YOU? Let’s move along to our fabulous All-American McKinnon Family Summer Vacation, driving through many of the “Red” states. We visited relatives, some who voted for the wrong guy (many of whom we still love, but only because we have to). Just kidding; we have stopped loving them. Actually, Peter said I should strike the above paragraph because people in “Red” states don’t get jokes. But then I pointed out that they seem to understand Bush. No, really, just kidding. Peter read a thing that said that we have to put our families above politics, and then he got all teary. We remain pissed off about the outcome of the election, but we will let our beloved relatives off with a cathartic drubbing in our Christmas letter. Besides, we might need a place to stay next time we’re in town. So back to vacation. Our first destination was Yellowstone Park. The night before entering the park, we stopped at a hotel in Gardiner, Montana, where Peter got into a brawl. As Peter and Duncan were unloading the car, some guy came up and accused them of taking his personal parking space. Hotel security assured Peter that the parking spaces were never assigned, but we spent the night wondering if our car would be vandalized during the night. Fortunately, the car was untouched in the morning, but as we pulled out of the space, the other guy was there, with his car, ready to pull in. We could tell from his license that he was from a “Red” state. Yellowstone was beautiful. We enjoyed the geothermal features, but we were disappointed that we saw no animals whatsoever. Not even birds. Duncan noticed that despite the signs that said, “Water is boiling hot and can cause serious burns,” almost every visitor that passed had to place a hand in the water just to be sure. You will be glad to know that the water was not actually boiling, as it turned out. On the way out of the park we had to stop at a gate, and while we were waiting to leave, I commented how sad it was that we saw no animals. As I looked out my car window, I was eye-to-eye with a Chipmunk sitting on a log. We got a good look at each other, so the visit was not a total loss. In Montana, we stopped at Lewis and Clark Caverns. During our 3-hour LONG tour of the caves, our tour guide stopped at frequent intervals to ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” Every single time, Michael answered, “I do. . .” followed by a long, embarrassing silence. He had no questions. But he sure knew how to hold an audience. He got way more laughs than the tour guide, who began every joke with the words, “I’m going to tell another joke, but you probably won’t think it’s funny.” We drove for six days, enjoying the changes in the landscape, until we finally reached Columbia, in central Missouri. We visited Jeanne’s sister and brother-in-law, Peggy and Bob, and then headed into St. Louis at night. Only too bad for us because the highway was closed for construction and we sat for hours. After traveling 80 mph across 2,000 miles, it was sort of ironic. We arrived in St. Louis at midnight, only to be told by the hotel staff that we had cancelled our reservation two weeks earlier. Of course, we hadn’t. I wasn’t very happy. We knew how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Well, welcome to a “Red” state. But that was the only bad thing that happened during the whole 2-1/2 weeks. I won’t go into details, but every day was perfect. We got to visit with so many nice relatives, and we: Visited the zoo where we rode the train, played with penguins and bought one of everything in the gift shop. Went up in the arch. Swam in the biggest pool on earth with Rick and Joan. Watched cousin Jim play baseball (Duncan got to sit in the dugout with the team). Had a party at Jo and Pat’s where Peter and Jason finished a whole bottle of single-malt with ugly results, while the rest of us sang along with the band in basement. Ate dinner at Judy and Jan’s, where we visited with our cousins while watching the Olympics. Rode the scary rides at Six Flags. Stopped in Hannibal, Missouri to see Mark Twain’s boyhood home. Bought our first coo-coo clock from Bob’s clock shop. Spent a day with Peter’s sister and her family, Carol, Chuck, Annie and Carolyn in Montana Drove through some truly scary but beautiful storms in Missouri and Nebraska while listening to radio reports of tornadoes all around us. Ate some mighty-fine steak in South Dakota. Upon arriving home, we found a new bathroom! How wonderful. The only thing that could have made it even better would have been if our baseball team could have won just one game this year. But we blame ourselves. It seems that the more tickets we buy, they more our Mariners lose. We are conflicted about Boston’s win over St. Louis. Well, we did other stuff this year, but I’m not going to tell you about it. (Oh thank you, Jeanne!) I’ll just close by telling you a few of the things that we did not do. We neither gave aid to anyone who had been in an injury-accident, nor saved them from a fiery crash. For this, we are sorry. We did not make a major purchase, and we didn’t sell much either. Jessica did not sleep at her birthday slumber party. Duncan did not wear tape on his glasses. Oh wait—yes he did. Henri did not chew through the wood on our French doors (that’s his story and he’s sticking to it). I did not get a job. Peter did not grow his hair long and add a goatee. Michael did not walk up to dozens of perfect strangers between here and St. Louis and ask them, “Hey! Do you know the muffin man?” Oh, wait—yes he did.