Dear Friends and Family,
Emmaline has been studying holidays of the world at school. She and I have been researching Japan’s holidays. Their most important annual holiday is their New Year celebrated during January 1-3, called shogatsu. Instead of a Christmas letter this year I’m going to write a shogatsu letter…this has nothing to do with my tardiness and me being about a week behind schedule?!?!? Actually I spent the better part of the last week on the couch like a slug. Despite my best efforts I was attacked by two separate viruses of some sort…man, was that a fun time filled with bad hair, sweat, coughing and other disgusting things. So my effort to get a jolly, fun-filled Christmas letter just didn’t come together in time. Regardless, we hope that your Christmas was filled with all the things you love!!!
In January, Nashville experienced a midday snowstorm that basically crippled our southern city. A guy I work with from Buffalo said it just seemed like Spring to him. After a full day of snowfall the next morning was perfect for some serious sledding and we’ve got a great hill in our backyard for it. I stayed home from work for a couple of hours and the kids and I sledded. We had worked up a pretty good course and were achieving afterburner speeds. I was sending the girls down the hill on a long sled and they had gotten to the point where they were almost getting to a fence at our property line…hmmm, that wouldn’t be good. So for this run I taught them the vital skill called the “bail out” in case of danger. Check. Big push and down they go. At this point Preston and I stood back to watch the girls smile and laugh as they sped down the hill with snow hitting them in the face. This is what life is all about!!! Uh oh, speaking of getting hit in the face…the events that followed left me running full tilt down the hill thinking I was about to find both my daughters broken into several pieces each at the bottom of the hill. As I had watched them go down the hill all of the sudden their sled, which was moving along at full speed, took a hard right and off the predefined “safe” path. As my life slowed down to slow motion I noticed where it was heading…the wooden swing-set! I’ll just say that two girls going pretty fast, sitting up about 2 feet high, going under a 1 ½ foot high redwood support beam isn’t what they consider FUN?!?! It also doesn’t look too appealing from atop a hill from 50 yards away…especially when you are the one that just pushed them to their doom?!?!? They were not very happy with their father but came out with minor bruises (and probably a strong aversion to snow sledding).
After almost killing my two daughters Emily and I thought we should continue with our plans for our previously planned “Weekend of Love”. This was the first time we had left all the kids for an overnight excursion (so we decided to stay local). The children were shipped off to the grandparent’s house and Emily and I were set to enjoy some time alone. We spent the weekend basically doing what normal people do…just without the little army tagging along. We went to movies, went shopping, ate out, and stayed at Union Station Hotel. We got a glimpse of what our life will one day be like and it was “interesting”. As Emily and I struggled to find things to talk about that wasn’t “kid related”, it seemed everywhere we went families with children were nearby haunting us with their happiness. The four little ones keep us busy but we decided we wouldn’t have it any other way. After spending an entire weekend with all four children both sets of grandparents (Gran and Golfball, and Mimi and Pops) would probably agree.
In February we took the kids to Chattanooga and stayed in one of the boxcars at the Choo Choo hotel. We learned that insulation wasn’t really an important component in railcar construction and that February is a very cold month. For a warmer time we spent the kid’s spring break, Memorial Day, and July 4th at Mimi and Pop’s house in Florida. We also went down there for Halloween and I swear we are the only people in Florida who went trick-or-treating…people looked at us like we were crazy…who knew beaches and Halloween don’t mix?!?!? We spent Father’s Day (also Friday the 13th) at Mammoth Cave with Granddad and Theresa. We freaked Emily out by making the Jason sound from the Friday the 13th movie while we drove through the Kentucky woods late at night. During the summer Mom, Dad, Susie, Nick, Emily, and I went to the ALABAMA farewell tour concert in Nashville. My Mom is a “wild and crazy lady” and a diehard ALABAMA fan. We grew up listening to ALABAMA music and attending their concerts—which was really great to be a teenager going to a concert with your parents. We decided that our newest family member Nick needed to embrace this Dean family phenomenon. We met up and went to the concert together…I’m not sure Nick even knew who ALABAMA was, but when “Roll On” came on and his wife and I began to belt out the “Dean Family Anthem” he learned quickly. “You see, Daddy drives an eighteen wheeler…and we shore miss him when he’s gone!!!” Later in August, we took our normal family trip to Mimi and Pop’s house in New Mexico where Emily and I spent our 8 year anniversary baby-sitting the entire extended family’s children (7 total) while everyone went out to dinner…now that is romance! It actually turned out well, we had an incredible view of Santa Fe from the room’s balcony, great company with Emily’s brother and sister-in-law—Cameron and Jayne, and a great sunset from our room at the La Fonda hotel. Emily also now thinks I’m the coolest person alive since I got some cowboy boots while we were there. Cowboy boots and a minivan—I Rule!!! The “Weekend of Love” went so well that we decided to once again leave the kids with the grandparents and went with our friends Michael and Robin Loftin to the Buckhorn Inn in Gatlinburg, TN. We hiked some trails and did some other tourist activities. We decided before going to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede that we needed airbrush tee-shirts to commemorate the trip. As we stood looking at the various available works of art the artist pulled up in his van, got out, the van then shifted into gear, and wedged him between it and another car. After figuring out he was going to make it and turning the situation over to the local authorities we proceeded on to the Dixie Stampede shirtless…maybe next time. Thanksgiving was spent at Hogdaddy’s Saloon in Old Shawneetown, IL—“The Newest Biker Bar in the Oldest Town in ILLINOIS”!!! “Hogdaddy” is Granddad (Emily’s dad) and he has added this saloon to his already very popular HogRock River Rally—a biker rally that he holds twice a year on his farm in Cave-In-Rock, IL. Oddly enough a biker bar was a great place to have a family Thanksgiving?!?!?
We had several life changing events this year! What year would be complete without those—and these are big!!! The first evolved from last year’s Dean Manly Man trip to the Indy race at Nashville Motor Speedway. My Dad has always watched NASCAR Winston Cup racing and I never understood it. Many folks in my family have also enjoyed it over the years. Again I had no clue what they saw in cars going round and round and round for hours on end?!?!? After going to the Indy race with Golfball and Preston last year and having a good time I decided to give Winston Cup a chance. After getting back from Florida for Spring Break we struck off (yes, we put over 1,600 miles on our van in a little over a week). Emily, Preston, Golfball and I headed to Pigeon Forge, TN to stay the night before heading to the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway! We were guided through our first event by a very nice couple who also helped us get the tickets—Steve and Jackie. These folks are NASCAR veterans and helped us enjoy our event greatly. I knew I needed to have a “driver” picked and had done a little research on who I would pick. We got their and began looking for hats for our drivers. Preston has always been a Jeff Gordon fan so he stuck with 24. Emily didn’t know much of anything and chose her driver based on “cuteness”—she went with the old school Dale Jarrett. She admitted that she liked the brown UPS hats better than the other stuff…hey, whatever?!!? I knew exactly who I wanted—the young up and coming Kurt Busch…Rubbermaid Racing…number 97. That boy flat drives the wheels off a car (if you saw his finish with Ricky Craven at Darlington you know what I mean). Later in the year he would become embroiled in all kind of NASCAR drama with Jimmy Spencer but on that day at Bristol my driver won. After that race we were completely, 100% totally hooked on NASCAR. I didn’t quite know how Emily was going to like it but as the pack roared by on the 2nd lap Emily turned to me and screamed “This is awesome”—guess she liked it. We have watched every race since, and later in the NASCAR season Emily and I went down to Atlanta for the fall race. We woke up that morning and it was pouring rain…great?!?!? We drove to the track, the rain broke, and we sat on the front row for a whole 39 laps of racing before the bottom fell out again. I guess it should be slightly embarrassing to get so crazy over something like stock-car racing but can 105 million people really be wrong?!?!? If anyone out there is going to a race, wants to go to a race, wants to watch a race, whatever…you will be on our bad side if you don’t let us know!!!
I’m obviously joking about the NASCAR thing being a life changing event but the next one probably qualifies. Our house had some really old garage doors and a hole in one allowed a bird to move into our basement and have a family during the winter—no harm done so we let them live there all winter. The birds moved out in June and we quickly replaced the doors to prevent a second generation from moving in. The kids enjoyed watching the babies grow up and I decided having a pet in the house would be fun for the kids. Emily is extremely anti-dog and my efforts to get a Bloodhound added to our mix haven’t worked. Why she doesn’t want a 80+ pound dog that slobbers uncontrollably in the house is beyond me…we have 4 kids, it can’t be worse than that?!?!? Emmaline also is extremely afraid of dogs, when she is out in the yard and one comes within 10 miles she runs screaming in the opposite direction! Recently the kids visited Megan (their second cousin) and she had a new Shih Tzu. Emily fell in love and Emmaline even liked the little thing. So we began our search and just this week took the kids for their surprise Christmas present from Mom and Dad. We decided on the way home from the breeder that he looked like a marshmallow and I thought the brown looked like a burned marshmallow—so we named him S’more (and it fits him perfectly). He is settling into his new surroundings and stays pretty busy keeping up with 4 kiddies going in 4 different directions.
I still work at Investment Scorecard where I run the Project Management group. It is fun working with so many smart people to build our systems out as the company continues to grow. When I started with the company around 8 years ago there were 4 of us with 0 clients, now we have over 80 folks and almost 600 clients. It continues to be an interesting place to work. Along with my professional life I am an amateur (very amateur) landscape manager. If you want to completely freak your neighbors out kill your whole yard in late July, get a few truckloads of dirt dumped right in the middle, then rent a backhoe and dig half the place up!!! I met more neighbors during this event than in the previous 2 years of living in the neighborhood. For most of the year I have been building landscape beds and clearing brush from our property. To finish things up, my grand plan involved killing all the dreaded Bermuda grass lawn and replacing it with 1 acre of pure Fescue glory…ah heaven!!! It took the better part of my late summer and fall to make my vision a reality, and the people at the equipment rental place now see me coming a mile away. With a few more cleanup items left to do in the spring the lawn is level, green and “as it should be” in my mind. My dad came over just to check in and wound up leaving looking like he had been in a work camp for a week. Emily just kept saying, “We had a lawn already”. Somewhere towards the middle of this project I began to think the same thing!
Emily is basically a chauffeur. She spends most of her day shuffling kids to school, pre-school, ballet, soccer, church and wherever else duty calls. She is barely home to clean house, empty all the dishes from the sink, and wash the great mountains of laundry the six of us produce. This is her side job which she does in her “fun-time” (Yeah!). She decided she didn’t have enough going on so she also coordinates a ladies Missions In The Morning group at church and is Emmaline’s kindergarten room mother. I’m in charge of “outside stuff” and she is in charge of the “inside stuff” so she is our amateur interior designer. When a spare moment presents itself she has us hanging stuff, moving furniture, etc. We took on some slightly larger projects this year when we tiled our kitchen floor and painted our bedroom—it is now a dark red in honor of our love for one another (uh yeah). We have sworn off new projects for the time being!
Preston (P) is a busy little 8 year old. He is in 3rd grade at Percy Priest Elementary and after working very hard all summer made it onto the A honor roll to start off this year. He loves his teacher and has decided that he wants to be a teacher. He continues to play soccer in the Spring and Fall leagues. He is about a head taller than every boy in 3rd grade so he isn’t the best offensive player on earth, but when it comes to defensive blocking and getting the ball turned back up the field he is unstoppable. Little guys just bounce off him. He surprised us mid-season in the Spring when he took off down the field and scored his first goal ever! We were so happy we almost burst into tears—he was stunned as I don’t think he ever thought that would happen. He loves rollerblading so we decided all that size will come in handy in other areas and he is now taking ice skating lessons to begin heading towards a run in ice hockey. He is able to get out of jock mode from time to time and is a “gentle giant” that is very compassionate and sweet to others most of the time. He also tries to be the class clown most of the time. While in the car one night I decided some crude potty humor was in order so I did the old “pull my finger” with him. He pulled mine and then quickly asked me to pull his finger…so quick he didn’t wait on “it” (if you know what I mean). After I pulled his finger he said, “Now what do I do?” Rookie, I’m sure he’ll figure it out at some point?!?! I wasn’t able to tell him because Emily was threatening my life by this point. Despite the fun and games, he can turn on the brain and loves playing chess. During the summer he went to Whipporwill Day Camp and Art Camp to stay busy during the weeks we were home. He and I do Cub Scouts together and for some reason I volunteered to be his group’s leader for two years in a row. 20 boys on one adult is a really swell time for me but we do fun stuff so I endure it. I also now fully understand why no one else volunteered.
Emmaline (Miline Grace) probably had the most eventful year of her little 5 year old life. She graduated from Dollar General / Bright Horizons Preschool and then gained a whole new set of friends when she started kindergarten at Percy Priest Elementary in the fall. She is boy crazy (yikes) and reported that she “held hands” with some little boy during nap time on the first day of school. I will find him!!! She has been taking ballet for a couple of years at Green Hills School of Dance and had her second recital this May. They put on quite a show out at the Acuff Theatre at Opryland. Her group did one dance and she was front and center with her best friend Lillian leading the class. The whole family was there and a dry eye was a hard thing to find. She went to Ballet Day Camp during the summer but she is very particular and something “wasn’t quite right” so didn’t make it the whole 2 weeks (this is the same little girl who didn’t eat anything for a week at one point because something wasn’t “quite right”). Later in the year she found out she made Company which is the ballet school’s group of girls that go to competitions. She just finished up 4 performances of the Nutcracker where her group played gumdrops. Emily was “lucky” and got to sit through each of the performances, all the rehearsals, and dress rehearsals—she and Emmaline are in the Christmas spirit for sure?!?!? Emmaline and Preston spend most Friday nights over at Mimi and Pop’s house for food and fun and a slumber party.
Molly (Molly Bear) is 3 and hasn’t made it into the “Mimi and Pop’s Friday Night Spend The Night Club”. She is old enough now that she has figured out that she is being abandoned—sorry Mimi and Pops, room for one more?!?! She goes to preschool at Brook Hollow Baptist Church Preschool two days a week. After her first day at this new school we asked, “Molly, do you like your new school?” She promptly replied, “I love myself.” I guess if that makes you happy…go with it?!?!? The rest of the time she stays home with Mom and Max, she plays dress up and generally rotates through about 5 different outfits each day. She almost always winds up in a black and leopard print leotard (see picture) and ballet slippers. We think it is time for her to follow in her sisters footsteps because she already does elaborate dance performances for us on a frequent basis. She has a huge Care Bear collection and spends a great deal of her day transferring them from place to place within the house. A dream came true for her this year as Barney (that’s the purple dinosaur in case you didn’t know) came to town and we all went with Molly to see him. Dora the Explorer came to Birmingham so we made a daytrip to see her with Molly as well. She and Max are partners in crime and are generally found together doing something they shouldn’t be doing.
Max (Big Max or Maxxie) just turned 2 and is the toughest, loudest thing I have ever seen in my life. We got a new driveway installed and it made for a smooth ride off the hill and onto the large back parking area. He immediately put his helmet on, pushed his tricycle to the top, hopped on and came flying down full speed, no fear whatsoever. He did this probably about 2.5 million times this year. From time to time he will be tooling along and do an “all fours face plant” on the asphalt, he cries for about 10 seconds and then is off again…bleeding, missing arms, legs, whatever…he’s tough! I fear what he will do to people on the athletic field later in life. Emily and I also think he is a monkey. He just turned 2 and walks like a monkey. He can say “Daddy”, sometimes says “Mommy”, and the rest of his vocabulary is limited to grunts and loud yelling and pointing. He, like a monkey, can accept commands and will generally do anything you ask him to do, so we know he understands, but he refuses to speak. We’ll see how it goes. He absolutely loves trains and has a couple of train sets that he will play with for hours at a time.
We were in Florida the week we went to war in Iraq so we glued ourselves to the television (like the rest of America) to watch it unfold. By that weekend we were sitting in Bristol at the NASCAR race. Our country is blessed with freedoms we take for granted each and every day. Our hearts go out to all the soldiers and soldier’s families that risk their lives (and have given their lives) so that a country that doesn’t enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy may someday do so. As we celebrate the holidays, as terror alerts go higher, and as we all hustle and bustle around doing what we do I consider myself fortunate to live in a country that doesn’t have some of the problems we see in the world today. We live in a country that can make the world a better place to live. We are continually thankful to have all we have and to have family and friends that we share it all with. If you haven’t talked to us in a while call us, if you haven’t visited us in a while visit us. We’d love to hear from you and to know what is going on in your lives (even though sometimes we forget to ask). If we could have anything we wanted it would be more time to spend with you. We hope your holidays are great and that the coming year brings you much happiness.
Happy New Year,
Joey, Emily, Preston, Emmaline, Molly, Max and S’more