Dear Friends and Family,
2008 Stank!!! I contemplated just leaving it at that and saving some trees (and you some time). Then I reconsidered and you now have your assignment. I’m glad I did because sitting down and actually reflecting on the year made me realize things were not as bad as your local news source would have you believe. Wars, fuel shortages, plunging real estate values, 401k balances in free-fall, layoffs, an energy crisis, inflation and now deflation, and Alabama losing to Florida are just a few things that come to mind. All this had me about ready to crawl in a bunker.
The recession literally stares us in the face each morning. Many of the houses in our neighborhood have been replaced with more ‘modern facilities’. That is a nice way of saying ‘houses way bigger and nicer than our little cracker box.’ There used to be an old house across the street (like ours). The bulldozers came and now a partially finished 5,000 square foot 4 bedroom sits waiting for workers to come and finish it. It is going to be a nice spread…one day. Our house looks like the pool house compared to this bad boy. Hey, at least mine has doors?!?! Since it is vacant I’ve thought about packing the family up and moving in, but we were looking for something a little nicer with 5 bedrooms…and plumbing…and electricity…and landscaping. I’m actually happy they are taking so long to finish the house since it doesn’t make me feel as bad about my little basement refinishing project. My goal is to beat them. Come on recession, I just need a little more time!?!?!
Some of you might remember I started gutting and finishing our basement a couple of years ago. I work on it in my spare time and with spare money (and with spare skills). This hopefully explains why it is taking so long. I have my job, a beautiful wife, and four adorable little angels that occupy a great deal of my time. I am a project manager and I usually have a plan. Several years ago we decided to stay in this house for awhile. We made our list of projects that needed to be done to our 55 year old house. Basement, bathroom, kitchen, deck was the rough order of attack.
As a project manager you learn half the battle is just staying with the plan. This year has been a disaster by all measures of successful project management. The basement met immediate competition for time and money when the bathroom started flooding the basement each time someone flushed the toilet. If that is not disturbing for you to think about it should be! Inspection revealed a really big whole in the old cast iron sewer pipe. Solution…nobody flush that toilet (especially you Preston). Problem solved, back to the basement project. That was easy! Pretty soon after that the shower which had been leaking water since we moved in (and had been fixed several times unsuccessfully) started to really gush and flood the basement. We now had two sources of water of different origins flooding the basement and rotting the sub floor. Basement on hold! I don’t do bathrooms so we brought a guy in to finish the bathroom. ‘Guys’ who finish bathrooms are very well paid I quickly found out. This reinforced my decision to be down in my basement every waking moment doing things I had no business (or skill) doing?!? We finished things up in the bathroom this February. Back to work on my basement!
Then later in February Emily calls me one day at work completely freaking out. She had caught the stove on fire! My initial thought (just between you and me) was “how can someone who doesn’t cook catch the stove on fire?” Don’t tell her I thought this! I came home and it did smell smoky and the stove was fried. What happened? She was cleaning the stove and water from her sponge had gotten down in the knobs then connected and fried everything nicely. The oven/stove are built into our cabinets so that was going to be ‘not fun’ to fix. Getting that one appliance fixed turned into reworking the countertop, which turned into a new sink. ‘So we might as well’ get matching appliances since we are going to anyway when we redo the kitchen. Then a new floor because the existing one we had been temporary (my promise). We reworked the pantry, slapped on some new paint, tiled the backsplash…NEW KITCHEN! I fought tooth and nail that the cabinets and crown molding would remain in the kitchen as long as I was around. Upon this ‘announcement’ Emily about got new cabinets and I almost got a one way ticket to the curb! The same ‘guy’ who did our bathroom was more than happy to help with everything we needed him for again (free of course?!?!?). We did a lot of it ourselves and lived in the midst of our kitchen remodel from about February to mid summer with on and off projects transforming our cooking area. Emily had promised to cook once everything was complete and has kept her promise. I joke with her that she’d have done anything to get a new kitchen but that she didn’t have to try to burn the house down! I’ll never know what really happened on that day but I have my suspicions. Back to work on my basement!
One night, while all this was going on, I was working late when the phone rang and again a panicked Emily was online. She was home with the kids and someone was in the house! I tried to calm her down but she hung up and the police wound up at the house. Nobody there! I got home and figured out that Emily’s closet in the center of the house had collapsed and all the clothes and shoes had fallen to the floor. If I had been home by myself I would have probably freaked out as well (and additionally wet my pants)! We got that all put back together! Back to work on my basement!
The boys share a room and the girls share a room (each have bunk beds). Part of the purpose of the basement was to add some rooms for the big kids to have their own room (when they want them). After the police showed up no one wanted to be in a basement alone. They decided to share rooms indefinitely. Preston is 20 feet tall and weighs 500 pounds. He slept on a bunk bed above Max. Emily was afraid he was going to crush poor little Max while he snoozed. We decided to switch the living arrangements around so everyone could have a normal bed. New beds, mattresses, paint, and rooms were needed to optimize the situation. I was on board with this plan because now the extra room downstairs could be used by ME as a den of television entertainment! Think of the races I could enjoy, the football I could watch, the movies I would devour, and the video game worlds I could enter with my own room. A world of sedentary bliss awaits me! I would do anything for this new plan. Again, don’t tell Emily I thought this. Basement on hold…YES! We played musical rooms and redid everything to everyone’s satisfaction. Back to work on my basement!
All in all once July hit I did make a lot of progress on the basement. The framing is complete (by me), the electrical work is almost done (partially by me), the plumbing for the entire house has been redone (not at all by me), the HVAC system was reworked (not by me) and then the ducts were reworked (by me)! I’m a few work days away from drywall. Preston is going to have a busy summer with his favorite Dad!!!
Late breaking news update! A couple of weeks ago the deck steps officially fell off the house! Basement ON HOLD!!! I knew it would happen!?!? I guess every project will be done before the basement gets done. How’s that for effective project management?
In between all the work and projects we made time for a few trips. We went to HolidayWorld theme park late in July (with Emily’s brother and his family). I realized as I got in the car to drive that it was the first time I had been in a car and not driving to work, home, or a hardware store in about two months!?!? They say you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their checkbook. In a recent recession induced economic review of the Dean’s books it looked pretty boring…grocery stores (Emily had been cooking?!?!?!), car maintenance, hardware stores, a couple of vacations. It seems all we do is eat, sleep and drive kids around town to their various points of interest. School, programs, field trips, church activities, dance lessons, dance performances, family bike rides, soccer, lacrosse, football, camps, birthday parties, doctor visits, and haircuts wear us and our cars out quickly.
In the Spring Emily and I left the kids with the grandparents and went to a NASCAR race in Atlanta. We met my cousin and his wife at the track. In a parking lot with over 100,000 people and us arriving about an hour behind them we wound up parking 5 spots away from them. Mandy has a connection with someone?!?!? For Spring Break we went to Center Hill Lake with my family and then to Florida with Emily’s family. We hiked Burgess Falls and Falls Creek Falls while at Center Hill. The kids played in the hot tub and we enjoyed time with everyone each night in the cabin. We then went down and hunted Easter eggs in Florida and spent the majority of our time at the beach or in the swimming pool. Preston and Pops played golf quite a bit. I’m glad someone can teach him to play. Right before school started up we made our normal trip to New Mexico with Emily’s entire family. The kids went to Florida with Mimi before this trip and left me at home to do more projects (and go to work). Gee that was fun!??! It was the first time everyone had gone on the New Mexico trip at the same time in years and it was so much fun. We had the largest van I’ve ever seen in my life to truck around in. We played golf and went on picnics in the mountains while at the cabin. I took the kids in the giant van one day to picnic and wade in the mountain stream. I made no friends when it rained on us and Emmaline lost a shoe in the stream. We purged on and made a good day of it. We stayed in Santa Fe at the La Fonda hotel and the girls got to shop. The Dean’s hiked up in the mountains near the Santa Fe ski lodge (much to the disappointment of Preston). I was trying to get him ready for football season?!?! Just last month the girls went to Chicago with their dance school to be in a training/competition thing. Emmaline’s group did their hip-hop dance and Chris Judd (one of the judges and J Lo’s ex) singled her out during the commentary as being exceptional (in a group they called the ‘funkiest little white girls’ they’d ever seen). She really is pretty amazing. I was always a hip-hop beast myself so that is probably where she gets it…right!??! We hope our family likes us because we seem to spend a lot of time following them around the countryside.
OK, admit it, whose laughing now. When gas was $30 a gallon this summer you wish you had a scooter. When Middle TN didn’t have any gas and I had a month’s supply in a 5 gallon can in the basement you wish you had a scooter. Well maybe not?!?!? My old van gave out this year (another fun surprise) so I got a big manly truck to offset the very unmanly scooter. This is also my version of Al Gore’s ‘carbon offsetting.’ Later in the year I think Mom, Dad and Susie thought I needed even more help so they got me some hot laps in a NASCAR race car out at Nashville Superspeedway for my birthday. It was awesome! I’m a redneck at heart so anything with a piston and tires is extremely interesting in my book. I think I covered all the bases this year. From 100 miles to the gallon to 4 miles to the gallon!
Emily keeps mighty busy. After a summer ‘off’ (which just means she gets promoted to head taxi driver during the summer) it was time for her to go back to work. I basically had to pry her from the house and force her to go back. I know after I have a 3 day weekend how hard it is to gear up for work again. I couldn’t imagine going back after a summer off. She is a lead teacher in her preschool class this year and immediately started to get ready for ‘the evaluation’. It sounded downright treacherous! Every day at home she would talk about how she hoped her class was not chosen to be evaluated. Guess what happens when you don’t want something to happen? Her class was chosen and I’m told everything went perfectly. She is a teacher at heart and also teaches Mission Friends at church then started teaching Emmaline’s Sunday School class and does VBS in the summer. I’m exhausted! Emily also recently showed up on TPAC’s stage in a red “hoochie mama” dress and was my “escort” for the evening to The Nutcracker party. All the other husbands’ wives wore dark colors but not mine!!! Va-Va Voom!!!
Preston is 13 and in 8th grade. He is a jock. He played lacrosse in the spring with his school. He is getting pretty good at it. They needed help coaching so guess who got signed up. Preston liked to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about. He said band, show choir, drama, newspaper staff, and cross-country didn’t qualify me to teach lacrosse. Who knew?!?! He also plays in a summer league and in both leagues he is the oldest so he was better than those around him. The big 8th grader had gone out and gotten cocky! I decided to teach him a lesson and found a 12-14 year old travel tryout team for him. Plan: I’d drop him off at tryouts and he’d get massacred. That’ll teach him and bring him back down to earth. We pull up and every kid out there is a giant. My plan was coming together perfectly. We go through two tryouts and I was surprised because he wasn’t doing bad…uh, oh?!?! The cut list was posted and Preston made it to the final cut. At this point I was sweating. First, how was he supposed to learn his lesson if he made the team?!?! Second, how in the world were we going to handle a travel team and being gone all weekend every weekend. This was not working out as planned. I’m an idiot! In the end, however, he did get cut so it worked out great because he learned how good he really was and also that there is still work to be done. I’m a genius! He also still plays football and plays about every position on offensive and defensive line. He likes defense the best and loves playing end. His team went to the championship game this year. Preston is also active in the youth group at church (even in the choir…which the old man can teach him something about).
Emmaline is 10 and now in middle school. Emmaline won the lottery this year (no not that one). She is pretty smart and applied to get into the city magnet school and was selected. The school is downtown and we set off the first day on the scooter. It was fun that one day. After two days she asked to go in the truck. I guess pulling up to middle school with your Dad on a bright orange scooter is not really all that cool. She rides the city bus home in the afternoon (this was a big leap for Mom). For her birthday she wanted a cell phone and now pays her own bill. She is a real renaissance woman! One day she was at my office and one of my friends saw her with her cell phone, purse, and talking about riding the city bus. He had a bewildered look on his face. ‘You might want to slow down a little bit sugar,’ he said. He also has a new little girl… he’ll learn! Emmaline still does dance and I returned to dance the Father/Daughter dance with her again this year. This year we broke out the Vanilla Ice and danced to some “Ice, Ice, Baby.” It is really a fun time. She doesn’t think I’m too goofy to be around…yet…although I can see it happening more each day (sigh).
Molly is 8 and in 3rd grade. She is (and has always been) the little helper around the house. This year while raking leaves we found a box turtle in front of our house. Molly helped get him a house built and kept him fed throughout the winter as he lived in our basement. She is also the only one who consistently takes care of and loves on S’more. She loves on us too and Emily and I constantly get love notes from her in our bedroom. She always has a To Do list (wonder where she gets that from?!?!?) and is always around when a chore needs to be done. She makes a fortune doing work around the house. I’m guessing Molly will wind up being a successful entrepreneur or business woman. The girl loves to work. With the way the economy has been going lately maybe I’ll move in with her one day. This year she had a school project to build a house and use different machines in it. With all the lumber we had around for the basement we built a model tree house that was taller than she was. We had a great time figuring it out and making it all work. She takes dance just like big sister and is there many hours a week. I’m trying to talk her into doing the Father/Daughter dance with me this year. So far she is not taking the bait. She does already think I’m too goofy to be around!
Max just turned 7 and is in 1st grade. He is 100% pure tough boy. He is a man of few words. Max would wear nothing but camouflage if we let him. He constantly draws tanks and soldiers and battles, etc. We do not know what causes this obsession. He can build anything at anytime. His favorite thing is to get a new Lego toy. He will sit down and build the whole thing following each step of the directions. He has astounding patience for a little guy. When we ordered his new bed from Ikea it came in two boxes. He helped me unpack it and then lead me through the assembly using the directions. To be honest he really freaks me out sometimes. He gets on YouTube and watches videos of people building paper airplanes. He came in the other day after being gone for about an hour. He had built a plane that did a loop then dropped part of the tail and continued flying. Emily and I just looked at each other and laughed. The boy has skills! He continues to play soccer and in the fall promoted up to the big field. He started off a little slow but got back to business by the end of the season. Max also gets credit for quote of the year. We were driving somewhere and passed a plant that had a big smokestack that was belching out a white steam cloud. We heard from the back seat, “Ohhhhhh, so that’s where clouds come from.” His mind was working and he had figured out the heavens. I look for great things from him.
There were many days (weeks?!?!) in 2008 that were less than fun. I felt many mornings this year I would have felt better if I sat up in bed and had someone punch me in the gut. My day would have gotten off to a better start. Then when I stop feeling sorry for myself I realize all the things that I have to be thankful for in life. I guess it is easy to stress and worry when there is so much happening around us. It is also really easy to forget the things that bring us joy in the day-to-day hustle bustle. There are so many people in the world less fortunate than anyone reading (or writing) this letter. Life will present each of us with tough situations in our years on earth. When times are tough or you live through a personal crisis there is lots of growth and character building going on. It also makes you appreciate the good times even more. We are thankful for another year where the things we faced were less than we could handle. 2008 has been a year to stay focused on the things that truly matter. I’m hunkered down and ready for whatever 2009 brings and ready to go to war daily with a new attitude. Thanks 2008!
We wish you all a happy holiday season and a happy new year!
Joey, Emily, Preston, Emmaline, Molly, Max and S’more