Dear Friends and Family,
Every year I sit down to reconcile another year into a short (?!?) sweet letter. Every year, for over a decade now, I think not much happened. Every year I surprise myself. You probably are aware of this since you probably notice the length of the letter prior to rolling your eyes, thinking ‘what on earth is that all about’, and tossing the whole concoction in the round file. I apologize in advance…again…for clogging your life with my ramblings. For the one or two of you who enjoy a challenge…here we go!
Economics remained a headline this year with EU financial meltdowns, ‘occupations’ across the nation against the ‘1%’, and a debt ceiling crisis here at home. I continue to ‘not like’ how things are progressing. The Dean’s haven’t moved to a far flung location and reverted to pre-industrial living…yet! There continues to be political unrest across the globe. Regardless, we have our troops headed back to the good old USA from Iraq. We must remember the 4,400 that will not be coming home. One decade after the brutal attacks on 9/11 which killed 2,996 people on US soil (including 411 emergency workers) we got news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Then we took time to remember 9/11. Japan had a triple disaster when a 9.0 earthquake (4th largest since 1900) moved the entire earth off it’s axis by a foot, triggered a tsunami, and flooded a nuclear power plant leaking radiation and almost leading to a complete meltdown. Tornados devastated Joplin, MO and swept all across the Southeast especially Tuscaloosa, AL (Roll Tide!). I was at our office in Chattanooga the next morning and the town was eerie. I expected tumbleweed to roll across the road in front of me at any moment. Hurricanes and earthquakes hit our east coast. The world lost a visionary when Steve Jobs died this year. Many celebrated the Royal Wedding…mainly girls. For us boys we got to focus on much cooler stuff. After 135 missions and after claiming 14 lives the Space Shuttle program ended this year. The Dean’s witnessed one of the final takeoffs from a beach in Florida and it was truly an awe inspiring moment to witness something like that. Closer to home Nashville survived another regularly scheduled locust invasion…well barely!?! In all that and the longer I plod along on this floating rock I am reminded just how much of life comes our way whether we are ready for it or not. Hold on!
The Dean family tried our best to take life by the tail and in the process fought off wildlife at every turn. To honor a year of wildlife the picture of the kids above was taken at Bison Park right down our street. We spent Spring Break in Florida with Emily’s family. Boat rides, bike rides, golf, fishing, and the beach filled our time. Wild Animal Alert – Jellyfish! The girls (young and old) each enjoyed calling the muscled, tan, beach maintenance man to come remove the dreaded toxic hazard. It was like watching a male version of Baywatch crossed with Crocodile Hunter crossed with Team Jacob from Twilight. Sickening! You girls (teens, moms, grand moms…all of you) should be ashamed!
As the summer got cranking the Lord himself intervened and lead the First Baptist Downtown youth and children ministry to schedule all 4 of our kids to be away at camp at the same time. Molly and Max went to Centrikid camp in Kentucky. Emmaline and Preston went to youth camp in Panama City. This was indeed a miracle and was the first time Emily and I had been legitimately left alone at home since we had been married. Wild Animal Alert – Attention Starved Daddy! Kidding. Emily and I decided to take in the sites of Music City, USA. We spent each night out on the town mostly soaking up CMT Musicfest. We hit the Grand Ol’ Opry, the General Jackson, and a star studded concert at LP Field (Zac Brown Band in the house!!!!) Real Wild Animal Alert – Drunk country music girl posse screaming in our ear from start to finish! After staying out late with the younger crowd…we came out realizing we are really old?!?
We spent a week with my family. We hit our favorite little theme park in Santa Claus, IN…Holiday World. I tricked my sister into her first wooden roller coaster ride. A short (?!?), slow (?!?!) coaster …The Voyage. She faired pretty well but I’m sure she realized why she is so happy she is not living with me anymore. The rest of the trip was spent in a cabin on Lake Barkley. We boated on the lake, swam on the lake and in the pool, played golf, minigolf and devoured several 2 inch pork chops. Golfball even hit the links with the boys for the first time in his life to my knowledge. This is ironic considering the peculiar name he has been stuck with since Preston’s early days. Wild Animal Alert – We played minigolf at Jungle Golf where about the most exciting thing we saw was a dog and a bunch of fake jungle animals. So I guess the biggest brush with wildlife would have to be the Box Turtle we kept seeing on the side of the road near our cabin. Turtle Terror!
In late Summer we travelled with Emily’s family again out west. We started in Aspen where we did a bit of hiking, spent time on the ski mountain, and rafted…and every moment we were not expending calories we were busy sucking them down. Then we headed south to New Mexico through the Continental Divide and stopped at the Great Sand Dunes on the way. Once in Pendaries we golfed and hiked. Cameron and I earned our ‘family trip adventurer badge’ when we hiked to the top of Hermits Peak. It was our first ascent ever! Mimi was absolutely thrilled with our efforts! She loves and fully supports adventure! This was no Mt. Everest but what a feeling to look out over so much terrain. Wild Animal Alert – BEAR! This is an actual real life wild animal alert. In all the years we’ve been going to New Mexico we’ve never encountered bear. This year we made up for lost time. One day a bear was about 30 feet up in a pine tree all day on the golf course. The kids all enjoyed studying it throughout the day. That night as the whole family was out on the deck having dinner a bear walked up on the deck sending everyone indoors in accelerated fashion. The doors to the house where open and our visitor could have easily entered the house and enjoyed pasta night while stranding us outside enjoying our meal. Most of us were freaking out as it was…not sure what would have happened if that alternate storyline had played out. Big thanks to Mark for noticing our big buddy before he joined us up close. Another night I was leaning a golf club against the wall talking to my nephew by the glass sliding door. I noticed the door move. As I looked up and my eyes adjusted to look out into the darkness from the lit indoors I noticed a bear dropping to all fours from leaning (my guess face to face with me) on the door. Yikes! Obviously my keen hunting instincts failed me in this encounter. I blame Mile’s captivating conversation for distracting me.
For Thanksgiving we visited Emily’s Dad in Southern Illinois. We hiked, rode four wheelers and golf carts, and had a bonfire. Hogdaddy and I got in trouble because we stayed up late one night talking about the world’s financial situation. By the way, I think we got it all figured out. We must have gotten carried away and kept everyone in the house awake. Sweet little Georgia came down from the loft and politely asked us if we could ‘stop talking’. Girl…these problems aren’t going to solve themselves!?!?! Wild Animal Alert – Cows…baby cows! OK, Domesticated, Lower On The Food Chain Animal Alert – The kids enjoyed feeding the cows and calves…ok…ok…I did too!
Emmaline and Preston visited California with the church youth choir. They performed many shows in many different locations, led vacation bible schools, and served many less fortunate individuals. They also got to enjoy many of the things San Diego had to offer. Wild Animal Alert – Seals and Sharks! Well they didn’t see any sharks but folks in the water where they were swimming with seals in the ocean at La Jolla said they had been spotted in the water.
For Fall Break Emily and the kids decided it best to ditch Dad (actually leave him to work) and go to Florida with Mimi and Pops. That’s ok guys…I’ll just stay here and work…no…don’t worry… When I whined, one child was quoted as saying, “Well Dad you’d rather stay and work anyway.” So much to learn. I sometimes pity them. I must make it look too fun…too easy…because there isn’t even a sliver of me that would rather work than be a beach bum. Wild Animal Alert – Party Animal! While the cat’s away the mice will play?!?!?! Actually I just went to work and came home. I did eat Indian food one night. That was about as exciting as it got. I realize this is sad and pathetic. A small window into my existence. Everyone feel sorry for me!
Speaking of work, that has sucked up a great deal of my existence this year. Aid and Assist At Home had a great year. I’ve been there a little over a year and recently added President to my COO title. We are a non-medical home health care company with over 1,000 clients across the state of Tennessee. Most of my career has been dealing with numbers and technology. This company is all about people and providing care to them. My mind thinks in flowcharts and metrics. The companies tagline is Where The Heart Is. Mom asked me, “How’s that going to work out for you?”. She knows me well?!?! Quickly upon arriving I was tagged by many as Where The Heart Isn’t. A year into it and I’ve grown a heart. The ladies I work with have taught me much and I think they’ve learned a little bit from me too. We all bring something different to the table and compliment each other well. I was really picky about what I was going to do next in my life. I couldn’t ask for anything better to devote my energy to each day. CARE!
During the year my old green truck bit the dust so I got a little commuter vehicle to tool around town in. Max and I dusted off the antique tractor project (a project that has been on hold since before he was born?!?!). I didn’t make as much progress as I wanted this year. Life happens?!?!? One day soon though I plan to have a shiny, immaculately restored, 1938 John Deere Model A up and running. Part of that plan involves having something to pull it around with. So to ride around our busy little urban area I now have a Ford F350, diesel, four door, 8 foot bed truck. It is exactly 16.5 times too big for anything I need it for. For a kid from around ‘these parts’ this is the equivalent of driving a Ferrari. I love it. One of the reasons I love it is because the kids hate it. “Dad, its like driving a bus.” “Dad, why does it stink?” “Dad, why is it so loud?” One of my favorite parts of each day is driving Emmaline (my newest teenager) up to the front of her school and dropping her off in the loud, stinky, school bus. Part of my purpose on this earth is to thoroughly embarrass my children. Check!
Emily has been all about taking care of body and spirit this year. She is the family’s spiritual leader. She teaches the 5th grader’s Sunday School class at church. She taxis the kids back and forth to church the many times per week it takes to ensure they don’t turn into hoodlums when they grow up. Between that and 4 kids in 4 different schools this year and all the other activities they have going on we could easily paint her car yellow and put an ‘on/off duty light’ on it. While not doing that she has also been taking care of herself along the way. She works out with a trainer at the YMCA. In September she ran the Warrior Dash which basically means you run a 5K race through mud pits, over walls, under barbwire, jumping over fire, army crawling, hurdling, climbing over cars, spider nets, etc. As I write all this I realize that not only can my oldest son now snap me in half, but so can my sweet wife. So Emily keeps us all in line. If we get out of line she can just whip all our hind ends. I just keep doing (help) as I’m (me) told no (please) matter what (I) and things (beg) seem to keep (you) rolling right along. I guess I’ll never complain again about being left behind on a Florida trip. “Yes, honey! No. No problem, honey! Whatever you say honey!”
Preston (16) has had the biggest year of all the kids. He turned 16 and his life has completely changed. Emily and I don’t even know who the kid who lives in our house is anymore. Some giant person that looks just like Preston has moved in. We think he might have actually been listening to all the long sermons that lasted late into the night over the years. His grades have snapped into place. He never did terrible in school but it was never a high priority (to say the least). We don’t know what kind of light switch turned on but the report card has headed North this year. Preston?!?!? Then he wanted a car. To this I quickly said, “you better get a job then!” After some looking he now holds the esteemed position of Subway Sandwich Artist. He works for a very nice Indian couple at the Subway down the street in Belle Meade and they work him to death. He is there almost everyday after school until closing and both weekend days for the greater part of the day. The boy works! Preston?!?!?! During the summer he enrolled in drivers ed and learned to drive his car. My friend had a black convertible Mustang GT that he was getting rid of and Preston stepped in to purchase it. He now owns it, insures it, repairs it, and keeps it full of gas. For a while he would only use his tips from Subway to put gas in it. He would run on fumes and stop and put a couple of dollars of gas in it each day (whatever he had for tips that day). He didn’t want to have to use any of his paycheck for something silly like gas?!?!? He now has enough money in the bank that he doesn’t mind stopping and filling all the way up each time. Preston?!?! He is also eating right (the right kind of food and monitoring his portions) and working out at the YMCA. Huh? Preston!?!? He’s figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and has been interested in the restaurant industry so far. So as you can see he’s got everything headed in the right direction. Again, we don’t know what on earth happened or who this person is who lives with us now. Kidding! Preston has always been a great kid and now he is a young man who’s taking care of business. We are proud of him!
Emmaline (13) slowed down the pace this year. She decided to cut back on dance and divide her time across other things. She is more involved in the church youth group’s activities and has a life outside of being at the dance studio every waking moment. It has been a little weird to get used to but it was all part of the plan to simplify the entire Dean’s family life. Less time in the car ‘doing stuff’ and more time just being a family. We’ve survived. Emmaline officially transitioned to being our first teenage girl this year. I have heard all manner of stories about how boys get easier with age and girl’s teenage years are the pinnacle of ‘uneasy’ times. Emmaline and I spend each morning together as we ride downtown to Meigs Magnet Middle. Usually with little drama involved…so far…as long as you count out the ‘diesel bus truck’ stuff (which is entirely my fault). I’m ready and prepared for whatever arises but don’t expect much. She is a wiz at school, has an outgoing personality, is comedic, and sometimes a flare for the dramatic. As long as I can keep her mind off Facebook, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Lautner (the ‘hunk’ from Twilight) and keep her focused on school we’ll be fine!
Molly (11) finished up her basketball season early this year and then retired from all that. She did well and is a great shooter. Her sights are now set on the volleyball court. She is going to follow in her mom’s footsteps and try her hand at volleyball next year. In the meantime she has been busy cleaning out my wallet. I have a fairly elaborate pay for good grades plan in place with the kids. If you wind up high up the honor roll you can take a ton of dough to your savings account. Molly has got me square in her crosshairs. I keep praying for a B to roll across the page. First to save me a little money and second to maybe provide me with a teachable moment. “You see Molly, if you’d work harder you’d make the A Honor Roll and get the A Honor Roll bonus.” These are words I long to utter…they haunt me. She’s having none of it. She’s taking me to the cleaners. With her winnings she got on a kick this year where she was living at the Brentwood Skate Center. Roller skating?!?! I didn’t know people still did that (except Uncle Cameron). Her and her friends lapped the place a trillion times. The whole family got sucked in and I’ve probably skated more in the past year than in the rest of my life combined?!? Thanks Molly for taking all my money and making me roller skate.
Max (10) is a mixture of all of the above. He could care less about school but manages almost all A’s (luckily he provides me with those teachable moments I so yearn for). He is more worried about his soccer career. He is a big boy but still gets in there and mixes it up. He relies more on brute force than finesse on both sides of the ball. In his fall season his team won almost all their games and he scored in all of them but one. To unwind he hits the pool and still has one of the most fantastic belly flops I’ve ever witnessed (coming to YouTube soon). He balances the physical activity with a great love of computer games. Computer games, ipod games, Playstation games he rarely doesn’t have some kind of game in his face. We’ve all given up even trying to keep up with him anymore in the gaming department. At school he keeps the athletic/engineering balance in order with Running Club and Technology Club. He will also still sit for hours building elaborate creations with his Lego sets. Max is a quiet kid most of the time but the wheels are turning even when you think they are not. Beware…the force is strong with this one.
In a strange turn of events I’ve made a few lifestyle adjustments this year. I turned 39 this year so I guess being close to 40 got an old man thinking about ‘stuff’. First, on the health front Mom had been pushing me to read some book by some nut about eating a vegetable based diet. My favorite animal is steak. I love a good cheeseburger about as much as anyone on earth (even giving Popeye’s Wimpy a run for his money). Regardless, a few months ago I went cold turkey vegan (well not turkey since that is meat…you know what I mean). I’ve slipped some dairy and meat in since that time but for the most part I eat a ton of plant based foods. Mom knows best. Second, in accessing my own personal work/life balance I realized I had several hundred LinkedIn connections and several zero Facebook friends. Since I’m into metrics and LinkedIn is work and Facebook is life that metric indicates BORING! All work and no play makes Joey a dull boy. I know I am the last human being to join Facebook on the planet earth (I also know it is 2011). I am firmly committed to turning those metrics around and to be a better friend, family member, associate, and acquaintance than in the past.
We never know what life will throw us. Who knows what we will get? Good, bad, joy, heartache, health, happiness, riches, disaster…we just don’t know. Heck any day a wild animal attack could end it all. See above, they are all around us…BEWARE! Life boils down to how we spend our time and what we spend it on. Time is often called our most precious resource. We wish you success in your time allocating this year. We hope you have more good times than bad by a wide margin. We also hope to spend some time with you this year. Have a very happy holiday season!
Joey, Emily, Preston, Emmaline, Molly, Max, S’more and Jesse James