The somewhat obligatory, long and drawn out, "Christmas letter" - turned-blog-post

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The holidays are over, the blizzard of '14 has come and gone,  the polar vortex has settled in...but we're home, safe and warm, enjoying the first snow day of the year. My mind woke up at 5:30 a.m. today...right on schedule, as if it knew that winter break had ended and it was time to go back to school. But ahhhh...it was so nice to roll back over and snuggle under the covers for a couple more hours of sleep. Having this extra gift of time has motivated me to get our annual "Year in Review" put together. Our format seems to change every year as technology and time dictate...from paper letters with an enclosed family photo, to electronic messages/photos, to slide shows with music, to digital scrapbooks...this year, we'll try a blog post. Seems simple. Gets the job done.

When I mentioned to the girls that I might write our annual review in my blog, Chloe's response was "But isn't that just about Leah?" Well...no. Although much of our excitement and drama this year have revolved around Leah's health issues, and those were the events which prompted me to start this blog, I reminded Chloe that the name of my blog is "Wildness and Wonder," and that pretty much sums up our whole family (and my day-to-day life). I think it's time the rest of the family get their share of the limelight. So here goes...

2013... Memories & Other Snowbound Musings

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Chloe(14)has had a lively year. She finished 8th grade at Edwardsburg Middle School, and moved seamlessly on to High School. Some of the "thaangs" she's "totes cray-cray" (to translate: "things she's totally crazy") about are:  (she just LOVES it when I try to speak her lingo!)

  • Musical endeavors like singing, piano and percussion. She performed duets with neighbor and best friend Emily twice this year, and drummed along as they sang "The Little Drummer Boy (Girl)" a capella at our school Christmas concert. She continues to take piano lessons, and likes to find the chords for her favorite pop hits or worship songs. Her first season of high school choir and marching band were "A-Maze-ing!" and she looks forward to three and a half more years.

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  • Socializing, shopping and technology. The iPhone sure has made life interesting and Chloe is regularly found on hers, using Instagram and Snapchat with her friends and cousins. When shopping for her semi-formal dress for the winter "Snowball" this year, she wanted to send photos of herself trying on dresses to show her friends the choices she was considering. Not only was I concerned that she would change her mind 20 times depending on her friends' comments, but also didn't want her to take away from the excitement of stepping out in her new dress "live." I nixed the idea of any Snapchatting while shopping...this time around. The job of a mom today is certainly different than when I was a teen!

  • Reading, reading, reading. Chloe loves it, and in this regard technology has been a positive thing. She begged for a Kindle for Christmas, and since receiving it, has been engrossed in several electronic books. Her favorites: Okay for Now, The Help, Wonder, The Fault in our Stars, Divergent (currently reading). I need to introduce her to "Goodreads."

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Leah (16) has had an interesting (?) year,  which you already know if you've been following my Facebook or blog posts. Although spinal fusion surgery and a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis will not "define" Leah, these are events that I'm afraid will define the year 2013 for her. (For more details on those big events, see my previous blog posts.) Still, she had many other wonderful events this year to remember!

  • Piano. For Leah this interest gets a paragraph all it's own. She continues to have a passion for piano, and although the practicing has waned over Christmas break, I'm sure it will pick up again in earnest with our normal routine. Last spring, she put together a very difficult piece called "Tarantella" by Pieczonka, and proceeded to perform it six times at various competitions and talent shows. One of her dreams for a possible career is having her own piano studio where she can teach others, and this year she's taken on her first student. She loves spending time teaching, and learning how to teach, and if her student's smiles are any indication, she seems to be passing on her passion quite nicely.

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  • Bella, band, and "7 brides for 7 brothers." Bella Voce is our women's chorus at school, and both Leah and Chloe LOVE being members of this tight knit group of girls. In addition, Leah continues to enjoy playing in the Pit (Marimba) in Marching Band, and flute in concert band. The highlight of her year though is usually the high school musical...last year, the somewhat corny but always entertaining "7 Brides for 7 Brothers."

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Seth(20) the boy we've often referred to as "Born to be Wild" is settling down into the routine of school, work, and spending time with his steady girlfriend, Maddie. Now a junior at Calvin College (in Grand Rapids), he is majoring in Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies. His passions are "Wild" life (interesting choice) and Ecosystem management. He spent last summer honing his skills by taking a job at Calvin's Ecosystem Preserve, with tasks such as counting birds and spreading mulch filling his hours.

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Seth's job allowed him the flexibility of taking a week off to join us in Minnesota for our family vacation, and Maddie accompanied him. It was great spending a whole week with them, and getting to know Maddie better. With creative drawings, organizing skills, an appreciation for movies, and an infectious laugh, we all loved having her around. The girls especially like having a "big sister" who is very adept at painting nails.

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Jared (22) underwent the biggest changes this year of any of our kids. The first to graduate from college and get a real job, Jared is blazing a trail for his younger siblings, and making his parents very proud (and relieved!). Attending his graduation events and ceremony at Notre Dame in May was such a dignified and moving experience...hard to put into words, except to say my heart wanted to burst! After receiving his math degree, Jared decided he deserved a break, and spent the next 5 weeks exploring the great Southwest, West and Northwest with friends, and then lazing around the lake in Minnesota with us for another 2 weeks. By the end of August he was ready to get to work (or so said his parents!)!

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Our first-born packed his all his belongings in one corner of a big moving truck, and headed off to Madison, Wisconsin, to embark on "real life." He has been learning the challenges and rewards of a big corporate job at Epic, a healthcare software company, while pursuing his real dream of being a web developer/designer on the side. He's recently launched his own website to get the ball rolling. (If you haven't checked it out yet, I'd be happy to send you a link.) Jared loves living in downtown Madison, has two roommates (also ND grads, working at Epic), gets around by bike and bus, and still enjoys rock climbing when he has free time.

As parents, Tom & I have spent much of our year (as we have the past 22 years) thinking, talking, and praying over our kids. But we do have our own lives too! This year we celebrated the big milestone 25th anniversary! Since we took a celebratory vacation last November to the Dominican Republic, we marked the actual event in April with a little weekend getaway to a bed and breakfast in Saugatuck, Michigan. Walks through the quaint shops and on the beach, lazy mornings, and romantic dinners gave us time to reconnect and remember the trials and joys of the past 25 years, while planning and dreaming about the next 25!

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To help us achieve those dreams, Tom spends his days working at the Notre Dame library where he is Systems Administrator. He is enjoying a new office with huge windows overlooking a campus courtyard (I know I would be too distracted by the view to work there!) His off-hours are spent in many of the same activities he's always loved: biking, reading, listening to podcasts, watching birds and working in the yard. (Okay, maybe he doesn't "love" that last one, but it has to be done!) A new activity for him this year is serving as Elder and Clerk on our church council. The time seemed right for him to take on this task, and he's finding the job challenging, yet fulfilling. And speaking of fulfilling, Tom is doing less "fuel-filling" these days. One of his more memorable experiences of the year was the purchase of a new car! He handed his '98 Camry down to Seth, and now drives the fuel-efficient, bluetooth-compatible Toyota Prius. One of his new, favorite past times is checking his mileage!

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Hanstras (8) (800x533)

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Lastly, a little bit about me and my year. When I'm not enjoying snow days (and other wonderful school breaks), I'm loving my job as a SLP in grades 4-12. The variety of kids I see keeps my work interesting, the teachers I work with are great, and since my caseload is around 55-60, things are usually manageable. My part-time summer job this year was being Leah's nurse. Her two hospital stays gave me some extra free time, which I used to knit, read and start my blog. Between those stays (sometime in August), I realized one of my dreams of a backyard perennial garden, and moved or planted over 200 plants around the yard! Yes, my back still hurts...but it will be so worth it next spring when things start to peak through the soil, green up, and blossom! Oh, and not to be outdone by Tom, on the last day of 2013, I also traded in my vehicle. No more mini-van for me! I've downsized to the Honda CR-V, and although it's not even been a week, am so far loving it!

A quick summary of our travels this year...shortly after Jared's graduation, we took the girls and headed off in Tom's Prius to Pennsylvania. We spent a long weekend there, beginning with the joyous celebration of our long time friends' son Morgan's marriage to Christina. From there we headed to the Hershey factory, and the following two days we explored Gettysburg, bringing history to life for the girls, and honoring the 150th anniversary of the battle that was fought there.

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We had to take two cars (the mini-van and the Prius) to Cass Lake, Minnesota this year, as we had 7 people, a ton of luggage, and different departure times to accommodate. We love "our" cabin on the lake, and each year have fond memories while making new ones with our own immediate family, as well as several of my extended family members. For more on that, visit my lake log at: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog/lindaonthego/10/tpod.html

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As we think of our extended family, we are thankful for another year to spend birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays with our loved ones. This year we witnessed the wedding of my niece Alecia to Ryan... the family continues to grow!  We joined Tom's relatives for a family reunion in July, and had fun connecting with his cousins from Alaska that we typically only see on Facebook. And speaking of Facebook, aside from the fact it's a slight addiction (for me) at times, we do love reconnecting and staying in touch with many of you, our close and faraway family and friends, through social media. Still, there's nothing like a face-to-face chat over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, so please let us know if you're ever in the neighborhood. With our kids slowly moving out, we can even accommodate overnight guests!

If any of you are still reading...blessings to you (for persevering to the end)!  We are so grateful for you and thank you for the support and love you've shown us over the past year! May your 2014 be filled with peace and joy!

Linda & Tom, Jared, Seth, Leah & Chloe

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