Wrapping it up: Ending '11, Beginning '12 - Part 1

Brandon wishes everyone a happy new year!

Happy New Year!  I guess it’s fitting that 2011 finished a year-long ride down a water slide, at least in terms of speed.  And, not surprisingly, 2012 is off to a similar start.  I guess if we don’t like the slide, we’d better get out of the water park!  :)  Thankfully, we do love what we’re doing and are so thankful for the many who make it possible for us to continue.

I last wrote en route to St. Louis, but stopped that post short of sharing about our daughter Julie's graduation from physical therapy school the previous weekend, so I'll start with that today.

She did it.  Thirty grueling months later, on Dec. 10, after being stretched beyond what she thought she was capable of, and after endless hours of studying, memorizing, applying knowledge, and testing, Julie received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from University of St. Augustine’s with highest honors.  As if that weren’t enough, much to her complete surprise, she was also selected as the “Most Outstanding Physical Therapy Student” of her class.  She may still be in shock about that.  We were all able to gather to celebrate her and it was a day full of rejoicing.  Her degree is a study in perseverance, in pressing on, in resisting the pull of the path of least resistance, in keeping on—and we’re so proud of her character and accomplishment.  She’s studying now for her boards, which she’ll take Jan. 30 in Andover, and then she’s off to join Derek in Mbale, Uganda, to begin her new life as a wife and physical therapist.

The whole family gathered to witness Julie’s graduation from PT school on a beautiful December Saturday in San Marcos, CA.

We spent the balance of the weekend with Derek and Julie as they closed out their life in SoCal, loaded their Toyota Corolla, and began their long journey across the states to Boston.  We were so glad to be able to finish up some loose ends for them as well as visit with my folks before we flew back home on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

We had a sunset walk on Coronado Beach while out for Julie’s graduation and it was delightful.  This is the beach we were walking 36 years ago when Paul proposed.

We made it home late Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning was our final Patriots women’s study.  It was a time of closure and celebration, and a very sweet ending to a great fall together.  I already miss being with this great group of ladies weekly.

The Patriots women’s study came to a close the 14th, but our friendships and connections will continue.

And then we were off to St. Louis.  An annual tradition, we treasure our moments with the precious Williams family.  Our relationship with them, which began in 1999 when Grant played for the New England Patriots, has grown in very familial ways through the years as we fill in part the role of surrogate Christian parents and grandparents for their family.  We have loved watching them grow as a family in God-honoring ways, and have been so impressed with the many ways God has used and is using them to impact many other families.  Our days together were short but very sweet.  Long enough at least for Mister Paul to carry on the tradition of baking his chocolate chip cookies with the girls.

Though Meegan doesn't really loom over Paul as it appears in this photo, she is hitting 5'10" at 14 years of age.  The others are close behind.

We had a carriage ride through a neighboring town, making for a very fun Christmas-y sunset activity.

We had planned to fly from St. Louis to Charlotte, NC, for a brief visit with the Yardleys before returning to Boston on the 21st, but made a very sane and wise (though hard) decision to re-adjust our plans and return home Sunday night.  It was one of the better decisions we’ve made this year.  Before leaving for St. Louis, as we sat in our still-not-ready-for-Christmas home with long lists of things to do before the kids arrived for the holidays, we realized that even a magic wand would not solve the problems that would result from our poor planning.  So, the Yardleys graciously accepted our cancellation without penalty and we returned from St. Louis with three wonderfully unplanned days in which to get “everything” done.

We all know that “everything” is never done, but we did get the important things done so that when Lisa, Gabe, Kari, and Brandon arrived that Thursday night, Dec. 22nd, we were mostly ready for them.  Let the party begin!!

Our first of many dinners together, a couple of days before Derek and Julie arrived.

We weren’t quite to the “eating bonbons” stage, I'll confess, so the 23rd required all hands on deck for finishing up wrapping, decorating, delivering, shopping, cleaning, etc.  I mean “all” hands on deck.  As “I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas” played repetitively in the background—sadly, having no impact on the clear skies and unseasonably warm temps which cast question on our real location—lists were crossed off and we really were ready for the bonbon-savoring moments to begin on Christmas Eve, at noon, when the last ones rolled in from CA.

Brandon gets his hands on the vacuum cleaner as he helps Papa get the job done.

Lisa and Kari continue the annual tradition of decorating gingerbread houses.