Sunday, December 17, 2017

Colwell Christmas 2017

Dear Friends,

Time is definitely marching forward. This year, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, and Skyler left for college and turned 18. With older kids, the house feels quieter and everyone has their own schedule. Instead of the challenge to find time to be alone, it’s a challenge to find time to be together.

Hadley is now a freshman at Homestead High School. She still spends every free moment with horses at Webb Ranch jumping, riding, working, and hanging out with other barn girls who would rather clean tack than go to prom. She’s a good student, plays school and club field hockey, and is perpetually optimistic about the results of the recipes she finds on Instagram. Last summer she took her first solo flight to visit a friend in Zurich. You don’t turn down a vacation in Switzerland!

Liam, 16, is a junior and at 6’2” is the tallest person in the house. He wrestles and dives for Homestead, and can out-downhill Tracy on a mountain bike (Climbing? As if!). Liam had a tough year with some back trouble and hard life lessons. But he seems to be emerging stronger for it. This summer, he spent two weeks at NYU in an electronic music program. New York life agreed with him and he’s hoping to find a big city college. Check out his songs and tutorials on his YouTube channel, Liam C.

Skyler is a freshman at UCCS (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs). During orientation, he changed his major from physics to philosophy and psychology. So now, we’re saving for grad school. He loves his coursework, professors, dorm, the view of Pike’s Peak, and college life, especially making his own decisions. Apparently, he wasn’t ignoring everything in high school, because he’s doing better in college than even he expected. He joined the badminton club (because it was free), and the Friday night ice cream club (wouldn’t you?), and some senior is teaching him to brew mead from local honey.  It’s the little things that make me miss him, like milk going bad, the hollow quiet in the house, and having too many leftovers.

After five years at Cisco, a new opportunity opened up. So, in September, I gave up my flexibility, bike commute, and familiar team, and joined the services marketing team at Workday. It wasn’t easy to leave, but it’s good to be new at something again, and I’m glad for the challenge. In April, I had my meniscus and rotator cuff repaired (during the same surgery) and spent most of the spring recovering. It’s no surprise I’m a cranky patient, but time and PT work wonders, and I’m finally back to running and playing tennis. I also started yoga when Trump got elected because I thought I should try something I didn’t like, to see if it had value.

Tracy earned his Lockheed Fellow designation this December. It’s an honor given to just a few engineers and something he’s worked for years to achieve. This translates to more travel and responsibility, so it’s harder to juggle the fun stuff. At home, he spends more time than he’d like fixing things, but is still a regular on the weekend road and mountain bike rides, and local fencing and tennis clubs.    

Celebrating 50 years of the Bristol family.

We didn’t do a big family vacation this year. All the kids had jobs over the summer and scheduling was complicated. But little groups of us did a lot of little trips – Yosemite, Mammoth, camping here and there. I went to Montana with Skyler and we took an epic snowmobile tour of Yellowstone. The insane snowfall on the west coast made for spectacular powder in Tahoe. My hiking group took an overnight cross-country ski trip to Glacier Point. Tracy and I went to Indian Wells to watch tennis, and spent the 4th of July in NYC, popping in to see Liam at NYU. This fall, on a whim, some friends and I road-tripped to Smith’s Ferry, ID to be in the path of totality for the eclipse. Totally worth it. If you can find a spot in 2024, go for it.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We are so happy you are part of our village, both near and far. One more time around the sun… here we go!

With Love,
Tracy, Julie, Skyler, Liam, and Hadley
Panda, Loki, and Squeak (the cats)
Yuki and Super Fluff (the bunnies)


Saturday, December 05, 2015

Colwell Christmas 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

Last year was the first in more than a decade that I didn’t do a Christmas letter. We had just moved home after the remodel and everything was a bit chaotic. Total mistake! Facebook is a poor substitute for reflecting on the passing year.

Our kids are happier hiking miles in national parks than traipsing around big cities. So, we took an epic summer road trip to house-sit for friends in Boulder and went the long route through Zion and Bryce. We even got last minute reservations to stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I don’t recommend hiking out and driving all the way home the same day, but it’s worth it if you have to. 

This is the first year in a long time I haven’t left the country. I need to change that for 2016. I did get to visit Boston and Cleveland for work, play tennis tournaments in the Central Valley (where there is cheap land to build nice clubs), and take a girls’ trip to hike in Sedona. And we had some weekends away with friends. The CA drought has all but eliminated the ski season, but it looks like this year could be different. Also, I just passed the three-year mark at Cisco, and I’m fortunate to have interesting projects and great people on my team.

Tracy is approaching Lockheed icon status, coming up on his 20th anniversary this year. He is fencing more, but cycling less, and usually spends more time building and fixing things around the house than working out. Although, he did earn his A rank in fencing (which is really good apparently – I didn’t know either).  He finally bought his own car… which is another minivan. So much for a midlife crisis.

Skyler, 16, is now a licensed driver, certified lifeguard, cross-country runner, and usually does his own laundry before he completely runs out of clothes. He towers several inches over Tracy and goes to bed after everyone else. We don’t see much of him during the day, but he makes up for it by starting existential conversations late at night. I try to stay up and chat. Our time with him at home is short.

Liam is now taller than me, beats me at arm wrestling, but can’t quite take me at tennis yet. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. He’s a freshman at Homestead, which requires that he leave the house at 7:30am. So, he’s a regular at the Monday detention breakfast club for multiple tardies. This past summer, he was a camp counselor with Golden Eagle and gained a whole new respect for parents. Love that!

I thought Hadley’s horse thing was a phase. It’s not. But, it is a rich kid hobby, so she spends all her own money on lessons and gear. Someday she’ll get off the waitlist to volunteer at Webb Ranch (for real – takes about a year), but until then, she works with the miniature horses at Animal Assisted Happiness and rides as often as I'll fund it. She still plays soccer and runs track in middle school, but everything takes a backseat to horses.
We finally have a cousin! Milo Bristol Jalgunas joined Heather and Charles on March 14, the day after Liam’s birthday. He’s a smiley army-crawling rugrat with notable skill chewing anything within reach and pulling himself up on whatever looks stable. It is so fun to have a baby around again.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We are so happy you are part of our village, both near and far. One more time around the sun… here we go!

With Love,
Tracy, Julie, Skyler, Liam, and Hadley
Flynn and Panda (the cats)
Yuki and Super Fluff (the bunnies)
Alpha (the beta fish)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas and New Year 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

This is the latest I have ever sent out a Christmas letter, which at this point qualifies more as a New Year’s card.  I could come up with heaps of excuses, but the truth is that I just didn’t do it until now.  I hope honesty is refreshing enough to keep me on your Christmas lists.  I love getting cards, both real and electronic. 

I expected 2013 would pale in comparison to 2012, and it did.  (Tough to beat three weeks in France).  However, I got to travel for Cisco to Denver, New Orleans, and London and left a few days early to visit a friend in Amsterdam.  My sister Jessica and I spent ten days in Japan.  As a family, we went to San Diego, took several ski trips, and an impromptu road trip to Whistler when Tracy’s sister got married in Seattle on short notice – lots of camping and mountain biking.

This is the first year we have three kids in three different schools.  Fortunately, they can all get themselves there and back, so if they’re late, they can’t blame it on anyone else.  

Skyler started high school this year.  He shocked us by getting into classes we didn’t think he had the grades for, and despite his haphazard approach to turning in homework, he might survive ninth grade.  He is nearly as tall as me and can cycle faster, but I’m sure I’ll outweigh him until he graduates.  He’s still fencing, playing tennis, programming, and hanging out with friends in his own little man cave or as far away from the house as possible, especially if there are girls involved. 

In seventh grade, this year Liam joined the El Camino Youth Symphony in Palo Alto.  As the only baritone player in their intermediate band, he was in high demand before he even auditioned.  Liam also spent two weeks living in the rain at caveman camp at Turtle Island this summer, where he got to meet my cousins in North Carolina.  This fall, he joined the Mountain View junior development tennis team.  I think both boys just like sanctioned hitting things.    

This is Hadley’s last year in elementary school, and she is still packing her schedule with as much soccer and dance as she can.  Her affinity for horses has not faded, so in the shrinking soccer offseason, she’s fitting in some horseback lessons.  At eleven, we get glimpses of a drama queen we’ve never met before, but most of the time she’s enthusiastic and easy going, especially if her brothers are elsewhere.

I converted from a contractor to a Cisco employee in July, so I’m learning the tricks of navigating a large company.  Working full time has done nothing for my tennis game, French fluency, or social life, but it’s hard to beat the paycheck, and I enjoy the work.  I sprained my ankle in March and it was nine months before I could comfortably run and play tennis again.   Ouch.

Lockheed is still stumbling along, so after 18 years, Tracy has reasons to stay.  He’s been helping the American space program by working on Orion, the human space travel capsule, and was instrumental in fixing part of the launch structure – makes the astronauts breathe easier.  He also placed third at a national fencing tournament that boosted his ranking.  I’ve been dragging him out onto the court as my hitting partner, but I haven’t beaten him yet. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We are so happy you are part of our village, both near and far.  One more time around the sun… here we go!
With Love,
Tracy, Julie, Skyler, Liam, and Hadley
Flynn and Pixel (the cats)
Yuki (the bunny – we lost Xavier to a raccoon :( 
The geckos of shame who have no name

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Colwell Christmas 2012

Today is Christmas Adam (the day before Christmas Eve).  I have never written a Christmas letter this late, but it didn’t make it to the top of the list until now. Some of you over-achievers got your letters out by Thanksgiving. Congratulations. I’m sure all your shopping was done in August, right? 

2012 was the start of parenting 3.0 in our house.  With all kids in double digits, a waning interest in legos and increasing requests for electronics and privacy, we’ve definitely stepped into the PG13 phase of life.  Half the time I don’t know whether to ground the kids for their awful jokes or choke with laughter.

For me, this year was magic.  I would happily rewind to January and start over.  Multiple ski trips to Tahoe and Bear Valley, even one with three moms and ten kids!  Three weeks in France, 10 days in Hawaii, camping with friends, Portland/Seattle and a fall trip to mountain bike in Moab with an accidental day hiking in Zion (because I mixed up the time of my flight home).  These trips were all such brilliant gifts, and I expect it will be a long time before I get a chance to travel so lavishly again. 

However, to fund more potential trips, I gave up the freelancing/tennis/ French-classes/semi-working mom life in October and took a full time job at Cisco doing marketing communications for partner services.  The transition wasn’t seamless and I’ve never been good at balancing and organization, but I’ve landed on a great team and I have the flexibility to work from home when I need to.  It was time to go back, and I’m grateful for the chance to earn a regular paycheck without the feast or famine rhythm of freelancing. 

Skyler marked his last year in middle school by moving into his own room.  He’s claimed our guest room, and as the neatest Colwell kid, if we have to kick him out to host friends, at least it doesn’t take long to get the room ready.  He continues to fence at Stanford and compete in local tournaments.  He’s also taking German, tennis, and fixes my computer.  At thirteen, he’s threatening to become a responsible adult, although his logic and sarcasm still need some refinement.   Soon, I’m sure.

Liam loves middle school because it’s much harder for me to locate and talk to his teachers.  I haven’t gotten any phone calls yet, and he spends enough time doing homework so he appears to be managing just fine.  This year, Liam took up tennis, joined the wrestling team, and played in the band -- dabbled with the tuba, but has resettled on the more manageable baritone horn.  His goals are to wear the least amount of clothing that is socially acceptable, grow his hair back out, and acquire an alpaca. 

Hadley is still packing more into her schedule than anyone else:  tap, jazz, ballet, soccer, French, clarinet, and math Olympiad.  I think she’d give it all up to live on a ranch and ride horses.  She loves her teacher, her friends, her rabbit, everyone except her brothers whose goal it is to taunt her mercilessly.  She uses this to her advantage and has developed the skill and subtlety to get them in trouble.  Her highlights this year all involve horses:  a week at Ranch Camp in Trinity Alps and a week at Webb Ranch in Portola Valley.

Tracy has gradually shifted his primary athletic pursuit from cycling to fencing, and climbed back through the competitive ranks past the class he held in college.  He still manages to ride some locals off his wheel, but the new contenders are getting faster.  At work, the government’s lack of ability to agree on anything has kept Lockheed treading water, so he had to make up for it by joining me in Grenoble for a week.  If things are miserable this year, we’ll have to plan another international trip, but he’s cautiously optimistic. 

Thank you for being part of our village.  We love our community and we are so grateful that we are in this together.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With love,
The Colwells
Tracy, Julie, Skyler, Liam, and Hadley
Flynn (the only cat since Malarkey moved into the Greater Neighborhood)
Xavier and Yuki (the bunnies)
The geckos in Liam’s terrarium

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Top Ten (or so) Things I Learned in France

After twelve years of local family trips with one foray to Boston, a long weekend in New Orleans, and an escape to Hawaii, I got to go back to Europe.  A lifetime ago, I'd planned to live there.  When I went to grad school in the UK, it never occurred to me that I'd live and raise my family 10 miles from where I grew up, and two blocks away from my elementary school (that was turned into a fiefdom of pseudo-Tudor homes when they were all the rage in the 80s).  I thought I'd gradually lose my American accent, acquire another language, and fade into English or maybe European society.  Didn't happen.  Life did, and it was good, but different than I expected.  (Is anyone actually living exactly how they expected they would?)

So almost twenty years after I left, I got to go back.  It was magic, of course, as new things are or old things that become new tend to be.  This time I went with friends and to visit friends (and Tracy came too, eventually) which was much better than traveling alone. 

In addition to an onslaught of new French words, how to drive in Paris, not wearing shorts or a ponytail unless I was doing something sporty, or ordering coffee with food, these are the top ten (or is it eleven?) things I learned:  

1. Good white wine is better (and cheaper in France) than diet coke.

2. You can mimic French fashion enough to get other tourists to ask you for directions, but no native will be fooled.

3.  Everyone knows English swear words because they all watch American movies.

4.  Patisseries and cafés on every corner would make me happy.

5.  When you have fought war after war on your own native soil, you think twice about knocking down a buidling to erect another one.  If you wait long enough, some other country might come knock it down for you.

6.  You can live in much less space and with much less stuff than you think.  No one needs their own room, although I think it reduces the screaming fights.  

7.  I have too many clothes.  If I had to hang them out to dry all the time, I'd get rid of half of them.

8.  The voting, driving, conscription, and drinking age should be 18. 

9.  Personal comfort and individual safety should never make the top ten national priorities.

10.  It’s hard to talk on your cell phone or text when you’re driving a manual transmission.

11.  Nothing beats a native tour guide.

Oh, and here's a few other things, because after three weeks, I sure hope I picked up more than eleven new epiphanies, but it's a more digestible number than, I don't know thirty, or however many other things I didn't know before. 

So, a few more:

American public transportation is terrible, but we are a really really big country and our entire western section was built to accommodate cars.

Paper towels in public restrooms are totally unnecessary.  Your hands will dry.

Drinking with your family as a teenager should not be a crime.

Socialism would not work in America... at all, ever.

No one can wear a scarf with such casual elegance as a European woman.

French people don’t snack.

If the French had not adamantly protected their language and history, it would have been diluted by the Germans and the English (and probably also other immigrants and imperialists).

Americans have never overcome their Puritan roots.

We all have bodies and kids don’t need to be “protected” from naked art.  It’s adults who teach them be to be uncomfortable.

You never know what you’ll find behind a door on a street in France, no matter how decrepit it looks.  Could be a garden, a lobby, a bar, a spiral staircase… it’s always a mystery.

Iceland Air pilots should make a calendar.  Jet Blue flight attendants should not.

One coffee is not enough to get me started in the morning.  I still need a carafe.

American food is too sweet.

Dinner should last longer and we should eat slower.  This is easier if your children are adults.

Teachers are there to teach you to learn, not to make you feel good about yourself.  You might feel great, but know nothing.  Competence is a great confidence booster.

A rabbit can live on your terrace without a hutch.

Don't tie a jacket or sweatshirt around your waist.

American are relieved to travel to places that are not governed by the same “safety” restrictions we have to follow at home, yet we continue to vote them into our state and national policies.

Kids as young as eight or nine in Paris fly around on scooters without helmets.  Some people yell at them, but no one runs them over.

You can get used to living anywhere in any way if you don’t try to control everything.

Hopefully it won't be twenty more years before I get to go back again!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Communion of Saints

Communion in Protestant churches is supposed to be an inclusive affair.  If you’re there and you don’t want to look like you’re not part of the club, you take it. I was five the first time I noticed that there were snacks for the grown ups in Big Church.  Usually, if we were going to have donuts or cookies, they were out on the patio between services, but this time, it was clear that the grown-ups had eaten without us.  I felt excluded... we only got stale graham crackers and water in Sunday School, but they got grape juice and cake.  Party food!  And it was served in cute little glasses.  Sneaky adults.    

When I asked my mom what the snacks were for, she gave me a lengthy explanation about blood and flesh and wine and bread, that did not seem related to the cake and little glasses.  So I left and went to the playground with my sister Heather to discuss why the cake was cut into such tiny pieces, and how we were going to get some of it.  We figured the deacons would probably put it in the kitchen and if we were going to get some, we should go there.

What luck!  The kitchen was empty!  We found the stacks of little glasses -- (this was when they were still made of glass.) Heather and I decided that if we were going to eat the cake, we ought to do something helpful first, so we rearranged the stacks of glasses like bowling pins on the long kitchen counter.  The cups were small, cool, and hefty.  I wanted to pocket two for my dolls, but after all that blood and flesh stuff, taking them seemed likely to upset someone, although I wasn’t sure why.  Next to the stacks of glasses, was the jackpot!  A leftover plate of diced cake covered in a dish towel.  I nicked a few cubes and tasted them.  They were delicious.  They reminded me of Winchells Donuts’ cream cheese cake.  No wonder the adults kept this treat to themselves.  Heather and I began cramming handfuls of it into our mouths.  Just then (of course), the ladies brigade marched into the kitchen with more glasses and leftover cake.  

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” one bellowed.  “Don’t you KNOW that is the BODY of Christ?”

We cowered, wiped the crumbs off our mouths, and ran.  Later that afternoon, my dad told us, “You know... that’s really not a good idea. Communion bread is not a snack.  Please don’t do that again.”  We didn’t... but we wanted to.  Sometimes we took two or three squares during communion, which was especially justified if they were stuck to each other. And to this day, if I could figure out how to make that bread, I would.  

Whenever we went on vacation, my dad made us go to church.  Chances were good that he’d already met the pastor of someplace nearby and we’d go there, but if not, we’d cruise around looking for something within denomenational firing distance of Presbyterian.  On one trip to the Midwest, all we could find was a Lutheran church, so we crept into the back and sat down in the pews.  The sermon was dry and boring, and my sister and I drew butterflies and flowers on the bulletin to pass the time.  Just when I thought we were finally going to get to leave, in marched the ushers with communion trays.  These were not the soft squares of sweet bread I was used to.  They were papery wafers and they stuck to the roof of my mouth.  In our church, we ate the bread together to symbolize community in Christ, but we could drink the juice whenever we wanted to, to show we were individuals as well.  I could not get my juice down fast enough, but it smelled a little strange, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my mom’s eyes tear up as she shot back her juice.  I lifted it to my mouth and drained the cup.  It was bitter and tannic -- wine!  I tried to swallow, but couldn’t, and when I tried to breathe, I hacked the contents of my little cup and tiny chunks of wafer into the hair of the person in front of me.   She reached back and patted her spattered hair, but didn’t turn around.  As soon as the pastor began his closing prayer, we slunk out the back.

That was the last time we went to a Lutheran church on vacation.  It was a steady stream of Baptist, Presbyterian, or Bible churches after that... anything to ensure grape juice!