New Year, New Letter

**Here is a copy of our semi-annual family update letter. **

Dear Friends and Family—

Last year was full of travel and adventure—we all traveled to Europe in the fall, and bought a house in December, leaving little time for a holiday letter. This year was less traditionally hectic, although a house of six is anything but calm on most days. With a break from our usual routines we’ve had a few extra evenings at home in front of the fireplace this winter, and thought we’d try our hand at a New Year’s newsletter. We’ll try our best to highlight our experiences in 2020 and give some updates on our adventures of a full year in our new home.

We purchased the new-to-us house in December 2019. It is nestled along the Hudson River, and we are all in love with the house and property. Now that we have been in the house for more than a year, and have completed a long list of cleanup and home improvement projects, it finally feels like “home.” Some of our favorite spots include the small couch directly in front of the fireplace, where you can almost always find someone snuggled into a blanket and reading a book, and the screened-in porch and floating dock in the summer months.

In the early months of last year between painting walls and assembling bunk beds we managed weekly trips to our local ski mountain (now a mere 5 minute drive away!) where Rayleigh, Dillon, Ainsley, and Grayson were all skiing laps from the peak by the end of the season. After a whirlwind of unpacking and decorating to celebrate our first holidays in the new house, Kelsey and Kevin had their first kid-free trip in 7 years! The company Kevin works for, Alley, celebrated turning 10 with a company retreat in Cancún in late January. Kelsey was able to fly down and join the last day of the retreat, and then they finished the week with sun and sand in Mexico. A big shout-out to the grandparents who watched our crew so we could have that time away together—each set of grandparents took two kids!

In late winter, Kelsey joined her sisters, niece, and mom for a girls’ weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate her eldest sister’s birthday. No jackpots, but fun and laughter with family that is usually spread out across the country. We didn’t know what the year would bring, but Kelsey was grateful for another trip before travel became sparse.

As the days got warmer, and our usual travel and adventures became non-existent during the pandemic, our heavily wooded lot gave the kids plenty of trees to climb, and our small stream provided puddle boot play and crawfish torturing discovery. Our usual homeschool trips to museums were replaced with mystery plant identification in flower beds from the previous owners and sun tracking for future garden plantings. The previous owners were bird watchers and the flora is exceptional for a variety of birds. The children have gotten better at identifying birds and nests. We enjoyed feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds from the porch and were treated to watching them flutter in and out of a nest that overhung our docks.

Soon enough, the air and water temperatures climbed, and that meant we could launch our flotilla of paddle-powered boats and start exploring our stretch of the Hudson River. It was used during the heydays of river log drives, and our bank includes an old log boom crib. The presence of these cribs mean that these days it is a quiet stretch of river, since boat props and subsurface rock piles don’t mix well. We also discovered some coves that serve as home to local turtles, beavers, great blue heron, bald eagles, and foxes. Nature lessons were easy with beavers coming up to our porch steps in the evenings for a snack of fresh horsetail shoots.

Summer’s warmer temperatures meant our screened-in back porch became our primary dining room—bug free al fresco dining is where it is at! By midsummer we had built a floating dock, and the three older kids were fine-tuning their front flips and swimming to the island about 150 meters off of our shore. In between water play we worked on more house projects—taming our front yard jungle from 5 years of neglect, stacking firewood for winter, installing a new basketball hoop, creating a gymnastics room in the basement, and putting on a new shed roof. Needless to say, the kids are getting pretty good with hand tools. Grayson’s favorite hammer is “Bluey” and Ainsley’s favorite rake has been fixed decorated with fancy duct tape.

Kelsey and the kids finished their homeschool year in early June and started a new one in August. Rayleigh is in 5th grade. She loves to read—so much so that it’s often hard to get her nose out of a book long enough to do a math lesson! Dillon is in 3rd grade, loves math and science, and (largely thanks to the Percy Jackson series) has become a voracious reader as well. Ainsley is in Kindergarten, and has been learning how to read and write. One of her favorite activities is to sit on the couch with a chapter book with the big kids—even though she can’t read it yet! It will come before we know it. Grayson is in pre-K and has been learning his letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.

Kelsey started triathlon training this summer while she was able to do long-distance swimming in the river. She has been keeping up her training regimen in the winter, although swimming has been limited to a very brief dip in the river in a hole we made in the ice on New Year’s Day (it’s a tradition up here called the Polar Plunge). She plans on tackling a 70.3 mile triathlon (half an Ironman) this year and is working her way up to a full Ironman (140.6 miles).

In the weeks following Thanksgiving, we worked to assemble a front yard ice rink. We framed the 44’x28’ rink, lined it, and then pumped water from our stream uphill to fill it. After a few days of freezing temperatures, we now have a rink and a nearby fire pit for cocoa breaks.

Our mid-December blizzard left us with 38” of snow, creating some epic sledding conditions.  The kids enlisted the help of Kevin to create a bridge so they can sled down the hill and across the stream. Our winter sports are closer to home this year, but don’t show signs of being any more tame. The outdoors is our happy place, and we’re soaking up the short hours of sunshine everyday.   

The constraints of living in a pandemic provided us with the push we needed to start being more culinarily adventurous and making more things from scratch. Kelsey has been baking bread, bagels, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), and all manner of desserts. Kevin has been making homemade ice cream, chocolate syrup, and a variety of coffee shop drinks on his new espresso machine. We also made our own sauerkraut for our traditional Pennsylvania Dutch New Year’s Day meal of pork and sauerkraut.

These days, the nights come early. We’ve moved all of our meals back inside the house, and evenings are spent huddled in front of the wood-burning fireplace playing board games, reading, or completing jigsaw puzzles—our most recent one was borderless, included extra pieces just for “fun,” and came without a guide picture.

We hope you are all safe and happy throughout the new year. 

Happy New Year from our family to yours, 

Kevin, Kelsey, Rayleigh, Dillon, Ainsley, and Grayson