The Frostbite Swim Meet

Or, a sketch that wanted to be published

The reason your are reading this story is because my wife saw this sketch in my sketchbook and said, “Seems like you should put this in your blog, or something.

The much-anticipated home swim meet was this past weekend. The experience, while glorious, was tarnished by some jerk’s decision to move the venue from the south YMCA (4 minutes from my house) to the Onalaska Y (30 minutes from my house).  

Another blemish on the experience was Bethany’s mono-induced activity restriction. Still, Bethany attended all three days, spent time with friends, and did some race timing. Nikole and I ran stop watches too on Saturday morning. 

Ruthie dropped time in all her events. Lydia dropped 14 seconds in her 50-yard freestyle, which is sort of funny because the big kids will scratch and claw to drop 4/10 of a second in a 50-yard freestyle. 

Edward was not present. He was at the Districts Youth Conference, and he is swimming for the high school swim team this time of year. Helen was also at Districts. Claire attended the Frostbite meet with us and lamented that she should have kept swimming after she graduated. 

Christmas Letter 2019

Big Changes

family photo from Wyoming
The fam at our campground in Wyoming. Helen wants you to know she is not fond of the picture of her I chose to photoshop into this group shot. Jack says, he’s okay with his photoshop job.

We are a family much changed this year. We started the year with six kids at home and all of them attending school, and now one of them is not in school. Yep. That about sums it up – the Hales are rocking the world with awesomeness.

Helen

Helen is the Hale kid no longer in school. Helen graduated from Western Technical College, in La Crosse this spring, with an Associate of Science-Liberal Arts degree. With this degree, most kids transfer to a 4-year school and study to be doctors, lawyers or titans of industry. Helen cannot decide which of those three she wants to be, so she is whiling her time away scooping ice cream at the Pearl Ice Cream and Coffee Shop. She spends her days making people happy. She is productive and content, and there is no end to the annoyance this causes her mother who wants to see Helen working towards a nursing degree. When she is not making butterscotch shakes, Helen spends her time drinking lattes at local coffee shops and creating little watercolor paintings. Helen stays up too late and is always tardy for work.

Helen’s Rebuttal

I think its funny when people ask me what I want to do next, because, I mean, I’m happy at the ice cream shop. I enjoy the part about annoying my mother.

Helen looking right
Helen at The Root Note with Claire (photographer). You probably think I am here somewhere, but, no, they left me at home.
Helen and her father just after graduation
After the Western Technical College graduation ceremony. What are those, honor cords? Oh, never mind.

Claire

Claire graduated from high school in the spring and is attending a prestigious university studying graphic design. She goes to school, slides into class, then slides out again and goes home like a heathen visiting church. At home, she keeps to her bed chamber reading books and occasionally conversing in whispers with her older sister. In the morning, Claire rises early and prepares for her day before the rest of us have once snoozed our alarms. If she did not leave the peanut butter jar open and vegetable trimmings all over the counter, we would forget we have an 18-year-old in the house. Claire manifests two personalities: that of a brooding hermit, and that of a happy, gregarious, soda-jerk at the Pearl Ice Cream and Coffee shop. (The Hermit would like me to note that she was the first soda-jerk in the family and that her older sister followed her, and not vice versa.)

Clair’s Rebuttal

I have absolutely no rebuttal because it is all 100% true. That’s all I have to say.

Claire at a coffee shop
Another kid who thinks she can go out to coffee without her dad.
I didn’t get a photo of her in the funny hat, but I did get this shot of me squinting so hard I look like I’m hurt.

Edward

Edward, Edward… So much potential wrapped in so thick a layer of sloth. The perfect 16-year-old body, enviable hair, above average intellect, and absolutely no output. Evenings are spent watching YouTube videos, with short breaks for homework. If the streets are dry, he is out on his trick scooter practicing fakies, whips, heel whips, and nose manuals. Around the dinner table he regales us with stories of disrespectful encounters with the vice principal or how he and a friend set a trap that would cause a mess for someone else to clean up. (Is your face sort of frozen in a half smile right now, as you think, “Ed, how is this funny?” That is the expression you would see on his mother’s and my face any time he starts up with, “Let me tell you about this hilarious thing I did today…”) Edward also rides for the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Race Team, runs cross country, swims for the high school team, and sings in the robed choir.

Edward’s Rebuttal

I don’t think there is much rebuttal to say. It is brutally honest. Lately I am changing my ways. Now I don’t watch YouTube videos during the week and do my homework. 

Edward in a mountain bike race
During a rare moment away from YouTube.
Edward running cross country
Their mascot is a banana. Hmm…

Ruthie

Ruthie is 13 years old and in eighth grade. She plays the violin, runs cross country, and swims on the YMCA team. Ruthie raced for the mountain bike team — she never trained, just showed up on race weekend and placed on the podium, every time — no fair! Ruthie reads a lot, and if she can get on a phone, will text emojis to her friends for hours. Ruthie’s disdain for parental authority is unchanged and has in fact become more pronounced with age. I look forward to a 30-year-old Ruthie. She will either be a well-adjusted mother of three talking with me over a cup of coffee, or she will be wearing an orange jump suit talking with me through bullet proof glass. Either scenario is plausible.

Ruthie’s Rebuttal

First of all, I went to mountain bike practice every once in a while, and I guess I get natural biking talent from my dad. I do text my friends a lot, I admit, but not usually emojis. That is mostly them. I try to obey my parents, but they’re just wrong so much.

Ruthie in a mountain bike race
Grrr! Got get ’em, Ruthie
Ruthie Running

Bethany

Bethany (11 years old) sails through life, getting good grades, showing up to places on time, and enduring verbal abuse from her older sister. She swims on the YMCA team and rides for the La Crosse Mountain Bike Team, where she rose steadily through the ranks of the sixth graders until she landed on the podium at her last race.

Bethany

You left out the part about me catching mono. Tell them I’m rotting away on the couch recovering from mono.

Bethany thought she finished just off the podium, like every other race, but after checking the results tacked to the barn, she lit up like this.

Lydia

Lydia (9) is like a phantom in our house. She entertains herself, talks mostly to the dog, and spends her days at the neighbor’s house bossing around her younger friends there. She swims for the YMCA team, and she produces sounds on a violin. She is Mom’s favorite. The only time I see her is at bedtime when she can be found reading books with her mom in bed way past curfew.

Lydia’s Rebuttal

The things that aren’t really true are that I am not a phantom, and I think you see me a lot more than just at bedtime. And I don’t really spend my days at the neighbor’s house. I spend them here. 

Lydia on a stump in Hixon Forest
Okay, the truth is, Lydia is often the one who will go on adventures with her dad. In this photo, Lydia and Jack accompany me to Hixon Forest, while her siblings are still in bed.

Nikole

Nikole is the same, but amplified. She leads a women’s Bible Study, volunteers with a youth program at church, cooks and cleans at home, organizes rides and activities for our kids, and runs with an elite group of stay-at-home moms. In the fall Nikole ran a 25K trail race that was 24K long – needless to say, her time was excellent. She also became a licensed NICA mountain bike coach and attended almost every practice with Edward, Ruthie and Bethany.

Me taking a selfie with Nikole running in the background
Nikole training for the Hixon 25K

Ed

I became a vegetarian this year. I consume no animal products except for occasionally eggs, cheese, fish, chicken or ground beef and steak. But otherwise, I’m pretty much vegan. I have so much energy now and I’m so much stronger that I fell over on my mountain bike and shattered my pelvis. I spent the whole kids’ mountain bike season on crutches. I’m all better now, ready to set the world on fire… from the couch, with a bowl of popcorn in my lap and a vegan documentary on Netflix.

Jack

Jack is a good dog.

Jack’s Rebuttal

I am not a good dog. I am a wolf. I a wild, natural killer waiting to break free (I just need someone to go with me, ya know, to scratch my neck and tuck me into bed at night.)

Jack with dirty hindquarters
I’m good, but I’m also tired and dirty

We hope you have a super fun Christmas with bacon-wrapped cheese balls and happy wool socks. 

Love the Hales

Portrait of a Pelvis

Sketch of a pelvis looking happy

It was a perfectly good pelvis, with the smooth, bold curves you’d expect in the midsection of a highly trained endurance athlete. But, then, it was attacked without warning or provocation. And the worst is that the attack came from a trusted friend.

It began on a cloudy September Saturday in Eau Claire, Wisconsin when I was riding my mountain bike around the trails at Lowe’s Creek County Park. My pelvis rode lightly and happily on the old green Avocet saddle of my Trek Superfly mountain bike. We were riding a lap of the NICA race course with our student athletes. The course was fast and fun and very safe.

We completed the lap and went back to camp where I found another group of kids wanting to go out and practice the course. Ruthie, my daughter, wanted to ride another lap, and I planned to ride lap after lap, all day long.

We rode briskly down the dirt road that comprised the start of the race. After half a mile, we entered the single-track and started twisting and turning through the woods. With Ruthie in the lead we entered the single track. I came around a left curve in the trail followed by a line of innocent 12-year-old children who trusted me to guide and teach them about my lifelong sport. I was not moving slow, and I was not moving fast as I looked at the big roots mostly buried beneath the surface of the trail. The little tikes behind saw me rolling lightly and confidently over the roots when — BAM — my bike stopped. An unseen force stopped my bike and I was ejected from the cockpit. There was a violent interaction with the handlebars, and I found myself on the ground. That’s when my bike – the old friend I trusted – came crashing down on top of me. The wide-eyed 12-year-old behind me reported that my bike appeared to leap in the air and come down saddle first onto my hip. That’s right, the seasoned, green Avocet saddle on the trusted old bike attacked me when I was already down.

Sketch of my mountain bike attaching me

I laid on my right side in the fetal position on the trail yelling out in pain. Ruthie picked my bike up off me. Embarrassed, I began to skootch myself off the trail, still on my side and moving like an injured caterpillar. Two coach friends helped me into a sitting position and, after a few minutes, to a stand. I kept thinking, “I’ll just loosen up and get back on my bike.” But I could not lift my left leg because of the pain. I stood there thinking about how much I did not want to ride in an ambulance, when I finally pulled my phone out of my jersey pocket and called Nikole back at camp.

I almost burst into tears when she answered, I was so sad. (I hate to admit this, because I know that you think I am a cold and fearless adventure boy.) I held it together enough to say, “Nikole, I crashed and I can’t get myself out of the woods. Someone is going to have to come and get me.” We spent several minutes trying to nail down where I was on the course, and she spoke to the race organizers.

I sent Ruthie, and the coaches and the scarred 12-year-olds in our group down the trail to finish their practice lap. Coach Phil stayed behind to warn riders that there was an injured rider on the trailside. I thought I might faint, so I lowered myself to kneeling and nodded at the passing riders out testing the course.

Sketch of Zach and Nikole carrying me

Surprisingly soon, my beautiful wife came walking around the corner of the trail followed by volunteer coordinator, Zach. They tried to act as human crutches, but adventure boy could not lift his left leg even a little. So, Nikole and Zach wrapped my arms around their shoulders and each picked up a leg and began to carry me in a seated position out of the woods. I let them think the tears running down my cheeks were from pain, but I was so scared, and so touched by this selfless act that I was struggling to keep from sobbing. I rode out of the woods sitting on the tailgate of Zach’s truck.

Sketch of Ed laying in the grass

Back at camp, I laid on the ground next to my van while a panel of experts determined that my injuries were muscular and required rest. But when I still could not walk the next morning, a doctor friend ordered me to go directly to Urgent Care in Eau Claire. 

In Urgent Care, they casually took an x-ray of my hip joint. The x-ray tech flicked her cigarette and drawled, “I see a little something up there… I’m going to have to take another picture of your whole pelvis this time.” They stuck the new x-ray up on the big screen and the whole mood changed. Suddenly, I was a big deal.

Sketch of my broken pelvis looking sad

An orderly pushed me in a wheelchair to the E.R. taking the corners on two wheels. They told me I had a shattered pelvis, they started an IV “in case we need to do a procedure”, they took and tested blood and they did a CT scan. The CT scan showed that all my shattered parts were still in the right places, and there was no internal bleeding. Everyone chilled out and went back to casual mode. The doctor handed me some crutches and was like, “Yeah, you might want to make an appointment with an orthopedic doc in La Crosse, ‘cause, like, your pelvis is jacked.”

I don’t know why, but knowing for sure what the issue was gave me a lot of relief. The only thing sad was that we had missed Ruthie’s and Bethany’s races. We drove back to race venue. I parked myself in a lawn chair on the race course, ordered a vegetarian sandwich and a large coffee and yelled at Edward when he rode by. I said, “Nikole, you should probably start packing up the van… I mean, I would do it, but I got this shattered pelvis.”

All things considered, the weekend was a great success. I was surrounded by friends, nobody tried to cut me open, and now the whole family is at my beck and call. Really, if you have to shatter something, I recommend the pelvis.

Why is my father suddenly not receiving my texts?

“I can’t text my friend, but he can text me”

“Text messages not sending to one contact”

These are some of the search terms I used in my failed attempt to find why my father could not receive texts from me, but I could receive texts from him. We both have iPhones for goodness sake. They should love each other.

This situation lasted for a couple weeks. Then, today over lunch, he said, “Did you get your phone to work yet?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Is it something wrong with my phone?”

I said, in a good, Midwestern humble, “No, I’m sure the problem is with my phone.”

But a voice inside yelled, “Wait! My phone will send messages to anyone except you. I bet the problem is with your phone. But what could it be. I checked and I am in your Contacts. You are in mine.”

Then it hit me. YOU BLOCKED ME! You, and your 85-year-old fingers doing that random tapping thing they do when they try to work an iPhone, blocked me.

I Googled, “How to unblock someone” and said, “Can I see your phone?”

Sure enough I was blocked.

How to fix it.

I thought I would share the process of unblocking someone for you so you can unblock yourself on your elderly mom of dad’s iPhone.

Setting panel showing Phone
Go to Settings and tap Phone
Screen showing Blocking & Identification
Tap Blocking & Identification
Screen showing blocked contacts, and me blocked several times.
There I am… Blocked… from home, from work, from EVERYWHERE!
Slide your name to the left to show the “Unblock” button. Tap “Unblock”

Repeat unblocking for as many times as it takes to remove yourself from your dad’s blacklist.

Go back to the Home screen so your dad doesn’t get lost in Settings and screw something else up. Turn the phone off and set it in front of your dad.

Then smugly take out your own phone and text him “You blocked me!”

When he says, “How did I do that?”, say, “I don’t know, you crazy old man! I don’t understand half of the messes your fat fingers get into on that phone.” Or say, “I don’t know, Father. But we got it fixed now, so that is good.”

Make him pay for lunch.

Mr. Positive Writes a Christmas Letter

The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2018

Family photo at the saint Louis Arch
On our way to California we stopped at the St. Louis Arch, and some of the freaks climbed into the tiny capsule to ride to the top. The normal peeps stated on the ground.

This letter was slow in coming because I could not think of anything positive to write. But then I heard a radio preacher talking about why Jesus came into the world. The angel said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This preacher pointed out that it doesn’t say Jesus will save me from annoying people, a dead-end job, or rotten children. He will only save me from my sins. After hearing that, I find my peeps don’t bug me nearly as much, and I can carry on writing this letter with a positive outlook.

Helen

Helen is a 19-year-old college student at Western Technical College. She is taking general studies courses and has no clue what she wants to do when she runs out of time and has to choose a major. Helen likes hanging out with friends, lamenting about the homework she did not do while hanging out with friends, getting straight A-s in spite of not doing her homework, and swing dancing when she should be studying for an Anatomy and Physiology final exam. Helen is the only Hale who knows how to work. She works at a children’s second-hand clothing boutique, and at church as a nursery supervisor. She attends a CRU Bible study at school, and co-leads a Bible study for middle-schoolers on Wednesday nights. (Is this chick the perfect wife for your son, or what? But I digress.)

Helen smiling in a canoe on the lake
Helen, the perfect child, is brighter than the sun itself.

Claire

ink self portrait of Claire

Claire, our 17-year-old, is a senior at Aquinas Catholic High School. Claire hates school and dislikes her teachers. She hates life and my dog. She hates injustice, capitalism, and the patriarchy. She is nice to me, though, so I let her live in my house. Claire works at an ice cream parlor/coffee shop where she gets half-priced drinks and treats. She’s happy when she comes home from there. Claire will go to school for art next year, but she knows not where. Claire is unable to ride a bike or walk to work or school because she suffers from a disease called 17-year-old.

Claire by a drawing of Ann Wheeler
Claire specializes in drawing little pictures of pretty girls. In this drawing, she shows her creativity by drawing a large picture of a pretty girl.

Edward

Edward Luke in a cycling jersey

Edward, our 15-year-old, is a busy kid, but not the kind of busy that results in an engineering degree. More like the kind of busy that results in a lot of YouTube watching and practicing double tail whips on his trick scooter. He is a sophomore at Aquinas Catholic High School where he majors in pranks and making disgusting noises with his mouth. Edward is also good at eating and sleeping, but not so much at bathing. Last summer Edward worked for a trail building company. He and a few other guys built a pump track, that turned a dead park into one of the most active spots in town. Edward is a hard worker, if he is directed by someone other than me. He has a winsome personality that makes him a favorite with everyone… except his siblings… and maybe his AHS vice principal. Edward’s newest obsession is finger boarding. Imagine a teen driving a tiny skateboard on the kitchen table with his index and middle fingers—causing it to jump and spin and “grind” across random books and my laptop, then exclaiming, “Did you see that? That was an 840 triple knock bucket down sample!” Yes, this activity seems destined to be Edward’s focus for 2019. I have very high hopes.

Edward and Nikole
In a rare moment of compliance, Edward poses with his mother. Please appreciate the effort it took for him to not make a stupid face.
Edward with a surf board
Super model, Edward Hale, on the beach in Venture, California. (Photo by super photographer, Claire)

Ruthie

Ruthie in cycling jersey

Ruthie, our 12-year-old, is the same, except taller. Ruthie spends half of her day being a sweet and positive presence in our lives and half arguing, fighting, glaring, and rolling her eyes. She smacks little sisters and flashes looks at me that scare me a little. Ruthie is a 7th grader at Aquinas Middle School. She ran cross country for Aquinas. She raced for the local co-op mountain bike team. She swims for the YMCA. Ruthie also plays piano, percussion, and violin. I don’t know if Ruthie gets good grades. I think her teachers are afraid to give her a report card.

Ruthie with a fish in a pail
Ruthie caught this fish off the end of the dock and kept him in a bucket for an hour so he could think about his poor life choices, before she poured him back into the lake.

Bethany

Bethany by a bunch of Easter eggs

Bethany, our 10-year-old, is a sweet little chick who should probably be adopted by a family who shows up on‑time for things. She spends her mornings stressed out by feet-dragging siblings who are unmotivated to get to school. She spends her afternoons worrying about getting to swim team on time. But she is not an anxious person. She will be fine when she is old enough to get herself where she needs to be. Bethany plays the violin in the school orchestra and takes piano lessons. Bethany gets her homework done early.

Ed and Bethany at Bean Juice Coffee Shop
Bethany said, “I wish I had a table like this in my bedroom, just big enough for a book and a bookmark.” (Dream kid)

Lydia

Lydia with a birthday cake shaped like a chicken

Lydia, our 8-year-old, is spoiled. She is sort of cute. She still plays with dolls. But she takes advantage of our parenting fatigue to stretch the boundaries of obedience and civility. She refuses to answer when called and will never do what she is asked to do. (Except feed the dog. She will give her time to him.) She is our invisible child, always maneuvering under the radar. If we ever leave a kid at a rest stop, it will be her.

Lydia laughing
She is the forgotten, sixth child, but she appears to be doing okay. (Photo by Claire)

Nikole

Nikole at a coffee shop

Nikole is super buff, super mom. She loves spending her days driving her kids to practices, lessons, rehearsals, parties and play dates. When she is not driving, she is on her phone texting other mothers about driving kids around. Nikole is into fitness. She loves Burn Bootcamp, and going running with her mom posse. She did a half-marathon last fall and is signed up for a 25K trail race next year. Nikole volunteers at our church’s Wednesday night kids’ program as a 5th grade girls’ discussion leader. She still grinds wheat and bakes bread. She is cranking out the good works for her family, her Lord, and for her pipes. She is the real deal.

nikole with three running moms
Nikole with three other members of the Running Mom Posse, looking buff in the great outdoors.
Nikole and Ed by the frozen Mississippi
We celebrated 22 years of marriage by going to a B&B in Afton, Minnesota in early March. Nikole could not go farther because her brave husband cannot go in an airplane.

Eddie

I am 54.

Claire and Ed at Grounded Coffee Shop
All I ask is that one of my kids takes me to coffee once a day. Is that too much?
Edward, Ed and Jack the dog
Men

Jack

Jack The Dog is our 5-year-old yellow lab. He enjoys sleeping, eating, long walks, trail runs and sleeping. Jack still refuses to sit on my lap.

Jack with a heart stuck to his lip
On Valentines Day Jack fell asleep on a valentine from one of his little sisters. There is something dignified about a watch dog who does not realize he has a big piece of paper stuck to his lip.
Jack with a parakeet inches from his nose.
Mr. Self Control.

In Closing…

We hope your Christmas is full of the joy and peace the Christ Child offers, and each of you gets a fat bike in your stocking.

Portrait of an oak tree

Or, Why oak trees hold their leaves all winter?

Ink drawing of a little oak tree

There is a little oak tree on the route of my daily dog walk, and Jack and I often remark about how pretty it is— the way it holds its leaves through the winter. I like it so much I drew a picture of it. (Not a realistic drawing, but my impression of the tree, because it poses out in the cold and I often draw late at night in my nice, warm house.)

I started wondering why oak trees hold onto their leaves through the winter. I learned two things:

  1. Holding one’s withered leaves through the winter is called marcescence. I recommend you use this in general conversation over the Christmas holiday, to impress your in-laws who have never appreciated the depth of your wisdom and knowledge and general value in the whole scheme of things.
  2. Nobody knows why some trees, including oaks, keep their leaves over winter.

The reason oak trees keep their leaves over winter…

I will tell you why I believe oak trees keep their leaves. You see, when God was inventing trees on the third day, He was feeling all creative. I imagine him saying,

“Okay, so that is a tree, with thin, needle-like leaves, bark and photosynthesis and all that.

Nice.

Wait, I’m going to make another kind of tree with big, flat leaves.

Yeah!

Dude, I’m going to make all kinds of different flat leaf shapes.

YEAH!

Wait, Wait! I will make the flat leaves turn all kinds of beautiful colors in autumn.

Yeah.

Then they’ll all fall off so Ed can rake them off his brown lawn.

Done.

No, wait! I’m going to make, um oak trees, hold onto their leaves through the winter. Oh man, this is going to freak people out. They are going to fall all over each other trying to figure out why oak trees do it. I can’t wait to see what sort of explanations they will come up with.

Bang!

That’s an oak tree”

The preceding is not Biblical, but I am pretty sure it is true.

Ink drawing of a little oak tree being held up next to said oak treeThank you, little oak tree, for being different, and thank you, God, for making things down here so weird and wonderful.

 

My #OptOutside Black Friday

sketch of me wearing lots of layersWhen my beautiful wife and her two oldest daughters left the house to go shopping at 6:30am on Black Friday, I layered up in active wear and rode my mountain bike toward the woods. I wanted to be like a model on the REI Co-op web site doing exciting outdoor things while the rest of the world was at the mall. I left my sleeping kids in the care of their sleeping 15-year-old brother.

A Chance Encounter

Sketch of a buck eating leavesI rode up the bluff on the Vista trail. It was 37 degrees and the trails were hard and clear of snow. I stopped half way up to shed some layers. As I packed my jacket in my jersey pocket, I looked around at the beautiful, brown forest. I was surprised to find a buck, about 10 yards from me, crunching dried leaves off a downed tree. I said out loud, “Oh yeah, it’s hunting season. You’re not like all angry and in rut, are you?”

He replied, “No, it’s cool. I’m just chillin’ in the park enjoying those, ‘No Firearms On City Property’ signs.”

No Firearms on City Property

I told him I thought that was a good idea. I wished him a good day and continued my climb.

The Route

When I reached the top of the bluff, I rode the Quarry Connector trail to Stinky’s, then Bob and Twister. I ruminated about the deer’s concern for gun safety, and I hoped my vintage orange cycling jersey would be enough to alert any lost hunters to the presence of a human when they heard something moving through the woods.

Adventure Boy Lives His #OptOutside Dream

I planned to finish my ride with a break by the pump track, but it was windy and cold on the very top of the ridge. I got back on my bike and rode down through the prairie to the pines at the beginning of Stinky’s. The wind sneaked through the trees searching for me. I found a place that made a good wind break and sat on the ground to eat my first breakfast. (It was my first, because I would have to indulge in another breakfast when I got home to my sleeping kids.)

Sketch of me eating a sandwich and drinking coffee

Adventure Boy at home in the woods

I pulled from my backpack a peanut butter sandwich and a Kleen Kanteen thermos (which I had stolen from my 19-year-old) full of hot coffee. I sat on the ground dining and telling myself I was the most adventurous, rugged cowboy in town… maybe in the world. It was a most excellent time. I wish every breakfast could be just like it.

Here ends the good part of the story. I made it down off the bluff safely, and got home to enjoy eggs and toast with my Ruthie. (Edward slept until noon.)

Looking For Work

I really think I would benefit from a job in which I go on long mountain bike rides and drink coffee in the woods. If you know anyone hiring for that, please let me know in the comments below.

Riding with local powerbrokers

I went on a 64-mile bike ride last Saturday with the local B-Team. Our plan was to start a few minutes after the A-Team and pick up their stragglers as we went.

About 20 minutes into the ride, we caught two old guys on a climb. As we rode the next 40 miles, the two old guys proved to be strong riders, pushing the pace on the flats. I learned that one of the old guys was Steve O’Mally, LaCrosse County Adminstrator. I bet you wish your county administrator were as fit as ours.

Steve O'Mally, Mark Brum cycling

Mark Brum, Steve O’Mally, Michelle Ericsson and Gary Terbeest bringing it home in the Lions Ride For Sight. Where is JP the Locomotive? He is back on the horizon pulling two riders up to the lead peloton. Try not to notice that I was in the wrong lane to take this photo.

Steve O'Mally's keens cycling sandals

What’s cooler than being the cycling county administrator? Riding 64 miles in Keens cycling sandals.

I spent the whole ride hoping Mark Brum and JP Ericsson would not notice that I carefully avoided taking the lead or breaking the wind. I think I was only out of their protective draft for 400 yards of the 64 miles.

Mark Brum Cycling

I believe there is none on the road with a better riding form than Mark Brum. He is smooth, always in just the right cadence and never bobs or looks strained. But he doesn’t do Strava, so he’s not perfect.

The 2017 Hale Family Christmas Letter

The family photo

I have endeavored to write an orderly account for you, most excellent reader, of the Hale family and their impact on the author of this letter, because, like everything else, this family and this letter are all about me. Let’s be real.

Helen in graduation regalia and Ed take a selfie

My most beautifulest daughter graduated from high school this year. She seldom accompanies me on long bike rides, but is always ready to take a selfie with her Dad.

Helen is the best kid we have. Unlike the other Hale children, she responds normally to stimuli, like another human saying “Hello.” She graduated from high school this year and is now attending the most prestigious public college in Wisconsin. She visits me in my office between classes and even acknowledges me when she sees me in the hallway. Helen balances college, homework, a landscaping career and supervising a room full of kids in the church nursery, all the while leading an active social life. I would like to say that she is at the top of her class, but how would I know that? She is an adult and I am just an employee of the college she attends. It would be impossible for me to know. But she is probably doing very well. She has the blood of the great Edward Hale coursing through her veins.

Claire under sheer yellow fabric

Drama, beauty, chai tea. That about sums up Claire.

Claire told me I cannot tell you she has a negative attitude. Neither can I discuss swimming. Remember the friend you had in high school who would say, “Well, I bombed that test”? Then, you find out that that friend got the highest score on the test. That is Claire. She sucks at everything. I mean, if you consider high test scores, varsity athletics and the production of beautiful art to be sucking, then she is the worst. Claire’s only redeeming quality is that she enjoys taking her father out for coffee a couple times a week.

Edward Erdmann, Edward Hale, and the younger Edward Hale in the Black Hills

Several men named Edward took a hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota together. There was no cycling involved, but thankfully that younger Edward was wearing a cycling t-shirt. (I think it goes without saying that I have the best hair.)

Edward plays the drums. He went to Florida with the school band. He did a little balcony jumping and littering. He did not buy me a souvenir. Edward grows luscious, long, curly hair in a school with a “No Distracting Hair” policy. He lives in constant fear. Edward does a lot of homework and watches a lot of useless YouTube videos. Edward’s only redeeming quality is that he enjoys riding and racing mountain bikes. Some wonder if he rides faster than his dad, but I think it is stupid even to consider such a possibility.

Ed, Ruthie and Nikole take a selfie at a race course.

Try not to fixate on that beautiful, blue, Merino Wool, long-sleeved jersey from New Zealand. Also notice the beautiful women next to it. 11-year-old Ruthie is fresh off the Nordic Mountain race course. I cannot remember how she did, but I am sure she dominated in true Hale form.

I am trying to think of how to describe Ruthie without using the word, “sneaky,” or the phrase “selective hearing.” Ruthie is, um, “focused.” Ruthie reads a lot. Ruthie disappears when work is to be done. She is easy to find, though. You just follow the sound of her little sisters yelling, “Ruthie, stop it!” Ruthie is an upperclassman at her little Catholic school. She plays violin and is picking up percussion. We hope one day she will be that hip, well-rounded chick who runs from the orchestra pit, to sit behind the drum set in the jazz band. Ruthie’s most redeeming quality is that she rides and races mountain bikes. Ruthie is more willing than her brother to ride in adverse conditions,telling me she will go to the world championships someday. If she does not win, she will steal the first-place trophy.

Bethany and Ed in a selfie at a bike race course

Knowing that the way to her father’s heart is through cycling, Bethany volunteered to help set up the muddy race course at Seeley, Wisconsin. And I think she might have been the most focused and diligent volunteer present.

Bethany is easily the best Hale kid after Helen. She is beautiful, with big, brown eyes and curly hair. Her disposition is predominantly positive. She arrives at her obligations on-time. She has a clean desk. I think Bethany might not be related to me. Bethany plays the violin. (She stinks, which is a nice bit of humble in an otherwise perfect kid.) Oh, and though she reads very well, she has never returned a library book on-time, and constantly maintains a huge fine balance.

Lydia in purple hoodie

A beautiful photo of my youngest, taken by my beautiful wife. That slouching man in the background wearing the red jacket is not me. I never slouch and I have big muscles.

Lydia is milking the whole “baby of the family” thing for all its worth. She responds to directives and questions with grunts and dirty looks. She has learned that obedience is a suggestion rather than a requirement. Though she is as big as her older sister, she still needs help getting dressed and pouring her milk. On the positive side, Lydia reads well and, in class projects, she writes fictional stories about her happy home life. She has distinguished herself as a kid who fills the world with pretty works of art.

Ed takes a selfie with Jack the dog

Jack likes this photo because it hides his great, soft girth.

Jack is my emotional support animal. He is not good for much of anything else. He sheds, he snores and food falls out of his loose, floppy lips when he eats. Though I invite him, he refuses to sit on my lap. But, he does greet me with great enthusiasm every morning when I swing my legs out of bed and every time I return home. I pet him and scratch him and thank him that dog owners are statistically more likely to be happy and live a long life. Then I look at his big, square, fat head and think, “I bet a chihuahua would do the same thing.”

Nikole takes a selfie with Bethany

Nikole looking pretty at a June Dairy Breakfast in Bangor, Wisconsin. Check out the farmer in the background who wishes he had some sunglasses.

Nikole, how do I enumerate the positive qualities in a benevolent homemaker living among cavemen? The woman does it all. She feeds an army. She herds cats. She overlooks the most slovenly breadwinner the world has ever known, all the while getting fitter, smarter and more talented in the arts of sewing, knitting, cooking and battlefield first-aid. Nikole attends Bible Study Fellowship, a secret society of Jesus Freaks, and a prayer group for women with good-looking husbands. A recent hip injury has stalled Nikole’s Olympic distance running hopes for this year. Instead, she has taken to going on slow walks with a man and his dog.

I have not changed, though I am much older than last year. I don’t do much. I eat a lot of sugar and drink coffee like a fish drinks water. While other men are building additions on their homes, I am sketching flowers in my journal. My main goal in life is to be more fit. I want to ride my bike like a 20-year-old. I spend all my time exercising or thinking about exercising, mostly thinking. Sometimes I force one of my offspring to accompany me in my activity. But I only have a couple offspring who are game for that. If I did not have a great job that lets me teach a couple classes between sessions of push-ups and planks in my office, I would be completely and utterly void of value. I can fry an egg, though. I am good for that. I still don’t have a fatbike.

At this time of year, let’s not dwell on how awesome the Hales are. Let’s think instead ­­of how awesome God is for coming to earth as a little baby. Let’s celebrate his birth. And eat lots of frosted cookies.

God Bless You!

Why I love the high school mountain bike racing season

Ed being served pancakes by a butler

This is my impression of the trials I endure as a coach for the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team.

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association high school mountain bike racing season just came to an end. I was one of a dozen coaches for the La Crosse Area team, and the season was very good to me. I was forced to ride my bike consistently, and leave the house occasionally to travel to races and camp in a tent.

Recently, I was at Paul and Jenny Fisher’s house, eating chili and apple crisp, when the subject of conversation turned to mountain biking. Jenny asked me, “Eddie, how do they get you to camp out, when you hate camping?”

In perfect harmony, Nikole and I said, “It’s not really camping.”

I went on, “When we arrive at the race course, I ride around the course a couple times with some of the racers. While I’m riding, someone else sets up the tent. Then a bunch of parents cook a meal.”

She said, “Oh yeah, cooking is the hardest part of camping.”

I agreed, “Yeah. Then we sit around a camp fire and talk smart. Then I sleep in my down sleeping bag. In the morning, a bunch of parents make a hot breakfast. I eat, then ride around the course a couple more times with some of the racers warming up. Then I cheer for the kids in the races. Then I eat a lunch that someone else makes.”

Mr. Fisher said, “Wait! You mean you basically eat, sleep and ride your bike?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “Mr. Hale, you’re a genius.”

Yes. Yes I am.

But I acknowledge that it is the work of all the other coaches and parents that makes my race weekends so wonderfully happy. I am truly thankful for all that they do.

Noteworthy Peeps:

Josh Shively, our head coach and possibly the nicest man you will ever meet.

Mary Luebke, one of our food czars and taker of excellent photographs.

Dan Speckeen, a very happy coach who also organizes food, cooks a mean pancake, shows up early to claim campsites and likes coffee.

There are at least a dozen other coaches and spouses who work very hard to make the race weekends all they can be for Ed. I am thankful for all of them.

sunrise in the camp site

Morning dawns, and the world says, “Ed, what can I do for you today?” (Dan Speckeen, in the middle of the photo, is one of the food organizers, and the manager of my caffeine needs on race weekends.)

Camping in a farm field

This is a common race weekend campground — tents and campers gathered into “compounds” in an un-mowed farm field. The nearest plumbing is five miles away.

Ruthie racing and smiling

Honestly, this is what it is really all about… seeing Ruthie wearing her race face.

Edward racing

The Hale kid out on the race course.

Ruth standing with some of her racing friends

You should all get your daughters into mountain bike racing. The ladies have a lot of fun. They cheer for each other, even for those on other teams. Nobody sits on the bench. The cheering crowds are just as big for their races as for any of the others. It is a good sport.