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 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 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… 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 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 (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.


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 (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 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


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 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

2 thoughts on “Christmas Letter 2019

  1. Thanks for the update. I believe that “soda-jerk” is a time honored profession. I know that because my father was one; at a particular time in his life.

    • I know! And isn’t it a wonderful name for a job? It makes me picture happy people plunking their nickel down on the counter in exchange for that tall glass of goodness. Wear the label proudly, Soda Jerks! Spread the joy!

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