The Hale Christmas Letter 2020

It was my best year ever. Think about it: A germaphobe, introvert awkward nerd is told he has to stay home, wash his hands and wear a face mask. It’s like heaven on earth. I did not like the part where I had to fight my wife and kids who mostly wanted to congregate with friends and lick doorknobs.

Here is some stuff about our fam:


Helen hiking the Quarry

Helen is a student in the Graphic Design program at Western. She is not in GD to get a job in GD. She is taking classes to ward off the “What are you going to do with your life” questions from her mother. (I think it is a great gig – I want it too.) When Helen is not crying about assignment due dates, she is scooping at The Pearl Ice Cream Shop. That’s pretty much it for her… crying and scooping. Helen rides her bike to and from work every day, which makes her one of her father’s favorites, and she is the most on-board with my “Save Ed At All Costs” covid restrictions. 


Back when Claire lived in the Mid-West

Claire is in California for the semester living in a mansion with a rich aunt and uncle. She takes on-line classes at Western. When she graduates in May, she plans to use her diploma to blow her nose, as she has no intention of going to work in the graphic design field. Like her older sister, she is in college pursuing the “Get Off My Back, Mom” degree. She plans to make a career collecting plastic bottles for trendy companies that make women’s clothing from recycled trash. When she’s not crying about the empty shelf of Gluten-free Pumpkin bagels at Trader Joe’s, Claire is selling used books at a store in Ventura, California.


The curly haired Edward

Edward is a scooter rider. I would like to say he is a humanitarian and a scholar who rides a scooter in his free time. But he is a scooter rider first, primarily concerned with how long he can go backwards on one wheel or how many times he can spin the deck off the big jump at the skate park. Notable events for Edward: He worked all summer building trails, he teased his long, beautiful hair into dreadlocks, he went to State with his cross-country team (pushing from the back, as Hales are known to do), and he shaved his dreadlocks off just to surprise his family. When he is not doing bar spins, Edward is getting 14 hours of sleep a day and watching scooter tricks on YouTube. 

The dreadlocks flying over Westby, Wisconsin
Mr. Studious, with the short hair


Ruthie and math book
Tirelessly doing her homework.

Ruthie is the perfect child. She practices her violin (every third Tuesday). She rides her mountain bike, but not as often as she plays violin. She runs cross-country and reads novels during on-line lectures. When she’s not looking at her iPhone screen, Ruthie is looking at someone else’s iPhone screen. 


Nikole and Bethany Selfie
Bethany with Mom mountain biking in Upper Hixon

Bethany is the second middle child. I am not sure what Bethany likes or does. I’m not even sure if she still lives with us. Bethany is a hard-working student at her school (that meets in-person every day). She plays the violin and flute with the same diligence as her older sister, Ruthie. Bethany rode with the local mountain bike team, ran cross-country, and swims for the YMCA. When Bethany is not being forgotten at the Y, she is jumping on the trampoline or playing with the kids next door.


Here is the best kid heading out for a cold ride with Dad.
Wash your hands after you handle that farm animal!

Oh, I am so bored describing children. Aren’t you bored reading about them? This sums up my parenting of the sixth kid, Lydia. She glides through life doing what she pleases because her parents are too tired to guide or discipline her. I think the neighbors across the alley might be raising her. (Just so you don’t feel like you have to call the County People on us, I will admit that Lydia’s mother sometimes pays attention to her feeding and whereabouts.) Lydia plays the violin and percussion. She rode illegally (under-aged) with the mountain bike team and swims for the Y. Lydia rides her bike to school every day, no matter the weather. I’ve seen her strap a violin case over her full backpack and ride down the alley at 23°. She’s amazing. 


Claire and Nikole post run in Hixon Forest
Post-run in Hixon Forest

Nikole is as awe-inspiring as ever. She leads a Bible study, volunteers with AWANA and coaches a huge pod of girls on the mountain bike team. She feeds and clothes six beautiful children and one slovenly husband. On top of all this, she runs, rides and pumps iron like a boss. She’s basically a Runners World cover model (but she will ask me to edit that part out).


Always ready with a face covering.

Ed News: My shoulder hurts.


Jack The Dog is a svelte, flappy-lipped, trail runner. He rests a lot but refuses to sit on my lap. Jack contracted Lime disease and is now addicted to antibiotics and Braunschweiger. When Jack is not wandering the neighborhood untethered and unsupervised, he is sleeping on the forbidden leather couch.

May you have a blessed Christmas, celebrating our Savior’s birth. And we hope your stocking is stuffed with hand-sanitizer, and you wake up on the 25th to a brand-new fat bike under your Christmas tree.

God Bless you

A Pleasant Sort of Crash

Ink drawing of a mountain biker crashing into a tree

This is not the story of when I broke my collarbone. Spoiler Alert: I don’t get hurt in this story.

Training for the Big Event

This past summer a local bike group dreamed up a virtual event named The Unicorn. During the month of July, riders were challenged to ride the outer edges of our trail system in a clockwise, then counter-clockwise direction as many times as they could in five hours. I had been training for The Unicorn, but all my rides were short. I needed some big mile rides.

Today was the day I was going to ride three laps. I didn’t have time for five hours, but I could try for three laps. I did one lap like a champion. But on the second lap I started feeling sloppy. I was making mistakes. I chose bad lines. I lost traction and had to get off the bike. I was not the same champion that I was on lap one.

A Sign From God

I do this thing, sometimes, where I ask God for a sign. Nothing big. I don’t need bread to rain down from the sky. I ask for simple things like this: “God, I want to go down that road and get in more miles, but maybe I should go home and hang with the fam. If you don’t want me to go down that road, make the next car that passes me, turn down that road.” And then I do whatever he “says.”

When I started making mistakes on lap two, I asked God for a sign. I said, “God, If you want me to cut this workout short and go home, make me tick a tree with my handlebar but not crash.” About 30 seconds later I touched a tree with the very tip of the right side of my handlebar. But I barely touched it. It wasn’t a “tick” as much as it was a “Ssss” — the faintest of brushes.

I said out loud, “Really?” But what I meant was “Really, God? I ask for a tick and you give me that ambiguous brushing? Now I have to discern if that was a message from you or not?”

That very moment I hooked my handlebar on a small tree. My bike turned sharply left. I was thrown through the air and landed on the trail with an audible “Ugh!” I was perfectly unscathed. My bike was unharmed. I got up slowly and got back on my bike.

Now, I am not a prophet, but I believe with all my heart that I received two messages from God that day. One said, “Ssss, go home.” The other said, “Oh you’re unhappy with my soft voice? Let me throw you on the ground so you can more easily judge if your handlebar ticked a tree or not.”

I think it was hilarious. Message received. I rode slowly and carefully out of the woods and headed for home.

I have ridden that section of trail numerous times since then and I cannot find any tree so close to the trail that it would grab someone’s handlebar. Thus, I am convinced even more that my smackdown was of a Devine nature.

God, you are amazing. Thank you for snapping me in half like a toothpick.

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 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

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 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.


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 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 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 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 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 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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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.