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!

The Hale Family 2016 Year In Review

Editor’s Note: In the past the Hale Christmas letter has leaned too far towards self-depricating humor. This letter is an effort to push the pendulum back toward the center.

Laying on the Awesome, Thick and Strong

One of my kids recently justified her lack of goals by saying, “But, Dad, you always say how we are mediocre in our Christmas letter.” So, I had to explain to that child that “mediocre” is a joke, and the “Awesome” runs deep in the Hale family.

In a former life, Mr. Hale was an intimidating cyclist. Mrs. Hale, in her youth, was a three-sport varsity athlete. Both were straight-A students. Are you feeling the seeds of awe?

The biggest family news is that the local Catholic prep school so desired the presence of the Hale Awesome Train that they offered each of the kids a full-ride scholarship. Now, the formerly pajama-clad home schoolers must rise at the unmerciful hour of 6:30am to prepare for the freezing trip to school. Twice a year Nikole and I are forced to sit through parent-teacher conferences to hear how polite, conscientious, and hard-working our kids are. We just hold up our hands and say, “You don’t have to tell us how awesome they are. It’s genetic.”

Edward by the Aquinas bus

Edward Luke wearing his “Most Awesome 8th-Grader” Medal

Swimming is still the dominant sport in our family, and our kids regularly dominate. When average kids are honing their Xbox skills, the Hale kids are honing their front crawls and flip turns. Helen and Claire both lettered on the high school swim team. Bethany recently qualified for the YMCA State Meet. They are all just getting stronger, more chiseled and… well… awesome. The only un-awesome part of swimming is the constant driving to three different flavors of practice. Sometime after Lydia graduates from high school, we plan to have our first supper together.

Helen

Helen with her birthday cake

The most beautiful 17-year-old in the mid-west. Now she is almost 18.

Helen (17) manages to be awesome on five or six hours of sleep every night. Helen does sports, helps with the school play, and is constantly working on an art project. She hangs out with the church youth group. Helen does well in every school subject, including the very un-artsy subject of math. It is not uncommon for her to be at the table working on an oil painting, and suddenly lean over and say to a sibling, “You gotta use the quadratic formula for that problem.” (What even is that?) I want her to become a professor of mathology, but she has this silly notion that she might go into art. This past summer Helen was a landscaper. She built stone walls. She moved tons of earth with shovel and barrow. She got tan. If Helen could, she would spend all her time painting, drawing and reading books. Helen is my favorite child, because she enjoys going to the coffee shop with me and drinking chai tea. (She drinks the tea. I drink manly coffee.)

Claire

Claire in Festival Foods uniform

Claire getting ready to spread the awesome over Festival Foods. She won’t put the 64-ounce can of beef on top of your bread.

Claire is awesome and thinks all of you who start your paragraphs with something like, “Claire (15)” are lame. So, I will not tell you how old Claire is. Just know that she is somewhere between Helen (17) and Edward (13). She cannot yet drive a car. She is a couple years away from voting. Claire spreads the awesome pretty evenly over her life. She was at the top of the high school swim team. She is number 1 or 2 on the YMCA swim team. Claire enjoys rising before the sun. She showers, eats breakfast, gets beautiful and spends the hour from 6:30-7:30am tapping her foot and saying, “Can we leave for school now?” Though she claims to dislike it, Claire is thriving at high school. She gets excellent grades (except in that stupid class about biology. But who cares about that?). On every third Saturday, Claire works as a bagger at Festival Foods. If Claire were free, she would spend her time reading books, and drawing perfect illustrations of superstars and ballerinas in the margins of her biology notebook.

Edward

Nikole and Edward

This photo was chosen because Claire said Edward looks cute in it. Yes, let the record state that Claire thinks her brother is cute.

Edward (13) is awesome because this year he raced mountain bikes. I need say nothing more. But I will. Edward joined the all-city mountain bike team, training and racing on the ratty, old, used mountain bike his father bought for him. He so distinguished himself that the coach placed him on a loaner Trek Excalibur 6 Hardtail 29er. On the new bike, he quickly rocketed up to the same position he occupied before the new bike… but, man, did he ever look good. Edward made the podium in three of the four mountain bike races and helped the team to place fourth in the state. Edward is awesome in school and gets good grades, but just to keep it real, he gets a C in religion class. If Edward were a free man, he would read books and build Lego creations all day. He hopes to become an engineer and get a job at Lego.

Ruthie

Ruth with her egg drop box.

Having dominated the egg drop competition at school, Ruthie poses with her technology. (That’s right. Three drops from three stories. No sweat.)

Ruthie (10) is awesome because she likes to hang out with her dad. She and I work on social studies homework together. She still likes me to read to her. Ruthie swims on the YMCA team like all the Hale kids. Ruthie began her volleyball career this year — and there are few things more awesome in athletic prowess and volleyball awareness than a fifth-grade volleyball team. (Well, maybe more than a few things.) My greatest hope for Ruthie’s awesomeness is her desire to be on the all-city mountain bike team next year. Before the snow ruined everything, she and I would regularly go on rides in Hixon Forest to train for next year. I can see us now, traveling to mountain bike races together… me consuming coffee and M&Ms in the driver’s seat and her reading out loud to me from the passenger seat. When Ruthie grows up she is going to be a lawyer, “…because they make a lot of money.”

Bethany

Bethany in a kayak

Explorer, Bethany Jane, leaving for a paddle around the lake.

Bethany (8) continues to be awesome in her complete selflessness. She is a sweet child and has so far resisted the Creep training she gets from her siblings. Bethany is responsible. She gets her homework done on time. She, like her sister Claire, enjoys arriving early for school, but unlike her big sister, she does it without the toe tapping and harassment. Bethany cannot spell. When she is not studying for a spelling test, Bethany is playing pretend games with her little sister (that usually involve being clad in swim suits while the wind chill outside is -30°).

Lydia

Bethany with a hen

Farmer girl, Lydia, holding one of her backyard hens.

Lydia (6) is a wildcard. She is very smart, but displays awesome stubbornness. She can read, but she would rather plant her feet, clamp her mouth shut and refuse. Lydia swims competitively, like her older siblings. She plays with her dog. She starts works of art, but seldom finishes them. If Lydia were free, she would play with her dog and move in with her friends across the alley.

The Parental Units

Nikole and Eddie at a lighthouse

Nikole and Eddie celebrated their 20th anniversary in Door County Wisconsin.

Nikole (young) is the same. She runs. She lifts. She rides those silly stationary bikes at the YMCA with the other creatures of the pre-dawn. She cooks for her army platoon. She attends a Bible study. She volunteers at her kids’ schools. She’s, like, awesome. She drives children around a lot. I seldom see her. This fall Nikole went to Uganda with several lady friends to teach women to sew on treadle sewing machines. She also taught the women about human trafficking, hygiene and female things that manly men like me just don’t want to know about.

I am awesome at school, where I teach children to draw with their hands and with computers. I teach them how to build web sites. And the state sends wheel barrows full of cash to my bank. My athletic awesomeness is waning. My only physical activity is walking a very worthless dog every morning. I am sure if I had a few more bicycles, I could find the time to ride them. But my backward-thinking wife believes that seven bikes and a tandem are enough. How could I possibly stay interested with only seven bikes? Not awesome. Because Western Technical College is not big enough to contain my awesomeness, I got a part time job at Duluth Trading Company. No, I am not designing their catalog. I am selling pants and underwear to tradesmen. It is a very fun job. The boss likes nothing better than to see me talking to some old guy about what he does for a living and the proper length of a belt. When I am not teaching or selling extra-extra-extra-large t-shirts, I like to draw. I draw doodles in my journal. And I draw involved illustrations with my classes at school. If I were a free man, I would ride bikes all day and draw dog portraits all night.

Jack the Dog

Jake the dog

Jack hanging at the lake and smelling like a wet dog.

Jack the dog is very consistent. He is very obedient, if you are holding a dog treat. He enjoys running with his mom. He also enjoys mountain biking with his big brother. He really enjoys sleeping.

My editor suggested I include one serious paragraph, and I said, “What do you mean? It’s all serious (except the part about full scholarships to the Catholic school).” So, seriously, we have had a pretty good year. Our little house is still standing. Everyone has at least one bicycle. We are all well fed. We hope your life is ten times more awesome than ours… as if that is even possible. And we hope you have a happy Christmas.

Helen’s High School Acting Debut

Drawing of Helen in a maid's outfit

The beautiful Helen Hale before she was famous

Last week, Helen’s High School put on their spring play — The Miracle Worker, the Story of Helen Keller. It was excellent. I cried through several Kleenexes.

Helen, my eldest daughter, was a wordless servant and manager of stage and props. The play would have been a total flop without her work. The part where my Helen swept up the food after the breakfast fight scene was very touching. She took the audience through the range of emotions. We laughed when she flinched at the mess. We cried when she missed a big piece of fake scrambled eggs.

Claire, my second daughter, was in charge of Helen Keller’s hair. It was a mystery how Claire could rebuild the actress’s hair after every episode of great struggle. Every time Helen Keller came back on stage, the audience would gasp and whisper, “Oh, look at those braids. How many hair dressers are behind that curtain?”

If you are on facebook, you can see a photo of Helen subtly controlling the play from behind the action here:

https://www.facebook.com/something-something

The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2015

Six Annoying Children, A Good Looking Man, and A Woman on the Edge

This summer, we drove to Colorado for a Hale family reunion. We picked up some old guy hitch-hiking just outside La Crosse, and he turned out to be my dad. He enjoyed a long, loud ride out west with his grandkids. After we got back home, we didn’t see him for a month.

The Hale family in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign

The Hales in Colorado, in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign.

Hale Family in front of Rocky Mountain National Park sign

There were a lot of Hales in Colorado this summer. And some Maedkes, Haases, Henrys and Wardens

Chicken Man

I realized a lifelong goal this summer, when I raised chickens from eggs. I told the kids the chickens would like us, if we were the first thing they saw after they hatched. They are grown now. They hate us…  and run when we approach.

Nikole holding a yellow chick

Nikole with one of my homegrown baby chicks before said chick understood he should hate humans.

Helen with several teen-aged chicks in her hands

Teen-aged chicks are not pretty. This was about the last time they thought we were okay.

The end of home school (for the big ones)

Home school was so lame, we decided to send our kids to a brick and mortar school. The kids were so distressed to leave home (except for sane Helen) that we feared they might have a cumulative nervous breakdown. But after three months at Aquinas Catholic Schools, they find they enjoy being socialized.

Four kids on the first day of school. Claire looks grumpy

Some members of the family were less than enthusiastic about going to school this year.

Lydia

Lydia (5) is cute. She mostly lays on the dog and sucks her thumb. She will play the piano, when forced. She is home schooled. This year, Lydia learned to swim – like really swim with her face in the water and turning her head to the side to breathe. She also learned to ride a bike, which you can do anywhere, unlike swimming which requires a pool.

Lydia laying on Jack the dog

This is the scene every day, at least once a day.

Bethany

Bethany dressed as a witch

My photo curator, Claire, promises this is the best photo of Bethany from 2015

Bethany (7) is cute. She mostly does crafts and lays on the dog. She likes Barbies. She is home schooled. Bethany enjoys crying on the piano bench, just like her older siblings did. Bethany likes swimming on the swim team, and looks forward to the competitive meets.

Ruthie

Ruthie holding pumpkins

Ruthie purchasing two Halloween pumpkins when most kids are satisfied with one.

Ruthie (9) is cute. She mostly likes to read books. It is all she does. She mostly reads when she should be doing something else like clearing the table. She is in 4th grade at Blessed Sacrament School where she has fooled the teachers into thinking she is a good kid. We regularly get reports of her angelic behavior, hard work and attention to detail. At home, the mask comes off. Her countenance glazes over when we give her a directive. I am convinced that when she is told to do anything, her soul leaves her body and reads on the couch. If I say, “Ruthie, clear the table.” She looks off into the distance, moves toward the table as if to obey, then turns and joins her soul on the couch.

Edward

Edward in a cowboy hat looking serious

I told Edward, “Look serious off into the distance.” Nailed it.

Edward (12) is not cute. He mostly dribbles basketballs — in the house — when we have decent folks over. He also does tricks on his scooter (outside) and rides his bike. He can only do homework between the hours of 10pm and midnight. Edward is in the 7th grade at Aquinas Middle School. He also has fooled his teachers into thinking he is a good kid, to the point that he was named student of the month in November. Edward was recruited onto the middle school basketball team by a coach with very poor judgment. He dominates the floor the way Michael Phelps might dominate Kobe Bryant. Yeah, he plays like his dad. Marble runs and Legos are still big with Edward. In nice weather, he rides with the middle school all-city mountain bike team. I would say he rides for the mountain bike team, but that would require his father to fill out forms, make deadlines and leave the house and drive places.

Claire

Claire at Riverside Park

One of the many trials Claire was forced to endure at her “real” school was the Homecoming dance.

Claire is 14 years old. She mostly swims. I mean she is really into it. She would miss parties, meals and family fun time, to go swim back and forth in a cold pool. She is sort of fast. She was the big holdout on going to an out-of-home school. Now she is the one rushing the others out the door to get to school on time. (For Claire, “on time” means 30 minutes early.) She enjoys gym class games that involve throwing balls at other kids’ heads. She nails the other kids in the head and looks innocent to avoid doing punitive push-ups. She shows no signs of success in high school. Claire gets good grades, but is only on the lame honor roll. She is not on the high honor roll, which vexes her greatly. She is on the all-academic team. Claire was also named Rookie of the Year on the high school swim team, and, she lettered in swimming. (We’re praying she adjusts to school.)

The Eldest Child

Helen at La Crosse Community Theater

The famous actress, Helen Hale, back when she was a nobody in the Missoula Children’s Theater.

Helen is 16 years old. She mostly does social. She acted in the Missoula Children’s Theater play this fall. She attended Christian camps this summer. She joined the Art Club and the Journalism Club at school. When she is not social, she is doing homework. She loves to read and draw. Helen is also a swimmer who won all her events at the prestigious Winona Invitational International Swimming Championships Preseason Opener. This summer, Helen water skied to please her mother. To the astonishment of everyone, she dropped a ski and slalom skied, just like her mom at 16.

The Matriarch

Nikole is beautiful. She mostly does family maintenance. She teaches elementary home school. She is constantly (no exaggeration) driving one of the kids somewhere. She somehow finds time to cook gourmet meals, because no one else in the family can cook, as they are too busy swimming and reading books. This summer, the formerly broken Nikole chose to tempt fate by water skiing again. Fate lost and Nikole won, returning to shore every time with nothing broken and all her joints in-place. Nikole just keeps getting fitter and fitter. She gets up early and goes to the Y to exercise with the other Catholic school parents. We all laugh at Nikole, because if any of us say, “I met a kid named such-n-such today.” She will say brightly, “Oh, I workout with his/her mom!” She works out with everyone’s mom. Nikole continues to be the glue that holds us all together.

Zellmanns, Rouxs and Hales by the Zellmann cabin

Some of the Zellmann clan at West MacDonald Lake. The lake that tried to break Nikole, but failed.

Pa

I am a pile of worthless. I mostly avoid work. Not when I go to work… then I work fairly steadily. But at all other times I try to stay far away from anything that might make me think, struggle or sweat. If not for dog walks and an occasional kid-taxi mission, I might never get out of bed. I help kids with homework. I would enjoy doing other things, like working-out with Catholic cyclists, but I am up too late doing my children’s homework. While my wife gets more chiseled, I get softer. My artist muscles are weakening too. I can barely draw a stick figure anymore.

The Dog

Jack running and looking crazy

I searched to find the most flattering photo of Jack.

Jack the dog is dopey. If Nikole is the glue that holds the family together, Jack is the Valium that holds my sanity together. Every morning when I want to roll over and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there to tell me how much he loves me and that I am the best thing that ever happened to him. He insists I take him on a long, morning walk. As we walk he goes on and on about how beautiful are the leaves, the trees and the sky. His favorite verse is “The heavens declare the glory of God.” He repeats it over and over again as we walk. Outside, I am forced to say positive things like “Good morning” to neighbors, and soon I may begin to think it is good. When I leave for work, my dog pretends to be sad. When I come home from work and am about to curl up on the floor and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there, telling me that his day was a black pit of despair without me there. He reminds me again, that I am the light that makes life worth living. He insists I take him on another long walk, during which he barks at children, little old ladies and anyone else who appears to be completely innocent. And when I go to bed, he tells me, “Dad, I love you, and I promise I will not go upstairs and sleep on one of the human kid’s beds.” He is a liar.

Jack the dog in the yard

Jack the dog looking fairly normal for a change.

As I proofread this, I thought, “All my friends are going to wonder why he hates everything and gets joy only from his dog.” Rest easy, my friends. My kids also do a fairly good “Welcome to the Morning” and “Welcome home from Work” greeting. And a kid who wants me to read a book can get me out of the fetal position. The Hope of Heaven also gives me great peace, as do Christmas movies, bicycles and my supermodel wife.

We hope you have a good year with kids less weird than ours, a house cleaner than ours, and a dog who sleeps in the dog-bed you bought him. Merry Christmas.