The Christmas Letter

I’m wearing sky blue socks with Ouiser’s face on them while checking on Jon Jacques, my new sous vide cooker that is working away gently on a marinated pork tenderloin. Both are Christmas gifts from my lovely thoughtful wife. Soothed by sounds of softly gurgling water emanating from Jon Jacques, the queen of England and I contemplate this annus horribilis, Latin for the year that smelled like ass.

2021 was the year we realized we weren’t very smart. We rejected democracy in favor of race and religion. In the first few days of the new year, just when we were celebrating the return of the rule of law to America – oh look – a squirrel!!

Travel has always been a good squirrel for us. After our year of quarantine we set out cautiously in 2021. I got to hike from the Chisos mountains across the desert to Terlingua in January. For spring break the kids and I went on a short backpacking trip in the Appalachians. We took a family vaca to Port Aransas on the Gulf coast around Jo’s birthday, and then we returned in September with Nicolle’s family and Greta. In July we went on a five-week road trip from Maine to Virginia, meeting Alu and Michelle, Aaron’s family, and friends along the way. In October Jo booked us a flash vacation to New York that we all loved. We ended the year skiing in Telluride – more about that later. For a family touched by wanderlust, it was good to get out again. In fact, by the time of we left for the east coast in summer, the pandemic appeared to be on its back foot. It was just a matter of getting the world vaccinated before the virus could mutate. But we hoarded our vaccines while the virus continued to evolve among the remaining 6 billion earthlings and – look – another squirrel!

The kids had a pretty good year. Evan finished primary and started middle school. He grew out of clothes every couple of weeks, dropped his voice, and grew the outlines of a mustache. He finished a perfect soccer season at the beginning of summer and rejoined all his team mates in Fall in a higher division, reaching the finals in the soccer tournament in December. Evan is beginning to show some interest in academics and had a respectable first trimester in middle school. Or may be we are connecting the dots into a pattern we like. When not asleep, or perhaps instead of sleeping, Evan would prefer playing Minecraft, watching Minecraft videos on YouTube, or reading, in that order. Sometimes he even sketches, eats, plays the guitar, and bathes. Vivian was elected to give the speech for her graduating class at the end of middle school. She got into a competitive high school that she is liking. She seems to be enjoying academics and an active social life. She feels like a college student, with her breaks between classes, a huge campus, and a cappuccino for breakfast at the dining hall. She met a lovely girl, a fellow student, and they dated for *three* solid months including a trip to the high school dance! During her parent-teacher conference, her advisor declared that “Vivian is killing it”. Though both Vivian and Evan’s schools have avoided it so far, in 2021 schools became the new battle ground for the morally virtuous who are increasingly telling teachers what to teach our children so that they can be blissfully ignorant of past shames and – omg – that squirrel, again!

We had a huge snow storm and a week of way below-normal temperatures in Austin back in February. Ouiser, Evan, and Vivian loved playing in the snow. Ouiser thought it was great to frolic and jump about in the fresh powder. An estimated 700 Texans died. Power plants and the grid were not winterized and hundreds of thousands of Texans were without power in freezing weather for days. Manju Shah, who we called Mummy and she really was everyone’s mother, died during the storm. A few months later, her beloved husband, Lalji Shah, died. In between their deaths, we celebrated the life of my dear friend Navaneet Bill Rose. Then Alu’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Beaton died. I only met her once but through Michelle we felt connected to her. Jo and I attended funerals in person and on zoom. We mourned in quarantine for our friends. 2021 saw a lot of deaths. More people died of Covid than during the previous year, especially in my two home countries – the US and India. The Delta variant hit India hard in summer. During this desperate time, my friends in India responded and helped thousands of people breathe and live to see another day, but many more died. Forest fires, floods, tornados, storms, and drought killed even more. We sleepwalked another 12 months closer to the global catastrophic climate disaster that we are leaving for our children to – look – is that the same squirrel?!!

This year I have ten times more photos of Ouiser and Zeus on my phone than the rest of my family. I counted. Ouiser and I go for a walk most mornings after the kids are off to school. She trots behind me up the trail in Edwards park or gallops through Turkey creek like a wild mustang. In the evenings, Jo, Vivian, or I take her to Rosedale school where she gets to socialize with her friends. Zeus sleeps on Evan or me at night and on Jo’s lap during the day. She and Ouiser sniff and lick each other every time one or the other walks back into the house, like a long lost friend. We are a pretty solid family of six now. Ouiser and Zeus watch Jo and I watch Ted Lasso after dinner. They listen to us discuss critical race theory. They agree that this country, founded on freedom and equality, isn’t free or equal for everybody. That Trump’s supreme court, for the first time in American history, is rolling back rights. That you win elections fairly but if you lose they were stollen by – omg – that same fucking squirrel again!

So we got to Telluride on a day of incredible blue skies and brilliant white snow. Vivian, Evan, and Lili climbed up a snowy ridge outside the condo and played while Jo, Carrol and I watched from the living room picture windows. Soon after that, Vivian couldn’t find her phone. The next morning we got dressed and headed to the slopes. Vivian looked pretty confident as she tried snowboarding for the very first time. After a few runs on the gentle training hill, she decided to try the slopes. Lili, who had never been on snow before, was more cautious. Evan zipped ahead on his skies. I hung back behind everyone. Then I came up on Vivian, sitting on the snow, still strapped to her board, holding her left wrist in a strange way. Having seen almost exactly this almost exactly three years ago when Vivian broke her arm falling out of a tree, I knew what was ahead. I called for a ski patrol. They snowmobiled her and Lili to a van that drove them down to the ER in Telluride. I met Evan at the bottom of the lift and Jo picked us up from the closest parking lot. Two hours later Vivian was in a splint and had a diagnosis of a crunched left radius near her wrist. Her board had caught its edge on a pile of snow and flipped her around. She felt herself falling backwards downhill and stuck her left arm out. The next day she felt worse. But she’s a trooper and hung in there and we had a pretty good vacation. And we found Vivian’s phone in the snow three days later! We returned to Austin on Christmas eve, passing Santa up there in the moonlit skies high over the Rockies. The next day we had an outdoors Christmas at Nicolle’s. On Monday morning I took Vivian to the orthopedic surgeon to get her bone set. She selected a hot pink cast because the black one three years ago was possibly too goth. Then Jo took her for a Covid test that came back positive. The rest of us go in for Covid tests today.

So here we are again at the arbitrary end of another heliocentric circle, pondering our meaningless existence. Squirrels everywhere.

In the final analysis, Evan would say “eh”, Vivian may say “ok”, and my dear wife would definitely say “meh” and I’ll say 2021 was a rough year but she was kind enough to us. We hope you and yours weathered the ups and downs. JoEllen, Vivian, Evan, Ouiser, Zeus, and I wish you the very best for 2022. Love and hugs to you from the six of us in the White Wooden House.

Dec 29th 2021

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