Part of the Christmas pilgrimage each year is the search for inspiration for the Christmas letter. This year, I look deep into my coffee cup and find…. Nothing. As a symbol of my dearth of creativity, the Christmas lights I left up in the tall junipers of my front yard won’t work this year—almost every string is burned out. I have bought few Christmas presents, except the ones for Dirty Santa and bingo prizes, because those are easy–requiring almost no thought. Christmas would be so much easier if it didn’t require so much mental energy.
(I pulled up the Christmas letter I wrote last year and honestly can’t remember if I ever mailed it to anyone. To cover my bases, I have published the letter to my blog and you can read it here.)
One might wonder why my lights aren’t working. I can’t explain except to say that, like Tom Bodett of Motel 6 fame, I have left the lights on for everyone all year long and now my bulbs are burned out.
It is my own fault. I have a tendency to run at Warp 11 during every project, whether it is city council or a Wood Badge ticket. I can hear Scotty’s warning ringing in my ear: “I’ve giv’n her all she’s got captain, an’ I canna give her no more.” It is good to take the time to write the annual Christmas letter because it forces me to slow down to Impulse power so I can reflect on the past year’s progress. Frankly, Impulse power is about all I have left.
My second year in office as a councilor for the City of Vestavia Hills has been one of settling in. In a conversation with Greg, I likened the workings of our city government to the body of Christ, as described in the Bible. In doing so, it is not my intent to shed an ecclesiastical light on city government. Nevertheless, the city council is similar to a church body in that there are many “members” all working to achieve one goal—to serve the people of Vestavia Hills. It is fulfilling to be part of such a team.
What have I learned in my second year of office? Here is my Top Ten list, in no particular order of importance:
- The city clerk knows everything. If there is something the clerk does not know, then that fact is irrelevant.
- All water flows downhill at a rate of speed directly relative to the number of storm water infrastructure complaints the city receives in our Action Center and the number of Facebook posts in which Councilor Pierce and I get tagged.
- Social media is often the definition of #fakenews.
- Citizens want more services, but they don’t want higher taxes.
- Understanding people’s concerns means you have to talk to them and listen.
- Social media is an invaluable tool for measuring the pulse of the city, regardless of #3.
- The city manager never sleeps, except when he takes a trip to Ireland.
- Effective communication, transparency and personnel management is what makes government run smoothly.
- You don’t have to be responsible in order to be held responsible for a breakdown in any part of government.
- Being heard is almost as important to constituents as agreement.
Last October, Greg and I participated in a Boy Scout Wood Badge course. This is a Baden-Powell leadership development program that trains Scout leaders, through the application of inane songs, skits, games and crafts designed to drive people like my husband (the un-crafty partner in our marriage) absolutely insane. I will never forget the sight of my husband attempting to tie a woggle (absolutely no relation at all to Boggle or the Wiggles), sweat pouring from his brow and a look of stern concentration on his face. (Stern is not really the right word, but use of the word mulish in a Christmas letter seemed somehow inappropriate.) In the end, much like with his Third Grade eggshell mosaic project, another patrol member helped him. However, I am sure the hours he spent in the effort helped form his character and made him a better attorney-leader.
The culmination of the Wood Badge course is completion of five goals that comprise the Wood Badge “ticket.” The course catechizes Wood Badge participants by having novitiates march in a circle while singing a song that pledges, “I’m going to work my ticket if I can.” Too late, I realize I could have used a variation of this technique to brainwash my son, who I would like to see completing any number of tasks, like cleaning his room, putting his dishes in the sink, and washing his clothes.
Greg has worked diligently on his Wood Badge goals, creating new Scout faith and leadership programs that have greatly benefited the young men in our troop. I have also “worked my ticket”, helping to form a new Venture Crew and increasing the reach of Scouting in our community. I have one more goal to finish before Greg and I both receive our Wood Badge beads, which–based on the effort expended and Greg’s billable hourly rate–are worth more than the Hope Diamond. Greg suggested I insert here that he finished his ticket before I did.
Geoffrey continues working as a software engineer in D.C. so he can have his own health insurance, pay his cell and cable bills and build up balances in his 401K. I am proud to say that all three of our children are thrifty and careful with their money. Geoffrey is close to getting his adult “ticket” punched now because he sees the dentist regularly and has an established internist. He also wears long pants to work, works out consistently, sends thank you notes, and attends church without his mother having to remind him. If I could get him to iron his clothes, I could mark him off on his Adult Scout rank. Geoffrey enjoys hiking and camping in northern Virginia with his friends. He asked for a Dutch oven for Christmas so he could cook over charcoal on campouts. (That’s my boy!)
Mary Catherine’s frosty exploits during our Steamboat Springs trip last Christmas came to an abrupt end after she broke her elbow in an unfortunate snowmobile accident. She was a trooper, though, and survived orthopedic surgery followed by travel to Paris with an arm in a brace and two pieces of checked luggage. She enjoyed a productive sojourn in Paris for a semester at Sciences Po, a premier political science school attended by many of France’s top public officials. Mary Catherine approached her time abroad with gusto—traveling to several nearby countries during breaks and learning to speak French fluently. From croissants and crepes in Paris to haggis in Scotland, she sampled the local cuisine; she also made some new international friends. It was interesting to hear her observations about the differences in the two universities (Sciences Po and Vanderbilt) and in the two political cultures, particularly as she was fortunate enough to be in France during their presidential election cycle. Apparently, the Trump-Clinton debate had nothing on the energetic discourse between Macron and Le Pen. Due to my daughter’s instruction, I am proud to be one of the few Americans (journalists included) who can properly pronounce Macron’s name.
In late May, the rest of the family traveled to Paris to ensure Mary Catherine did, in fact, return home. We had a merry adventure in Paris, Normandy and Lucerne, with Mary Catherine translating and serving as our capable tour guide. This was fortunate, since Greg’s fallback technique for communicating with people in foreign countries is to gesture emphatically, point at the menu and speak English slowly and loudly. (For the record, French people smirk at you when you do this.) The boys returned back to the States while Mary Catherine and I toured Austria, visiting both Salzburg (where we sang Sound of Music tunes on a coach with 30 strangers) and Vienna.
Mary Catherine spent the summer studying for the LSAT and taking a statistics course at UAB. For her senior year at Vanderbilt, she decided to write an honors thesis, which, she later informed us, would require her travel to Tunisia so she could interview people about ISIS recruiting techniques. Her dad and I were not too keen on this idea. We said “no.” In spite of this impediment, she is working on her research, using primary sources in Washington, D.C., instead of interviewing Tunisian terrorists. She is also looking for a post-graduation job as a political consultant (at a think-tank or on Capitol Hill) as a prelude to law school.
Will is working hard on his Eagle project, building a pavilion in a local park. When Will presented his project to his advisors, they all told him, “This is a very challenging project.” (His dad and I concur.) Not to be deterred by our expressions of doubt, he forged ahead with his planning and convinced the Eagle Board that he was equal to the task. After three long work days, all that remains is to finish the roof. Greg is already planning to purchase the updated version of the Eagle Scout bumper sticker: “We are proud of our Eagle Scouts.” I am buying my own sticker that reads, “I know how to cut rafters and shingle a roof.” Will is very grateful to all the folks who have helped him in the process, particularly his construction advisor, Rich Pace. (We are sure Rich is happy Will is our final child, as Rich also helped Geoffrey on his Eagle construction project nine years ago.)
Will also received the honor of being selected for the Order of the Arrow, which required a weekend of “ordeal” service.
Blessings to your family in the new year!
Kimberly (for the family: Greg, Geoffrey, Mary Catherine and Will)
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