Annual Valentine Update

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Dear friends and family,
Happy Valentine’s week! Thanks to all of you who sent us cards and greetings over the holidays. Your messages and photos still adorn our cork board and bring us smiles every day. Beyond written greetings, over the past year we were also fortunate to visit with many of you in locations ranging from Starksboro, VT (where Tim’s sister, Sarah, married the wonderful Paul), to Flathead Lake, MT (the Bulger family reunion), to the Stillwater River, right here in Orono, and many points in between.
We put together the holiday video below to share a few glimpses from our previous year,
but for those of you who prefer news in a good-old-fashioned written form, here it is.
Reid Amani (AKA Beedo)
Reid is a delightful young fellow, very comfortable in his five (nearly-six)-year-old skin. Gone is the baby whose heavy helmeted head flopped around in Katie’s bike trailer or who rode on Daddy’s back when we cross-country skied. Reid now rides his own bike, plays Silent Night on the piano, does flips in the pool, reads signs as we drive around town, walk/runs the mile-long path through the woods to school, cross-country/downhill skis with grace, occasionally beats us in Catan Junior, and plays hockey right alongside Liam. In short, we’re still baffled by how many “firsts” this past year has brought for our young fellow.

Among those many firsts was kindergarten. Initially, when we asked Reid about his school day, he routinely replied, “Bad thing is…” followed by a report on the villainous rule breaking of certain classmates. Reid has, admittedly, been raised on play with his older brother’s peers, where he is used to being directed–a small price to pay for sophisticated story lines and elaborate games–but he finally seems to be enjoying life among his kindergarten friends. Now his reports on the school day are about the parachute in P.E., the story he is writing with Alden, the tacos at lunch, or the Elvis tune they’re singing in music.

Reid’s favorite activity remains pretending, pretending, pretending. Conversation often looks like this:
“Daddy, pretend I’m a husky and….”

“Lemur [his nickname for Liam], pretend we’re driving our ships.”

“Mommy, pretend you’re the mommy…” That one’s not too hard.

Liam and Reid get lost for hours with their stuffed animals and art supplies, crafting ships out of egg cartons, grappling hooks out of paper clips, and swords out of Popsicle sticks. They are tried and true companions. This summer, we’d often find them in bed together in the morning with Liam reading a book to Reid.

Liam Kiran (AKA Dreams)
After Liam had read every children’s hockey book in the Maine library system and made himself a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with fabric scraps and a marking pen, we indulged his obsession and signed the kids up to play with real skates and pucks. At first, we parents had a prejudice against the sport (expensive, time-consuming, violent). But at least for this year we were proven wrong. The kids have thrived. In addition to learning to constantly fall and get right back up, Liam is doing cross overs, skating backwards, occasionally running sideways on his skates like his teenage coaches, and showing unprecedented presence of mind for an athletic endeavor.

When off the ice, Liam often inhabits his own elaborate world of creative thoughts. He’s frequently inventing new songs on the piano (Rose Petal was a big hit), practicing Tai Chi (for a while under the generous tutelage of a neighbor’s visiting Chinese grandfather), or whiling away the hours at his art table. Recent art works have included a detailed drawing of what one might interpret to be three men in ethnic garb standing on prayer mats, a large soda bottle covered in red frayed paper with the letters TNT written across the side, flip books featuring his dragon cartoon character Nash, and an origami king cobra.

This summer, Katie and the kids studied Spanish for an hour each day (more on why in a minute). By study, we mean we watched videos of puppets speaking in Spanish, reenacted said videos in our own very-limited Spanish with stuffed animals, and sang along to songs and poems about hot chocolate or a snail who moves slowly. Liam, in particular, dove into the endeavor with Castilian fervor—now whenever he is hungry or tired, we are informed en español.

Katie and Tim (AKA the servants) 
We, the supposed grownups in this whole endeavor, are doing well. Katie continues to write every day. Her agent is shopping around to editors her memoir set in India, and Katie is working away on a new young adult novel, also set in Tamil Nadu. In addition to continuing with her own Spanish self study and enjoying various athletic endeavors (the latest have been women’s hockey and Zumba), Katie has had fun coaching kids’ soccer, skating and cross country skiing.  

Tim filed his paperwork for tenure this fall, and every month he receives a glowing letter from an even higher division of the university giving him their official thumbs up. Tim taught a particularly successful service-learning class this fall, through which he introduced 40 university students to Orono’s controversial water-quality politics and guided them in designing projects aimed toward improving the situation. For fun, aside from playing with the family, Tim has really been enjoying his weekly men’s indoor soccer games.

Soon after the tenure application was filed, Tim applied for sabbatical for academic year 2015/16, and this January the two of us went to Costa Rica for ten days to scout out schools and locations for a family year abroad. We have settled on Monteverde, Costa Rica, a cloud forest on the continental divide. Sabbatical is really a misnomer: all of us will be learning Spanish and trying to immerse ourselves as much as possible in Tico culture; the kids will be attending a local school; and we parents will continue to work. We can already see that our year abroad will be over in no time at all—nevertheless, we feel so fortunate to be able to take this adventure together.

Numerous close friends and family have asked to visit us in Costa Rica (nearly enough to host a new family every other week for the entire year). We’re flattered by all of the interest and love the idea of seeing friends abroad, but have been warned by several of the folks we met in Monteverde to hold off any planning until we are settled and capable of predicting what the next day will hold—they say our initial months will be taken over with language lessons, supporting our kids (if not ourselves) through the adjustment, and finding a home and then perhaps a better/more affordable home (with the advent of Air BnB in this tourist hub, finding rental houses has become a near impossibility). We’ll let you know when we’ve made it through the gauntlet. In spite of the warnings, we’re looking forward to coming out the other end more fluent on a number of fronts: Spanish, cloud-forest bird calls, and the “pura vida” lifestyle.

We’re very grateful for our wonderful parents/grandparents and for our siblings and their fine partners. We’re also grateful for you, our friends and extended family. Thanks for being our Valentines.
Reid, Liam, Tim and Katie