Christmas Letter 2008

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I have decided to break with tradition this year and actually finish and publish the family Christmas letter.  A quick check of reveals that the last time our family went to press with a cheeky yuletide update was 2004.  Gentle reader, I take full blame for this shameful travesty.  Let's move on then shall we, and knock this out before I run out of diet soda.
Luke is five and living proof that Missouri's inflexible primary school age requirement was not devised with the children of Rachel Rackham in mind.   As inevitably happens in these unfortunate cases, Luke has become an autodidact and can read pretty much any word of three or four letters in length.  This will come in handy next year when the show me state has promised to officially teach him the alphabet in kindergarten.

In spite of the abuse Emma suffers at the hands of four brothers, she is tender, loving and unassuming.  She is remarkably independent and unabashedly interested in the things she is interested in, which at this point is a synthesis of recycling, drawing and scissor-work we call "crafting."  She tirelessly repurposes all variety of discarded paper, plastic and fabric into folksy three-dimensional works of art.  She is particularly fond of making signs to help bring order to her seven-year-old world.  All of her dresser drawers are labeled with construction paper and on the door to her room there is a sign inviting you to remove your shoes before entering.  Next to her keyboard there is a sign welcoming all to "Actividy Corner," [sic] where the "Actividys are: music, dancing with music, reading, writing, drawing and poster making."  Lest you feel presumptuous, the sign reassures that "anyone can play: best buds, brothers, Mom, Dad, me!"  The standing invitation is Emma in a nutshell.

While his family has recognized Chase's genius for years, his struggle for official recognition has been long and painful.  "Quest," the local "gifted and talented" program gave Chase the pink slip last year when his test scores narrowly missed the threshold.  The news was devastating to Chase who carried all year the burden of feeling his brilliance was unappreciated by the local school board (the fact that his older brother was in the program galled as well).  After attending one of Zachary's extra-curricular activities and seeing first-hand all the "cool stuff" the Quest caste got to do, Chase had had enough.  Without telling his parents, he asked to see the guidance counselor the next day and demanded to be re-tested.  If you know how shy Chase can be you will appreciate this moment as something akin to the scene in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie looses it and destroys the neighborhood bully.  Well, the teacher pulled Chase's file and it turns out that on review he had met Quest criteria after all--they let him into the program without making him retest.   He came home that day absolutely ecstatic, his nine-year-old self-confidence restored--a tidy lesson in perseverance and overcoming self-doubt.

Zachary, Chase and Emma have all taken up swimming three nights a week at the local University pool as part of the city swim team.  It's been remarkable to watch their form and stamina improve over time.   The training came in handy the day after Thanksgiving when Mom entered everyone in a local fun-run and the Westhoff family swept the age category awards.  No one was more surprised by their newfound cardiovascular fitness than the kids themselves.

Zachary, now twelve, has read every book known to man.  That is hyperbole of course, but we are having trouble finding titles appropriate for his age.  If you have a suggestion, please pass it along.  In desperation recently he picked up a copy of George Orwell's 1984.  The book is one of my favorites but contains some distinctly adult subject matter--I would have recommended Animal Farm first.    I let him proceed partly because I was curious as to whether or not he could endure the famously long passages of political monologue.  He did, and finished the book in surprisingly short order.  I asked him afterwards if he found parts of the book "disturbing."  He said yes, and that was the extent of our discussion.  Not one of those moments that is going to get me into the parenting hall of fame.  Zachary has had an online presence for years via but just days ago, and after much lobbying his Mom green-lit a spin-off blog of which he has full creative control.  He welcomes your readership and feedback.

Between early morning seminary, marching & concert band and cross-country running, Dunn has been pretty much as busy as a high school freshman can be.  In a controversial (to his mother) move he choose German over Spanish and is otherwise taking all the honors classes available to him and getting straight A's.  Last summer Dunn went to "Speed and Power" sports camp in Provo.  There he learned the real purpose of BYU (i.e., to consolidate all cute Mormon babes into a single location).  Needless to say, he is looking forward to returning for cross-country camp next summer.   Dunn has really taken off as a distance runner, putting in almost 50 miles a week in the off-season and earning a varsity letter as a freshman.  That is impressive when you consider that his father didn't letter until he was...come to think of it, his father never lettered (though he was a well-respected member of his high school soccer team's comedic bench troupe--they even let him be in the team picture).  Dunn is looking forward to the spring track season where he will likely be running the mile and two mile.  I went 13.5 miles with him on a training run last week and he averaged a sub-seven minute pace.  I was riding my bike and had trouble keeping up on the hills.  To his credit, Dunn felt bad for the old man and apologized multiple times for putting his father though such a humiliating beat-down.
Every day that passes brings Rachel one day closer to that undiscovered country, the day when all of her kids will be in school [sound of angels singing]!  She has served tirelessly this year as classroom volunteer, Weight Watcher's group leader, adult Sunday school teacher, Cubmaster, and general pillar of the community.  Her athletic career suffered a minor setback as she was sidelined for eight months with heel pain, which forced her to rediscover swimming as a primary means of exercise.  She can easily whoop any member of the family in a 25, 50 or 100-meter race (beyond 100 meters no-one can properly be considered to be "racing" her).

While I returned from Baghdad a year and a half ago the Global War on Terror continues to put a strain on military families and we are no exception.  Chronic staffing shortages and deployments mean that I spend a lot more time stressed over work than I would like.  My commitment to the Army will be up in the spring of 2010, when I anticipate going off active duty (while continuing to serve as a reservist).  Our plan is to move somewhere in the mountain west: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California or Nevada.  Boise and Spokane are high on the list, but we're wide open to suggestions as we're really just beginning the search.  Offers to let us freeload at your place as we job-search are encouraged, particularly if you live in a picturesque medium-sized city or town with outstanding schools, running trails and easy access to great skiing.

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes to all of you!

The Westhoffs

P.S. Thanks again to Aunt Debby for the photos. 

P.P.S. Yes, the facebook links are a brazen attempt to lure the uninitiated into the fold.  If you're having trouble with the links, Rachel has also posted the pictures of the kids on her blog.


Great job Bro, thanks for the update. Nice to hear from you, it has been too long!

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This page contains a single entry by John published on December 15, 2008 11:43 AM.

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