How on earth are we going to start the Christmas letter this year?????

It was a dark and stormy night… nope, cool and breezy here, titch of moon showing, a few stars…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… nope, just average in an average sort of way…
I was born… nope, none of that going on at our house anyway!

We think this is our twentieth year of the Phabulous Phelps Christmas letter. Over the years we have given you the news of our family via poem and song, Harry Potter, Sesame Street, election results, the naming of the house, the letter from the dog, the research experiment, and the bird flu…just to name a few. You’ve probably let us know when we’ve given you a favorite story or a laugh, and when you just didn’t get it!

But alas, a terrible thing has happened this year and the authors have writers block! This terrible malady is a side effect of empty nesting, causing a lack of adventure and anecdotes, leading to a severely boring lifestyle and a dull Christmas letter. Dull as in notebook paper and safety envelopes. No theme to this letter, no bells, whistles, or holiday fanfare, *sigh* we hope we don’t put you to sleep.

Our boring life started just after the kidney-stone snow storm, which was excruciating or exhilarating, depending on who owned the defective kidney. This was quickly followed by the Prom snow storm, followed even more rapidly by step one of middle age, the graduation of your baby, or in our case with the twins, ‘babies.’ This brought out the Alzheimer’s in Julie when she started to arrange pictures on the “Wall of Fame” that is traditional at graduation parties here, and was next to 99% positive that she could identify which was Liz and which was Shannon in at least 95% of the photos. She is not ashamed to admit that bald babies look stunningly alike!

Then, we spent a summer going to Target. Often. Not much to tell. You’ve all been to Target. You spend a lot of money on plastic things and things in plastic at Target. You come home and realize that you have forgotten some things, and you dread going back to Target, so you go to Wal-Mart instead. This is how college dorm rooms in all 50 states get furnished.

When your parents bring you to college, and I’m sure that other children do what our children did, and have a little conference to ensure that their choices of colleges are as far apart from each other as possible, making sure that when you want a visit from mom and dad, and they say they’ll take you out to eat, that you are the one picking the restaurant. This is why we have ended up knowing where the Targets and restaurants are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, AND in Sioux City, Iowa, AND in Duluth, Minnesota, even though we live in Cannon Falls, which is equidistant from at least three Targets, two Wal-Marts and at least some restaurants.

If you are a college student, and you discover that the thing you need (or want, as it is a very similar situation) and it is too expensive for you to get at Target, you should text home (why call when you can type) and ask your parents to bring it to you. After all, they have no kids at home, what could they possibly be doing with their time anyway?? And like all good (I mean gullible) parents, your parents will drive across the country with a specific gray sweatshirt, or a couch, or a microwave, or a shower curtain, and deliver it right to your door, AND take you to a restaurant so you don’t have to eat cafeteria food that is already paid for.

Driving to college is mind numbingly boring because to get to our kids, we have to drive through miles and miles and miles of corn fields. Julie became quite addicted to crop radio as the cooler radio stations faded out, because she still can’t work her IPod and get actual music shuffled without detailed personal instructions. In our solitary travels, we met a number of new acquaintances in addition to the crop radio DJs. So now we are on a first name basis with the guy who mans the Iowa/Minnesota border rest stop. He has excellent up to the minute weather information. We talk baseball with the guy at the Blue Earth gas station and for some reason, get really good gas mileage with his gas. And, Chris rediscovered the bakery at Tobie’s in Hinckley and they have the same wait staff as they did when he was 10, so it is like meeting really old friends all over again.

There just wasn’t a story in any of our vacation travels this year either that we could write a letter around. Who wants to hear about Julie’s week in New York with girlfriends where they made YouTube giving labor and delivery advice to Kate Middleton. Really, it was nothing exciting… Or the emergency midnight landing of our plane when Liz went to the North Carolina Zoo… Or our inability to use the subway in Washington DC with Ted, Holly, and Mary Ruth. Someone was always in trouble with their card and having to have a conference with the man locked in the booth before we could continue… Or how the Swedish Volvo met a Midwestern deer, and the brief relationship ended badly on both sides… Or how Shannon and Hannah were mistaken for 12 year olds multiple times in Key West… Or how Chr’s manages to always avoid the airport with the security evacuation going on… Boring, boring, boring.

And really, there was nothing to tell about the five footed puppy we fostered, right? Just your standard five footed dog; barked occasionally, ate a lot, and fell up the stairs if he got going too fast. Our dog Frank’s most exciting accomplishment this year was teaching our nephew Brady to roll over for a treat.

We teetered so close to an suitable exciting topic when Chr’s finished the garage, since finishing a project is so seldom accomplished here, but you can’t write a whole letter about it. Julie’s friend Heidi did bake a cake for the occasion, but it was for Julie, not Chr’s, because it had a Nurse Barbie in it, and the cake was definitely more exciting than the garage for everyone without a Y chromosome.

No trees fell on the house. No wild animals invaded the yard. No one was arrested. No one was awarded a Noble Peace Prize or even an Emmy for that matter. Just regular everyday life that was not suitable for an interesting Christmas letter. Julie still doesn’t cook well, and Chr’s still flies a lot. Hannah moved into an apartment and discovered that toilet paper doesn’t grow on trees, you have to purchase it, or get people to mail it to you (Thank you Collene and Karen.) Liz discovered that the best way to subdue a cat is to turn it into a burrito (and this is not a new dinner item, this is a veterinary technique with a towel.) And Shannon, we don’t really know what she is up to as she never calls home… perhaps the phone lines for the cell phones in Duluth have snow on them? We just don’t know.

The house was decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving even, because, well, you know, we have a lot of time on our hands now with this empty nesting. We have a whole list of things to do to our empty house, and perhaps the next letter will describe how we ran away in horror mid remodeling project number #167, or perhaps it will all go smoothly. Oh, who are we kidding, if it is our project, we will be lucky if survive day one of it without a visit to the ER, or at least three visits to the hardware store.

Julie did actually attempt to become an author on her sabbatical from employment that was supposed to last a year, but she got too restless after a couple months and went back in full nurse mode. Maybe she will be published someday, and not just in Christmas letter format! Then again, with our luck… no, think positively, it just might happen. After all, we got the garage finished, and all three kids grew up and made it to college, despite having us for parents, proving that even boring parents with poor baby photo identification skills just can’t hold you back.

We really will make an effort to lead more exciting lives next year for the sake of the annual holiday letter. We know we let you down and we sincerely apologize! We’ll add sky diving to the bucket list, as well as baking brioche, and catching alligators or zebras. We’ll try to drive across the country with more interesting things than couches and bookshelves in the pickup. We will try to find out what is up with Shannon and report on her new tattoos and piercings (I don’t think she has any, but, hey, if you don’t call home once in awhile, and you know your parents are writing that annual Christmas letter, they might just be forced to make things up about you!)

We hope your year was more eventful than ours, and that your kids all live on the same interstate system. We crossed our fingers and wished for you to get your Noble Prize applications in before the deadline. We understand that they do provide winners with both a driver to the award ceremony, and your own toilet paper!

Peace, Love, Joy, and Excitement –

The Phelps Phamily:
Chr’s, Julie, Hannah, Liz and Shannon

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