Monday, December 26, 2005

2005 Holiday Letter

Hello everyone!

At this time last year, we had plans for sending out a year-end/holiday letter, but never actually got around to it. If anyone felt left out or forgotten, please know it was only how busy we often find ourselves and how often things we might like to do get put aside. Since it's been two years, I'll have to make sure to keep it brief, lest we go on too long...

I'm sure everyone wants to know about Rachel more than the rest of us, so I'll start with her (don't worry, we're used to it). Rachel is wonderful and changing and growing fast. As of 12/21, she's 42.5" tall, which makes her still about 90th percentile for height, as compared to 50th percentile for weight (still under 35 lbs) - tall and thin. She's been in a Montessori pre-school for a bit more than two years and loves it. She has learned and grown so much, it's just amazing. She's one of the bigger kids now and loves to take the new young children under her wing. She is working on reading, writing and even some simple math, loves the monkey bars, and is looking forward to the opening of the two new play structures at school in January.

Believe it or not, all this means that we're trying to decide where she should go for Kindergarten. It's a bit of a dilemma –she can either complete her Kindergarten year where she is now or begin Kindergarten at our local elementary school. We actually like both options, but beginning at the local public school for Kindergarten means she will be assured of a spot in a 1st grade class, whereas if we wait to start her in public school in 1st grade, there may or may not be a spot at our first choice for an elementary school. It’s made still more interesting because many of our neighbors’ children will also begin Kindergarten there! We’ve still got time to finalize this decision and we are taking it!

Over the last two years, Rachel has taken gymnastic and music classes and next month she'll be starting 'Little Leapers', a dance class at the Y. Always very verbal, Rachel is extremely talkative, although she's going through a phase of using a lot of baby talk. She's very good at making friends, both with the other 12 kids under the age of 10 on our block and with the kids at school, including her friend Tessa who is the daughter of my friend Dana, whom I've known since before high school!

Dawn has been working for the local Head Start for quite some time now. She's been responsible for disabilities and mental health and has helped significantly in getting the agency back on track. Soon after she started, they had their regular Federal oversight review and the results were very poor - only Dawn's area had no deficiencies! Early this month, though, the Feds did a mini-review and announced that they were "clearing" all the deficiencies. It's been a long road, and Dawn had a huge hand in it. Negotiations will start next month on whether she'll stay - they're pretty desperate to keep her, for good reason.

I've now been working for the same company for over 5 years, the longest I've been in a single position, and now we've been acquired again by a capital management firm. The rumors abound, but it sounds fairly positive. In particular, it seems clear that they view us as a software company and understand that we've been run by a finance group. In the software business, you sometimes have to spend money (by hiring sales people and software developers, for instance) in order to make money (by improving and selling the software, for instance).

Both our jobs are extremely convenient, being part of a 3-mile triangle from our house to our offices and Rachel's school. Although we each have had various reasons to want to leave these jobs, we've a log of reasons to keep them. We're hoping for some nice changes at work as we get into the new year!

Earlier this year, Dawn took Rachel and me to Disneyland for a week. It was my first time there as well as Rachel's, and we all had a great time. Four days in the two parks was plenty of time. Rachel particularly liked seeing all the various princesses (the only one we didn't 'meet' was Ariel, the Little Mermaid, presumably because she can't walk if she has fins; given that the movie ends with her deciding to remain human, I'm not sure why she can't be found walking around) and the “Ferrist” Wheel, as she calls it. It's huge and has cars that run on an internal rail so that they really swing and shake as the wheel turns. We took that for our first ride the first day, and lucked out a little - the way she was sitting, Rachel almost ended up going face first on the metal floor except that I was watching her to see her reaction to the whole thing and managed to catch her. Her other favorite part was sleeping on the top bunk in the "Kid's Suite" at the hotel.

In May, I went on my tenth annual long weekend camping trip to Yosemite (only the third time we went, but that’s a long story); we had a wonderful time and are starting to plan for next year’s trip. In October, Dawn and Elisabeth went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a week and also had a great time. They swam with dolphins, took a zip line adventure through a forest, went tequila tasting, and drove into beautiful mountains.

Dawn and I celebrated our 5th anniversary (already!) at the beginning of November. Rachel went to Monterey Bay with her grandparents and uncle, while Dawn and I went back to one of our favorite places - a bed & breakfast near Point Reyes. We had a wonderful time relaxing and hiking and taking pictures with my new camera, while Rachel got to touch a star fish and go on a whale watching boat ride (no whales). For Thanksgiving, we went to Mendocino with my family where we did more hiking, a lot of eating, and I took yet more pictures (900+).

Over the last few weeks, Dawn has been taking some time off from work, while I've been working more because we're so busy, but for the first time in 5 years, I am not working over the company's holiday break. My two current obsessions (both of which Dawn has gone on record as saying are “good” obsessions) are energy efficiency and photography. In the last several weeks, we have added insulation under the floors, into the exterior walls, and between the crawlspace and the house, sealed the various holes between the crawlspace and the house, and replaced the (very?) old washer and electric dryer with new very high efficiency models. I estimate that the insulation additions have cut our gas usage by 50% over last year (although Elisabeth was living with us then). At the end of October, we bought a new Toyota Prius, and like it quite well. We’ve saved over $200 in gas so far, and are emitting far less pollution to boot. Finally, around the end of January, we’ll be installing solar panels on the roof; the estimated production should cover around 85% of our annual electric usage. I have visions of yet more, but seem to remember promising to keep this brief…

As for photography, well… there are two parts to it. First is the new Canon 20D SLR with image stabilized (amazing!!) lenses, which has been just wonderful. It has been really nice having a ‘real’ camera in hand again, and I’ve taken some fantastic pictures already. Beyond that, I’ve been delving into an archiving project to sort, cull, catalog and scan all of the slides and negatives we have that seem worth keeping. So far, I’ve been through 91 rolls of slides dating from 1987 to 1999; they originally totaled around 3500 and I’ve cut them down to 1346. Next up is sorting our negatives, of which there are around 150 rolls! The slides took me about 50 hours over two weeks, and the negatives, being, well negative, will be much harder.

Also in the last two years, I've started keeping a weblog occasionally. I use it partially to help us write down tidbits of Rachel's life and development, partially as a way to let friends keep up with us when events or geography conspire to prevent spending much time together, and even occasionally as a way to vent, rant, rail, or celebrate. The blog address is and you can always reach us by leaving a comment on it, or sending us email: dylan (at) darwincg (dot) com or dawn (at) darwincg (dot) com. Soon I'll have to make Rachel's into an actual mailbox: rachel (at) darwincg (dot) com; she's already started getting phone calls from friends, it can't be long before she starts getting email!

We wish happy holidays of all sorts and a wonderful 2006 for each of you.

Dylan, Dawn & Rachel

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