Monday, December 25, 2023

Heiss Holiday Humbug 2023

I finished this newsletter on Christmas Eve and distributed it to a few friends and family members, but I'm just getting around to posting it here today—on Christmas itself. We didn't take pictures until December 18 (the day Uncle Patrick flew in) and we've been busy, busy, busy since then. 

We had a pretty wonderful year and I can see that next year is shaping up to be just as full. And I suppose that's what we want—a full life. I have heard so many analogies about what makes life beautiful—pianos need both black keys and white keys, music needs dissonance and resolutions (those are actual terms, right?), tapestries need both warp and weave (sometimes it's your turn to really let your colours shine and other times you sit silently at the back of the fabric, lending quiet strength). What makes life sweet and unique and wonderful is taking all those things—the difficult and the pleasant—together. So this year, like all years, wasn't a perfect year, but all in all, life is wonderful. 

I wasn't sure what I would do for a design this year, but settled on cross stitch (perhaps because I was working on a little cross stitch project in real life). After putting together a few little Christmas designs for the header, I wasn't sure how to carry the idea across all the necessary pages of the newsletter. I also knew that I wanted to work in a teensy little political statement in there. Reid always put a cheeky little political note in the Heiss poems. For example, from 2007:

Well, I did it again. Guess what? So did you!
You wasted ten minutes catching up with our news.
But I wouldn’t feel good if I failed to suggest
That in 2008 Hillary Clinton’s the best!

Or from 2013:

Karen’s down in her office; I’m up here in mine,
And it’s time to conclude this Christmas-y rhyme.
The shutdown is done, curse that party of Tea.
Merry Christmas to all, even Cruz and Mike Lee.

From 2017:

That’s the twelve grandkids in one lengthy rhyme.
Not sure I’ll repeat this each Christmas time.
While I focused on them I did not need to say
A single mean thing of our country today.

Not a line about Trump and the swamp that he filled.
Not the wall or even a new health care bill.
I won’t let disrespect overpower my speech.
Merry Christmas to all--please pray they’ll impeach!

I am not brave enough to actually engage in politics in my rhyme. I think Reid enjoyed stirring the pot, surrounded, as he was, by so many staunch Republicans (a hard thing to avoid in Utah). He's so good-natured that the neighbours put up with him. But, yes, every year he would, without fail mention politics in his Christmas newsletter. He wound up in IT, it's true, but his passion really lies in history.

Anyway, with all the goings on in the world today, I wanted to express the sadness I feel over the situation in Gaza. I have friends it seems are posting about loved ones dying every day. It's just too much for my heart (poor Benjamin gets a tummy ache when we discuss it because it feels too real to him—knowing that, for example, there is a man we went to college with, who studied alongside Andrew, whose nieces and nephews and brothers and parents are literally under siege (or—in many cases—are already dead). And his tummy should ache! Because it is too real! Everyone in the world should have a tummy ache when they read about the news coming out of Gaza).

So, I decided to include a Star of Bethlehem design on the second page, which is a traditional design originating in...Bethlehem...which is in Palestine (though it's in the West Bank, not Gaza). The last page simply says "peace" on Earth  (in four different languages: English, Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian (let's not forget the war in Ukraine)). There are many hard things happening in many other places. Several of our Christmas devotional readings have mentioned such conflicts. MLK's 1967 Christmas sermon mentioned several conflicts in the world, reminding me that while the world may seem dismal, that is not unique to our time. One hundred years prior to MLK's address, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (1863), including the lament that "hate is strong, / and mocks the song / of peace on earth, good-will to men!" (I was so glad our speaker on Sunday chose to talk about this song; it's a favourite of mine). I would like to imagine that by the year 2060 we will have figured out how to live peaceably with one another on this small planet of ours, but that seems like a pretty big ask. I suppose I can still let that be the wish of my heart.

As always, you can download the newsletter here, or read it below:

As two-thousand twenty-three comes to an end

I offer my annual invitation

to peek at our highs and gawk at our lows,

See what’s going well and what kinda blows.


Early this year Rachel took a short test
at the Gwinnett County, Georgia DDS,
and when she passed it they gave her permission
to sit in the driver’s seat, turn the ignition,

Pilot a vehicle. What were they thinking?
Thank goodness for Grandpa, who without shrinking
Took her out on the road to get in some practice.

Miriam, meanwhile, rehearsed to exactness
A number of pieces to play at a wedding;

She played every ditty without forgetting

One single note. She’s cool under pressure.

One concert this Christmas her music—each measure,
Each line on each staff—blew away on a draught,

But Miriam kept playing on through, unabashed. 

Zoë’s enjoying piano and co-op,

Her social life’s reaching a new kind of sweet spot.

These group lesson settings help her to make friends
With other children. She’s kind and depend-

-able, likes to help tend to Phoebe—who’s growing

And striving to learn all there is to be knowing.

Entrepreneurial Ben had a row
with Vespula maculifrons (ow, ow, ow!).
While doing some chores in a neighbour’s backyard

he stepped on a wasp’s nest and they stung him hard!
They crawled up his pant legs, flew into his shirt,
Defended themselves—and, boy, did that hurt!

(But he said he’d do it again for the cash.) 

Alex can swim now! He’ll jump in and splash
His way to the deep end without thinking twice.

He also has mastered his two-wheeler bike

And likes to accompany me when I run.

Andrew’s at GSU; this year he won

The Andrew Young School’s award for superb teaching.
His NGO research is published, he’s reaching
colleagues in Quebec, Chicago, Orlando.

(Conversely my conference kept me close to home).


We rented a beach house in May. Florida
Was sunny and perfect, but we felt like crud.

With nine churning tummies and only two loos
We had to queue up until this bug passed through
Each of our systems. We then saw the sights—

Matanzas, San Marcos—and were enticed

To visit the ocean a couple of times.

Now, I don’t know who dreamed up this design…

But whoever it was left just one week betwixt
Our beachside vacation and our Utah trip.

Five-thousand two-hundred and twenty-two miles is
quite a long drive. We were grateful the Gileses
hosted our fam’ly while we were out west.
This trip kept us hopping, we’d no time to rest—

We saw the French Quarter and ate some beignets
at Café du Monde, and then made our way
to visit the Alamo (don’t you forget it!).
Next up—New Mexico, where we elected

To drop in at Carlsbad, stroll through the caverns, 

Then on to the northwest continued our pattern:
Took in the Grand Canyon, the stunning South Rim. 

We camped out at Grover—our Utah prelim—

Reaching the half-way-through point of our trip

The day before Zoë was baptized. The dip

In the pool was a little bit chilly,
The day—and the week—though? Delightful. We really
Had a nice time with our family and friends,

But like all good things this time had to end.

We packed up our stuff and headed back home,

Taking the scenic route through Yellowstone.
We hiked Devil’s Tower and Mount Rushmore, too,

Making one final stop in old Nauvoo

Before pulling the plug on our sightseeing days.

And just in time, too! I was feeling quite crazed

From writing my thesis while still on the road.

But I got the thing finished, submitted the whole
Thing in August before heading north

With my second child, my sixth, and my fourth
(That’s Miriam, Phoebe, and Zoë, of course).
We flew to Alberta and by all reports
Had a great time attending the nuptials

Of Deklan and Holly and spending a couple

Days at the farm of my uncle and aunt.

Our grand welcome home was a flooded basement

A huge storm’d swept through. For two solid months

We were under construction. T’was awful, but once

Things were finished the basement looked great,

Aside from mementos kids thought to create—

Like paint on the carpet, footprints in cement.

Amidst all this chaos Pheebs and I spent

Some time potty training. She’s now diaper-free!

(Except for at night, but that’s okay with me.)


Emily and Katharine came out in November
We played lots of games and took them all over
Atlanta. Next up—from Vienna—we had Uncle Patrick,
Meaning that this year we pulled off a hat trick:

Andrew and I saw eight-ninths of our siblings

In one twelve-month span—and that’s reason for gloating
(Our siblings are spread across three different countries).

And that about covers all various and sundry…

Probably more info than most want to know

(Wrapped up in bright trimmings, with doggerel bow),
So, it’s about time I close this year’s back door
And open up two-thousand twenty and four.

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