Holidays 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and People Peeking at the Screens of our Family and Friends,

We hope this winter update finds you happy, healthy, and enjoying a restful and restorative holiday season with loved ones. As always, thanks for photo captions in a super-squinty font and tons of awkward hyphenations go to the good folks at WordPress, who work hard year-round to ensure that our words will be properly pressed when the holidays arrive. This year, your letter-writer had an idea: How about just writing some stuff, and then inserting some pictures along the way? Let’s get to it!

School Stuff

Max is in 5th grade, Zach is in 2nd grade, and they’re both thriving in their classrooms. Perhaps because of his age advantage, Max is holding onto his 3-grade lead. I’d say he’s a lock to be the first one to reach middle school.

Waiting for the bus on the 1st day of school. Notice that Max is reading a story, Zach is looking at a page of facts to memorize. More on this in the stuff below.

Being Interested in Stuff

Max continues to enjoy reading, chess, and occasionally even reading about chess. He’s also increasingly into playing sports, such as soccer and football, with his friends, his brother, his parents, Janet (the child-care worker who’s an honorary member of our family), or anyone else who can keep up with the energy level of a 10-year-old. It’s good that his interests are branching out, because really, where will he ever get in life through chess, or reading?

Zach continues to enjoy creative pursuits such as drawing, writing, and building structures out of Legos, K’Nex, or other construction sets. Lately, this 7-year-old is increasingly into making paper airplanes. That might not sound like much, but you’d have to see Zach engrossed with his specialized books and paper, producing dozens of planes, to fully appreciate his artful pursuit of aerial mastery.

Shared Interests in Other Stuff

Both boys enjoy when Dad gives them math problems to solve, when their school bus arrives home on time (very rarely!), reading comic strips from the 1990s (Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield), playing computer games, and making new animal friends at Build-a-Bear.

Both boys also enjoy watching football with Dad (and making their own picks against the spread), playing football with each other outdoors and in the house, building fantasy football teams with football cards, and competing in the AFFL (Animal Friends Football League) with their countless stuffed animals.

Halloween: Zach the leopard, Max the snow leopard.

So what’s up with these animal friends I keep mentioning? Well, the boys love their “animal friends” and come up with countless ways to incorporate them into whatever game they’re playing. Each animal has a name, a life history, and a personality. In our house, animal friends run for political office, serve as extra players in board games, play team sports, take karate classes, and star in musical and theatrical performances. Alarmingly, both the number and size of the animal friends in our home appear to be increasing.

When Max brought Bunny home, things started to get out of hand.

When Zach added Horns to the mix, we had to start setting some limits.

Treat yourself by clicking to enlarge and then zooming to scan the full collection of “animal friends”. Staging this took a good portion of a morning. Special thanks to Max for his careful arrangement–and his patience!

Summer Stuff

This summer, the boys enjoyed art (Zach) and summer (Max) camps, swim lessons, and fun at the pool and the beach.

We vacationed with Ayelet’s side of the family in Cincinnati and the boys each had a “grandparent camp” with John’s parents.

Zach’s real-life animal friend, a lion at the Cincinnati Zoo. They shared a touching paw-to-paw moment.

Max’s real-life animal friend, a rare white alligator at the Newport Aquarium. They shared a touching forelimb-to-forelimb moment.

Some Extra Boys’ Stuff

Zach loves to memorize facts. This is especially true of anything related to football (the NFL, that is, not soccer or college/off-brand football leagues). Just ask him, for example, who was the starting quarterback for any team at the beginning of the year, or who’s currently their starter. For that matter, don’t bother asking, just pause in a conversation and he’ll tell you!

I’ve got my goggles and striped pajama pants, it’s time to share some facts!

Max, on the other hand, earned his black belt in karate in November. The culmination of training begun at age 5, this required passing a 3-day test of physical fitness, self-defense, and sparring, plus writing a 500-word essay on “What black belt means to me.” (Hint: Say more than how well it color-coordinates with the rest of the karate uniform.) Max became very focused and determined, preparing and practicing extensively for many months. When he passed, both sets of grandparents were on hand to celebrate Max’s success at the Black Belt Extravaganza.

Max with John’s parents.

Max with Ayelet’s parents.

Guitar Stuff

John continues to buy, sell, and work on his small collection of guitars. Sometimes he even plays them; the secret code for finding his YouTube channel is “John Ruscio”.

Fishy Stuff

Long-time readers may remember Silvia, our rose queen cichlid, who appeared in several of our holiday letters. After nearly 5 years she had definitely outgrown her tank, so we reluctantly sold her to a pet shop that helped her find a much larger home. We have a lot of new fish this year.

This is Terri, our green terror cichlid. Thanks to Zach for that name! She’s feisty and–despite having no partner or compelling reason to do this–she lays hundreds of eggs every 10 days.

This isn’t one of our fish, but we have 13 of these exodon tetras. They’re really cool, but they move much too quickly for me to photograph.

Our most recent addition is some jumbo-sized cardinal tetras.

Zach got his first fish ever, a betta!

Ayelet’s Stuff

Though less photogenic than some of John’s activities, Ayelet continues to participate with the boys in Folkshul, their Jewish secular humanist Hebrew school, and to dazzle and amaze her students and colleagues with her outstanding teaching and research. I’m not exaggerating.

This is from Ayelet’s lab web site. You can Google it for more.

At home, the boys and I continue to find Ayelet dazzling and amazing, too. For example, just this week she contributed the notes that became most of the “stuff” in this letter.

Ayelet’s the woman on the left. In the back row. With the gray sweater. She’s wearing a scarf. That should be enough to find her.

We hope that you and your loved ones have a
and a

Post Script (PS)

There were a lot of animals in this message, so I thought I’d add a clarification on one final point: No, neither of the boys is yet as tall as a hammerhead shark.

No sharks were harmed in the making of this display or in the taking of this picture.