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The October fires continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.  Even if there isn’t the dramatic darkening of the sky as we had on Thanksgiving, you can always smell ash in the air.  Any weak Santa Ana (winds from the desert that blow from East to West) will pick up ash from the fire areas to the east and redeposit it all over San Diego.  Sidewalks and driveways and roadways are noticeably filthy. Any small amount of rain (which is the only kind we ever get) moves it off of trees and roofs and underfoot, where you track it into house and car carpet where it stinks long after the Santa Ana or rain is over.
The month was filled with the sounds of music, as is appropriate for December.  The boys sang twice at church. (This was the first time Keith took his camera back to church since it was stolen. ) Brad had his first sixth grade band concert. (We're still looking forward to Doug's first piano recital.)  Brad was also selected for 6th grade Honor Band.  At first Brad wasn't interested, as it met after school on Fridays and he wanted to hang with his buddies on Friday afternoons.  His parents, showing some wisdom and restraint, left the decision up to him.  Two days later he had changed his mind, and he signed up.  Now he loves Honor Band because they play much more interesting music.
The month was filled with the sounds of jack hammers, drills, and chisels at home as we started the demo work in preparation for a remodel. We've spent the last couple months going back and forth with the architect.  Last month we finalized the blue prints.  This month we started in with the demolition, on the condition that it would be exterior of house only until the first of the new year.  Such a monumental undertaking deserves its own website , don't you think?
Advent means that the parents are expecting their annual Christmas skit from Keith and their children in his Sunday School class. Not willing to disappoint them, Keith and class rehearsed all month and eventually presented a skit based on Family Feud. Douglas introduced the MC and ran the applause sign.
Nearly a year since they last explored the freeway bridge construction , Keith and Brad rode their bikes out to check on the progress.  They're still working on the bridges, which provide lots of interesting aspects to investigate.
Betty is spending her last month at Bright Gardens assisted living facility.  She’s a little too frail and needs a little more assistance than they can offer.  Our main concern is falling.  So at the beginning of the new year she’ll be moving back to her house and have a 24 hour a day companion/caregiver.  To that end, Susan and Keith hired a caregiver firm to provide the service, and started out with a caregiver 10 hours a day while still at Brighton Gardens. 
Just before Christmas, Betty went to the emergency room three consecutive nights, twice for epileptic like seizures, and once for falling and cutting her forehead, requiring stitches. After taking her back to her apartment from the ER the first night, Keith spent the night in her room trying to prevent exactly what happened the third night: a fall during a midnight stroll.  This left Keith calling the caregiver service wildly on December 24th trying to convert 10 hour shifts to 24 hour-a-day live-in care giving RIGHT AWAY, TONIGHT, CHRISTMAS EVE.  To their credit, they were able to cobble together a schedule, and he drove up Christmas Eve to deliver a borrowed cot so the caregiver would have someplace to sleep in Betty’s one room apartment.
It should be noted that with Keith pre-occupied with Betty all month long, Kristi shouldered nearly the entire weight of the Christmas holidays: she planned our events, she came up with perfect gift ideas for everyone, and she shopped .  It was probably a good thing she wasn't running the Geography Olympiad .  
Kristi’s parents, Bob and Joann, flew in for Christmas unannounced to the boys (or their cousins, Quinn and Kelsy).  They were totally surprised when Papa and Grandma showed up at church for Christmas Eve services, proving that although the boys are growing older and wiser, Mom and Dad can still pull the wool over their eyes occasionally.
After church, we all went to Kent and Ginger’s house for the annual Christmas Eve talent show.  Keith, Kristi, Bob and Joann all stayed in the audience and let the kids have the stage.  Brad MC’d the show, and Brad and Doug performed a trumpet/piano duet of Beethoven’s Ninth. We returned home late, and Bob and Joann went to their motel.  (This year they split the 20 miles between Jeff's and Kristi's houses by staying at a motel half way in between!)  
Our first Christmas with three children!  Actually, Dancer did great all month long not trouncing tree, ornaments, or gifts.  There were a couple gifts under the tree for her, including a stuffed octopus from Ken and Minoosh that went on to set the longevity record for toys before its stuffing was pulled out.  The boys also managed not to trounce anything, and did a really good job appreciating each gift and not wanting more, more, more.  Brad even took it in stride that he got more clothes than toys for the first year ever.
After the gifts had been opened, Keith drove to Carlsbad to collect Betty and her caregiver.   In his absence , Bob and Joann had arrived (having spent the morning with Quinn and Kelsy) and more gifts were opened.  When Keith arrived back with Betty and Josie, Kristi served a delicious Christmas brunch.  Afterwards Betty opened presents from her niece and nephew (Keith's aunt and uncle) Judy and Charlie . Late that afternoon, Bob and Joann took Kristi and the boys down to Jeff's house while Keith criss-crossed the county, first returning Betty and Josie to Carlsbad before going to Jeff's house in La Mesa.
Christmas dinner at Jeff and Chryanne's takes the same local 15 extended family members from Thanksgiving and adds a few more who travel in from far flung places.  This year the count was 22.   This is going to become quite a trick in the future , as the kids grow and require more width at the Long Table!  After dinner the crowd breaks up into various pockets: talking, piano playing, kareoke, and card game playing.  The boys love the card game, Apples to Apples, which is an ingenious game because they can still play even though they don't get many of the cultural references before, say, 1995.
Four days after Christmas, Bradley celebrated his 12th birthday.  It was a low key affair, but we were glad to have Kristi's parents there for it.  As usual, we'll put off his party until next year.  In a move we (and he) (and his pocketbook) may live to regret, we gave him a couple of golf clubs.  He's been out on the links with friends once or twice before.  Thus inspired, Papa took the boys to a driving range and miniature golfing the day after.
For more details on Bob and Joann's visit, click here .

What will you always remember about 2003?
Keith: The Bike Ride Across California .
Kristi: Getting our dog, Dancer .
Brad: The Bike Ride Across California .
Doug: Getting our dog, Dancer.

Emergency rooms are like casinos: no windows and constant lighting day or night deprives you of your sense of time; oxygen is pumped in; electronic beeps and rings try to gain your attention, but are quickly learned to be background noise and ignored; and the occasional tumult occurs when somebody hits the jackpot and cashes in his chips.

They Said It:
Brad: (frustrated on the computer) "Can I get a little help here?" Keith: "I'll help, but I'm not going to touch the computer."   Brad: "You mean you're just going to stand there and tell me what to do?  How totally like you."
Brad: (after reviewing the web site) "I went back and read 2000, 2001, and 2002.  Dad, you try to be funny way too often. "
Brad: (adding on to a billboard slogan) "'Happy cows come from California.'  And mad cows come from Washington state."
Kristi: (observing an argument between Doug and Keith on whether it is best to butter one's bagel before or after toasting) "Butter late than never. "


Text and Pictures Copyright © 2003 Keith Sherwood - All Rights Reserved
Questions or comments? Write keith at virtualsherwoods dot com .