Christmas Letter 2014

Dear family and friends,

As I struggle to come up with something clever to say about how eventful life was in the Mason household, I’ve come to realize that the greatest event in our lives this year…is that there wasn’t really any at all.

That’s not to say we weren’t busy; just that the things we enjoyed doing in 2014 were prosaic. It’s worth noting simply because I think in this day and age of social media, we take for granted the little things in life sometimes. While we’re busy taking pictures of sandwiches or framing pithy sayings without giving it a second thought, we sometimes forget to marvel at our children discovering things or how we’ve become proud of the work we do or just watching a good sunset off the deck, with a glass of ice tea in your hand.

We’ve had plenty of adventures to be sure, and I’ve seen growth in all of us throughout the year. While we haven’t shared every single one for prosperity, we keep it in a more important place – our hearts. Rather than explain the happenings in our lives that you do know, I thought I’d touch on the things you might not.

Breckin is the epitome of a four-year-old. He’s strong-willed, passionate and silly. He’s a creature of routine; change things up, even a little, and he’ll let you know. He’s at one of life’s little crossroads; stuck between being a doted upon toddler and an independent grade-schooler. For every boundary he’s willing to push, he’s just as quick to ask mom to fix his boo-boos. For every fiery demand in which you catch the full extent of his rage, he’s just as likely to snuggle with you and make you feel like the most loved person in the world. He’s a pistol in all the right kind of ways.

As for Tucker, this is his first year at elementary school. He’s been gung-ho about it ever since, which is endearing. It’s also a little scary for Carrie and I; it’s the realization that our kiddos are growing up kind of fast. If there were some kind of medal you could earn for participation in events, this kid would win gold. He has a hankering to try everything. No, seriously – everything! I was going to list all the things he’s tried, but my brain stopped after about six. His eagerness is infectious. He’s quite literally what you think of when you hear people say that children are like sponges. I don’t know where all his drive will take him, but I bet whatever he chooses to do with it, he’ll do with equanimity.

Whereas Tucker is just starting his school career, in many ways it feels like Owen is reaching the tail end of his. I’m not gonna lie – him being in 9th grade makes me feel old. I finally feel pity for my parents, now knowing what it’s like to have a fourteen-year-old in the house. Not that any stage of life doesn’t have its ups and downs, but that transition from child to adult can be difficult. Mostly for the adults that have to help them cross that bridge! Even with the occasional irrational emotional outburst, in the spectrum of teenagers, he’s a great kid. He stays very active in both school events and church, and found a niche in both his love for snowboarding and drama. Even though he likes to pick on his brothers a lot, he has this empathy and kindness that’s rare in a lot of people, let alone a high school student. At the rate he’s going, it might be OK if we unleash him upon the real world in four more years.

Carrie is as loving and heart-warming as ever. Her heart is big enough to not only care and love for our own children, but those she teaches as well. I’m continually amazed at how genuine she is. But you already knew that. Rather, this year it’s worth noting that she has come into her own as a photographer. She’s always had a penchant for it, but this year she’s really come into her own with it. There was nary a place she didn’t bring her camera. Now she’s taking the steps to turn her hobby into a side job; she’s nabbed quite a few interested parties in hiring her to take family photos, portraits, etc. It’s undoubtedly a lot of work…but I can tell that she secretly likes being that busy.

As for me, this year I’m always reminded of some lyrics that state I’m old at being young, but young at being old. I’m pretty content with things these days; spry enough that I can have fun with my boys but wise enough to teach them the life lessons they need to know. I haven’t written as much as I would have liked this year, but that’s what they make New Year’s resolutions for, right? That “Great American Novel” won’t write itself, I suppose…

As always, I wish I had something spectacular to say about Harry’s year, but we don’t get to spend them with him. He’s always present though; whether it’s that breath of cold, fresh air tingling in your lungs on a winter morn, a dragonfly sitting on a lily pad or just a twinkle in the night sky. If anything, he’s assuredly playing cribbage and riding tractors with those who came before him. He’s in good hands.

We all hope this letter finds you all happy, healthy and wise. Make the most of life, especially the little things. They get missed a lot, but are just as important as those big events that highlight your year.

 

Love, The Masons.

 

P.S. If you’re wondering about Uno, he still does a great job of making sure the furniture doesn’t go floating away, that the bugs that get in the house knows who’s boss (in a most pacifistic manner) and that hair gets on all your black sweaters in the closet.

Will You Return: Or, How One of My Favorite Bands Ended Up Playing in My Backyard

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Much like politics and religion, I tend to avoid talking about my musical tastes in any kind of public forum.

It’s not that I’m in any way uncomfortable with what I like or where my tastes lie, but inevitably other people tend to pick your pleasures apart. It’s a fact of life; even though I’m of an age where I can respect you for your personal affections, even I’m still silently judging you for thinking the Dave Matthews Band are still cool.

That being said, writing about one’s taste in music is an even harder endeavor. More often than not it’s a personal thing, a hard feeling to pin down and really hammer out into words. Sure, some tunes are indelibly catchy; but for some one song that they find grating can be a life affirming jingle to another. Regardless of the challenge, I can’t in good conscious have gone to an Avett Brothers concert and not talk about it at least a little bit.

I guess, in a nutshell, they are a bluegrass, country and folk inspired group that is as infectious as a pop convocation with the energy level of a punk band. There’s something very earnest and heartfelt about their songs, whether they’re singing about the curiosities behind nostalgic trinkets in “Yardsale” or what would happen should they die in “Murder in the City.” Unlike a lot of the fluff on the radio, their songs almost feel like self-contained stories, the type of ditty that sticks in your mind not just because they settle well in your ears but because they are so lyrically verbose.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that their song “Live and Die” came out at a pivotal time in my life. I can’t listen to it without thinking of my youngest son Harry, whom we lost to circumstances out of our control. Although we tried to have an acoustic version that I heard on NPR played at his service it never panned out, but the impact was all the same.

From the moment I inadvertently stumbled upon “Kick Drum Heart” on Pandora I’ve been hooked on their addictive music since.

Seeing them live has always been a dream since, but I figured the only chance I’d get to see them is if I traveled to Red Rocks or the Twin Cities on the off chance I was able to pick up their usually sold out tickets. Not an impossibility by any means, but an unlikely scenario if I’m being honest. When I saw they were playing in Deadwood, I almost took a double take. Then when I realized it wasn’t some kind of joke, I hopped on Pop to get me some tickets, post haste.

To make a short story long, the show itself was amazing. There wasn’t just an energy in the crowd, but the band itself fed off of it as well. I’m not sure what they were expecting from a stop-over town on a Sunday night, but the place was packed. I’m sure it was a more intimate show than they’d normally play, but that’s probably why it was so engaging. They looked like they were having as much fun on stage as we were in the crowd. I even danced a bit, sang along and smiled the whole while. If you know me in any capacity (and the odds are good you do because you’re reading this), this probably comes as a surprise. Hey, even I have to break the wall down sometime.

Even at a little over two hours, it just didn’t seem long enough. They did it right, though: they played the hits, some deep cuts, a little bit of an acoustic set and of course an encore. Which turned out to be well worth it, because the tone of the crowd was nearly deafening as the chanted. The highlight of my night was oddly never at the actual show but waiting in line at the merch booth, where I saw a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy buying what I’m guessing was his first CD, with a smile on his face that could only belay that he had just entered into the gateway of how wonderful music can be.

At one point Seth Avett came up to the microphone and stated that in fourteen years of touring they had never been to South Dakota, but he was gonna make sure it wasn’t another fourteen before they came back.

I hope he’s right.

At the Beach

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There are two types of people in the world: those who think that beaches are only for ocean dwellers and those of us who know better.

Really, you can’t fault people who by chance are lucky enough to see an endless expanse of sea courtesy of living on the continental edge that shores upon it. But for my money (or lack thereof, as I’ve never been to the ocean) if it has sand and it happens to be by a body of water, salt or otherwise, it’s a beach. And when it’s ninety-plus degrees outside and the sun is beating down on you with an unrequited fury – you go to the beach.

Our favorite beach here in the literal Midwest of this fine country is a scrappy little lake off Highway 385 called Roubaix. I can remember going camping with my grandparents and cousins there and using it as an excuse to exercise the use of my freshly-minted drivers license as a teenager and go swimming with my brothers on more than one occasion. Even though it’s fairly easy to get to from any of three directions, it always feels like this little secret spot that only a select few know about.

At least, until we actually showed up and it was jam-packed with fly fishers, inner-tubers and sand castle builders.

Not to be deterred by the glut of other agua seekers, we set up camp along a wall made of old railroad ties and made the best of it. After lightly bathing in sunscreen, as a family we timidly tip-toed into the cool, cool water.

It must be known that, even though we’ve all jumped into lakes on a regular basis throughout childhood, getting used to the water always seems like a chore. First there’s the chill up the spine. Then, the goose bumps. The toughest part may be the nether region which, for gentlemen at least, puts us back at step one. Finally there’s that moment where you say screw it and just dive in. You mileage with each step may vary, but no matter what your approach you’re guaranteed to yelp as you resurface if not with a chill than at least with the exhilaration that it’s over and you can just enjoy the damn water.

Everybody kind of took off to do their own thing, as my family is wont to do. Tucker decided he was going to tap into his inner Frank Lloyd Wright and build the most epic of sandcastles. Owen wanted to toss a water Frisbee in the hopes of catching it in mid-air not unlike an eager dog. And Breckin did what Breckin does — find catharsis in the simplest things; in this case splashing me when I wasn’t looking. As long as he’s using his fists for something joyously engaging rather than to pommel his brothers, I wasn’t going to stop him.

After a while my father-in-law Joel showed up, which meant one thing – it was time to kayak.

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He’s been doing it for years, and while everyone else has given it a go or two, I had yet to paddle out. All week Breckin had been bugging me to go out with him, which is a good thing because the last time anyone tried to get him on a boat he wailed like a banshee in fear. Before that I had to figure it out for myself, lest we both dump ourselves in and I’m forced to learn how to swim myself and a small child out of the middle of a lake.

Looking for a little direction, Joel pushed me in to the body of water and gave me a few pointers before taking off like someone who has done it a time or twenty. While it took me a little bit to consistently stay steady, I’m happy to announce it felt very intuitive. Soon enough I was figuring out at which angle I needed to dip the paddle in to either turn or get some good speed and instead focused on enjoying the ride. I’d often stop for a moment to enjoy the view of the hills, watch the people have fun on the coast and take in the din of birds and the splashing of fish.

Taking my kids out was an even grander experience. Like my hike with Owen, it was fun to peek into their minds when they aren’t verbally sparring for Carrie or my attention. Tucker, ever so inquisitive, asked a ton of questions. He was content sitting serenely until he saw Joel and Breckin approaching, at which we had to splash them. In all honesty, we ended up being the losers in almost every joust, but getting wet was the whole point to going to the lake.

Breckin on the other hand was his usual wild self. He was constantly splashing his hands into the water, keeping a lookout for fish or, at least for me, scarily rocking the boat back and forth in the hopes of tipping us over. Breckin also tends to be a question monger, only his often dipped into the absurd. Time is a concept he doesn’t understand, but he did figure out that I can’t be a grandparent until he becomes a parent, and that won’t happen for a really long time. At least, I hope he figured it out…

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After staying way longer than intended, eventually our arms were tired, our eyes filled with sweat and dripping sunscreen and our bellies empty. It was time to go. Without so much as a whisper, we piled into the van and followed Grandpa to the Sugar Shack for a celebratory burger before heading home and hitting the hay.

Sure, you can’t look for seashells by the sea shore or see whales in the distance, but I like to think our kind of beach has a certain allure to it too. If you don’t believe me, then I guess I’ll have to re-write this article next weekend when we’ll likely go back again.