2010 Holiday Letter (by Matt Churchill)

December 2010

Luke Obama

Davidson middle school students
meet President Obama

Dear Friends and Family,

Now don’t you just hate receiving those holiday cards that brag about how son, Tyson, made straight A’s at Brown University while dating Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and how daughter, Brittany, when not starring in her own reality T.V. show, has found a cure for halitosis?

“Wait a second, Matt.  I don’t mean to interrupt your rant, but is that a picture of your son, Luke, with President Obama?”

I’m a little embarrassed that you’ve brought that up, dear reader, because I hadn’t planned on highlighting it, but, yes, that would be Luke consorting with the leader of the free world.  There’s a strange coincidence between the release of this picture and President Obama’s downward spiral in popularity ratings, but I’ll leave the political science analysis to others.

The photo op resulted from Luke and Thomas’ 8th grade “Future City” team winning a national engineering contest focused on designing, you guessed it, a futuristic city.  I just asked Luke to highlight a few of the engineering marvels from the city, and he replied, “I don’t know, Dad . . . it’s been like a year since I thought about that.  We had beaming energy, virtual reality, walls made of cellulosics, fish poop fertilizer . . . stuff like that.”  Sounds like a place I want to live.

The victory resulted in what we lovingly refer to as the “Geek World Tour” – a White House visit for Luke (Thomas still thinks that if he’d met Obama the Democrats would continue to control Congress), dinners with local engineering trade groups (yowza!), a visit to Houston for the eco-marathon (a trade show focused on fuel-efficient cars), and a weeklong trip to Space Camp in balmy, Huntsville, Alabama.  The Space Camp trip was actually pretty sweet, as they were teamed up for the week with a group of Chinese scholars (English a bit spotty, but great present givers) and a cool, artistic girl from Ireland (how can you go wrong there?), and they got to try various simulators and mock space shuttle missions.

When not consorting with the President, Luke and Thomas (both 14), started high school, opened FaceBook accounts (please let us know if you see anything obnoxious on their “walls”), harassed their parents for unlimited texting (not yet, but we’re crumbling), played endless amounts of soccer, and made their parents drive them everywhere listening to Eminem, Bruno Mars, and similar drivel.

family 2010

(L to R) Thomas, Zac, Matt, Suzanne, Luke

On many of these rides, I’d hear a catchy tune by “Far East Movement” with the lyrics, “Like a G6.  Like a G6.  Now I’m feeling so fly like a G6.” Unfortunately, when I heard the song, I didn’t realize they were describing something as “fly” (cool) as a Gulfstream 650, a private jet with an estimated price tag of over $58 million.  I’m thinking snack food.  So I’m singing, “Like a cheese stick . . . like a cheese stick . . . now I’m feeling so fly like a cheese stick.”  That went over well with L & T.

Zac (age 9) caught the reading bug after devouring the “Mr. Gum” books by the British author Andy Stanton.  When asked why he likes the books so much, Zac says, “Because they’re so random.  If Mr. Gum doesn’t take care of his yard, an angry fairy shows up in his bathroom and hits him over the head with a frying pan.”  Good stuff.  Zac seems to have taken the “random” storytelling to heart.  He wrote a tale recently that starts, “An explorer was out on his ship exploring the ocean.  Suddenly, there was a crash and everything went dark.  When it was light again, two of his crew members were gone.  The explorer didn’t care about other people so he started munching on some virtual crackers and cheese.”  Strange how cheese snacks feature so prominently in the creative lives of Churchill men.

Zac loves soccer and his school’s Odyssey of the Mind club.  But mostly he just runs from house to house in our neighborhood seeking out his 9-year-old buddies and reporting progress en route.  “Dad, I’m going to Wesley’s.  Dad, Wesley’s not home so can I go play with Jackson?  Dad, Jackson’s not home, so can I go over to Tilly’s?  Dad, Tilly’s not home, can I go down to Jay’s?  I’ll call you when I get there.  I’ve written a sticky note and put it on my hand.”  No call.

Inspired by Zac’s travels, Suzanne and I thought we’d like to take a trip — without kids. Suzanne’s invite to a colloquium on the photographer Alfred Stieglitz in Normandy, France, provided just the ticket. After great visits with friends in England, we traveled to a small Chateau in Normandy that has historically hosted conferences for French intellectuals and was branching out to include North American scholars for the first time.  But this conference didn’t do much for Franco-American relations.

The first paper was given by a French professor, who explained why the year 1913 was a critical year for modernist intellectuals.  As soon as she had finished, an American scholar raised her hand and said something to the effect of, “Well, that was a nice, introductory paper for people not familiar with this period.  But I question the choice of 1913.  If you’d read my paper, entitled ‘I Know More Than You Do, And I’m Here to Tell You About It,’ I think you would’ve chosen 1917.”  Touché.

Fortunately, the conference went uphill from there, and Suzanne and I enjoyed rustic French food, the stunning countryside and coastline of Normandy, and moving side trips to Mont St. Michel, the Bayeux Tapestries, and the American military cemetery.

Suzanne and I lost two, young friends to cancer this year, and too many others who we care about have been struggling through difficult times.  So we’re ready to put 2010 behind us, but we also realize how fortunate we are.  And one of our greatest gifts is to have friends and family like you.

So happy new year.  We truly hope that your 2011 will be as fly as a cheese stick.

Lots of love,

Matt, Suzanne, Thomas, Luke, and Zac

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