Holiday greetings to our friends and family! 2012 has been a year of important life events in our extended family – the joyous birth and baptism of our granddaughter Madeline and weddings of nieces Meg and Liz and nephew Jon and the heartbreaking death of our nephew Brandon.
On the professional front, the big news is the publication of (and lots of positive reviews for) Mimi’s novel, Gathering String. I had a busy professional year, but nothing that big. Heck, I didn’t even change jobs.
Madeline appeared the day before the legendary groundhog, Feb. 1. We have been delighted to get four visits this year with Madeline and her sister Julia (below), who turned two in March. We visited their home in Edina, Minn., right after Madeline was born, then again in April for her baptism, then in July. And in October, we met in Colorado for Meg’s wedding (more on that shortly). Madeline is crawling, standing and starting to speak. Julia has an active imagination and loves to pretend. They will both get lots more attention from Granny and Gramps on a Christmas visit to Edina. Mike and Susie are both doing well, too, and don’t seem to mind that Granny and Gramps pretty much ignore them in favor of the cutest members of their family. Grandpaparazzi thoroughly documented each of our visits. Granny does a fair amount of shopping for her little girls. We shipped two boxes of gifts out to Edina for Christmas because we couldn’t fit them all in suitcases.
The younger generation of our extended family is launching new families. In early September, we went to Jacksonville, Fla., for a big gathering of the Johnson family for the wedding of Liz McNamara and Johnny Wells II. In mid-September, we were off to the lovely mountains around Cleveland, Ga., for the wedding of Jon Buttry and Jamie Mayo. In those weddings, we gladly played the parts of loving aunt and uncle. But Meg Head (our goddaughter) and Dave Winter asked us to play a different role. In Colorado, you don’t need to be clergy or a judge to preside at a wedding, and Meg and Dave wanted Mimi and me to officiate. We each wrote some parts of the wedding and presided on a beautiful day in front of a spectacular backdrop behind the trading post at Red Rocks. All three of our sons were able to make it to the wedding, along with Susie and our granddaughters and Tom’s girlfriend, Ashley Douglass. With the lovely setting, the huge family gathering and the honor of playing such a special role, it was definitely a highlight of the year.
Not even three weeks later, we played a special role in another emotional ceremony for another loved one. Mimi and I represented the family at the military ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, when the body of our nephew, Brandon Buttry, returned to the United States from Afghanistan. Brandon was killed in action Nov. 5. He returned to Dover Nov. 7. Brandon has 13 siblings and his parents, Don and Pam, decided they needed to be with his younger brothers and sisters in Iowa, so Mimi and I attended the solemn, respectful ceremony in the driving rain of a nor’easter on the flight line at Dover.
Then we went out to Iowa to be with Brandon’s family for another military ceremony at the Shenandoah airport, as well as his funeral, which was Nov. 15, the day his unit was scheduled to leave Afghanistan. I read some family remembrances of Brandon at the funeral.
As profound as the grief was, we were uplifted by five things:
- The Patriot Guard Riders, veterans on motorcycles who lined up with flags to honor Brandon at the airport, the visitation, the funeral and the cemetery.
- “Flagman” Larry Eckhardt, who brought something like 2,000 flags to Shenandoah, lining the route from funeral home to church to cemetery, and most lanes of the cemetery, with American flags.
- The people of Shenandoah, who spontaneously stopped to salute the motorcade on the route from the airport to the funeral home and then two days later lined the route from church to cemetery with signs, flags and salutes.
- My cousin, Frank Yunk-Arnold, a retired Air Force First Sergeant who had met Brandon only once, flew to Dover to escort the body back to Shenandoah. It was a pleasure to deepen our connection with Frank.
- Sonya Sorich, a journalist in Columbus, Ga., who knows me only through social media, who ran the Soldier Half-Marathon in Brandon’s honor at Fort Benning, where Brandon went to boot camp in January.
- A “cheeseburger salute” the weekend after Thanksgiving. Brandon was due to return to Fort Lewis, Wash., that Friday, and had told his parents he wanted to celebrate with a cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke. Don and Pam asked us to remember him that day with a cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke. Brandon’s sister Missy and I spread the word on Facebook and more than 100 family, friends and strangers touched by Brandon’s story saluted him with cheeseburgers.
Brandon was the same age as our nephew (his cousin) Patrick Devlin, who died of leukemia in 2009. Brandon joined the family by adoption at age 3, so we had each of those special young men for just 16 years. Patrick’s mom, Carol, and sister, Kat, came to Iowa for the funeral and provided special condolence to Brandon’s family. Patrick’s Eagle Scout project, providing reading lights for parents in children’s hospital rooms, was completed this year, too. You may remember that Kat had a stem-cell transplant last year. She is going really well now and Make a Wish is sending her to Hawaii with a friend and her parents for Christmas. Thanks to all who contribute to Make a Wish. Patrick was unable to take his Make a Wish trip, but we are delighted that Kat has returned to full health.
The month before Brandon’s funeral, Mimi went to Iowa under much happier circumstances for her “Gathering String” book tour. She published the novel as an Amazon ebook in March and as a paperback in August. The novel had more than 10,000 downloads (most of them, alas, on free promotional days, but more than covering costs). Both on Amazon and Good Reads, it rates more than four out of five stars, with dozens of glowing reviews and flattering mentions in blogs by Buffy Andrews, Tim McGuire and Andrew Beaujon. (And me, but I’m not sure that counts.) The Iowa book tour included a discussion with a book club in Jefferson and readings at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines and the Shenandoah Public Library. She visited with another book club in Dublin, Ohio. Mimi’s working on two more novels now, one of them a sequel. And if you happen to know a Hollywood producer who’s looking for a good story to shoot …
Mimi still writes occasionally on her Ruby Eye Fox blog, this year addressing Iowa stereotypes, health care, manners and Todd Akin. At my request the blacksmith Mimi blogged about last year made a branding iron with her initials, a special gift that she treasures.
Mimi and I also launched this blog this year. In case this is your first visit, we blog here mostly about our varying views of our travels together. We’ve blogged about visits to Cape Breton, the Eisenhower Farm, Gettysburg Battlefield, Antietam Battlefield, California’s Redwoods and Pacific Coast, New York and Las Vegas (that included a fun visit with Joe and Kim and we spent our 38th anniversary in a Mandalay Bay Penthouse suite). In addition, we welcomed guest posts from Jim and Mary Head and John and Kim Johnson. (If you’d like to guest-blog about your travels together, please let us know.) Watch for our posts in April about an upcoming trip to Italy.
My frequent tweets about flight delays and other travel issues have spawned a legend (which I good-naturedly denied, even as my tweets fed it) that I have some sort of travel jinx. A delay in February was actually deadly, a suicide on the tracks as I took Amtrak home in the middle of the night. It had a bizarre final chapter, which didn’t involve me but did involve a stolen dog being reunited with his family. Returning again from New York in June, our train threw everyone off in Philadelphia because of a problem on a bridge. We shared a rental car with a stranger and I finally embraced my jinx.
Interesting travels we had before starting the blog took us to Montreal and the Utah mountains. My travels included my first baseball games at new Yankee Stadium, Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Phoenix’s Chase Field, plus returns to Comerica Park in Detroit and Nationals Park (need to take the girls to a game at Target Field next year). My Hated Yankees was pretty quiet this year, though I shared observations about Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and why strategy is more interesting and difficult in the American League.
My work at Digital First Media has been rewarding, with visits to more than 50 of our newsrooms across the country this year. I lead our engagement team, launched an awards program to recognize the best DFM journalism, visited and consulted on several new community engagement projects, developed a webinar to help newsrooms respond to an important Facebook change, helped hire a curation team for our new Thunderdome newsroom in New York and shared stories of excellence by Digital First newsrooms. I was invited to address press association conferences in Halifax, Gettysburg, Scottsdale and Saratoga Springs. I also consulted and spoke at several universities: TCU twice, Colorado, University of Texas-Arlington, American, Northern Kentucky, George Mason. An intriguing opportunity with another company arose this year, but I turned it down, convinced that I’m in the right job at the right time with the right company.
I blogged a lot more on the Buttry Diary than I do here: a series about how journalists should use Twitter, a piece on my core beliefs about journalism, advice on showcasing your work for potential employers, advice for student media and newsroom curmudgeons (my third-most-read post ever). I also wrote a guest post for the Nieman Lab.
It was a tough year for a couple of my former organizations:
- The Newspaper Association of America Foundation took over the American Press Institute, dismissing the staff and putting the building up for sale. NAA continues to use the API brand on a few programs (which mystifies me), but to those of us who loved and worked at API, it was shut down this year.
- TBD finally shut down entirely after more than a year of maintaining the URL with a little bit of content after cutting way back in 2011. We had pretty much mourned the death of TBD long before the official end, so this wasn’t as big a deal.
Though I visit New York occasionally, we remain based at our condo in Herndon, Va., which got new cork floors this year (you can see them beneath the branding iron in the photo above). Duffy misses the traction of our carpet, but we enjoy watching him slide around on the wood floors. He sometimes travels with us and sometimes stays at the dog “resort” when we travel. He enjoyed our annual visit to Washington for the cherry blossoms.
Other interesting things that happened this year:
- Tom introduced me to deep-fried Cadbury Creme Eggs.
- I started using Pinterest.
- I tweeted so many times during a Woodward and Bernstein panel at the American Society of News Editors convention that I exceeded Twitter’s limits and was shut down briefly.
- I shaved off my beard.
- We were on the edge of Hurricane Sandy, getting lots of rain and wind, but no damage.
- Mimi saw the Endeavour fly over San Francisco Bay (alas, I was indoors at the Online News Association conference).
- We drove out to the Virginia countryside just last week on a clear, dark night to watch a meteor shower.
- We helped lay wreaths at the gravestones of veterans and their families in Arlington National Cemetery this Saturday and attended a candlelight vigil against gun violence that evening.
If you’ve made it this far (yeah, you can tell more in a blog post than a one-page letter), you probably are a close enough friend or family member that we’ll mention that our condo also got a new, comfortable sofabed in the den this year. We’d love to host visiting family and friends sometime during the coming year. Or if you’d rather stay closer in to D.C. (we’re way out near Dulles Airport), let us know and we’ll come in to show you around or meet you for dinner.
Unless we’re traveling, of course. Either here or somewhere else, we hope our paths cross in 2013.
Steve and Mimi
Steve you and Mimi have an exciting life and I hope that continues into 2013, but minus the sorrows and travel hazards.
Thanks, Doug! And thanks for the lovely card.
Thanks for sharing, Steve. I knew your lives were full, but I had no idea just how rich in joy, and sorrow, last year was. I’m having a cheeseburger for dinner tonight.
Every year I look forward to your letter — always rich in stories of extended family and adventures.
I was sorry to hear about the death of your nephew – of course the story was well told and reminded me of the generosity and love of the people of the midwest.
If you and Mimi make it up here to Maine, please do stop by our little farm. We added a couple of kids this year — for our kids. That would be two dairy goats for Don, 9, and Nora, 6. And both Patrick and I are official 4-H leaders now. Life is good.
We’ve got room and plenty of advice on visiting the Pine Tree State. Patrick and I actually do make it to D.C. a fair amount and so we’ll have to see if we can get our paths to cross.
Have fun with the grandkids.
Kristi and Patrick
Thanks so much for including me on your annual Christmas letter. I enjoy reading it. I followed the news of your nephew Brandon and was so sorry about his loss. I’m always in awe of how respectful people continue to be for our soldiers, but am thankful at the same time. I’m glad the town turned out to honor him and your family. His certainly was a life well-lived.
Congratulations on your new grandchild! Your pictures of your grand kids are adorable!
Life has been busy for my family. This year saw my oldest, Tommy turn 14 and begin his freshman year at Creighton Prep. Kyle, 10 and Hayli, 9, miss Tommy’s presence at St. Thomas More but Kyle is filling the big brother shoes nicely for Hayli at STM.
On Memorial Day I held a Wopila (thanksgiving) ceremony in honor of my dad on Rosebud. It’s a traditional “releasing the spirit” ceremony you hold a year after the person passes where you would give away their items. Since my dad had nothing, my brother and I collected items over the past year to give away. We had blankets, clothes, toys, and lots of other items to give to friends and family who attended. I also hosted a large meal for the village of O’Kreek where my dad and his family is from. We laid a headstone on his grave and my grandfather Webster Two Hawk prayed. It was really liberating in a way.
I continue to work at UNMC in public relations, and wrote for a while for the Omaha Catholic Voice on the side.
I’ve maintained ties with the friends I met last year while on mission to Nigeria and set up a fund for Sr. Joan in Fuka to help with her health clinic. Some day I plan to go back. But that will have to wait for this year, in April, I’m taking two eye surgeons to Rosebud who will perform free cataract surgeries. It’s taken two years, lots of federal, tribal and state red tape but we’re finally set. I’m looking forward to seeing this completed. And hoping that a new partnership between these doctors and the tribe can be established, my real goal.
I hope your travels bring you to Omaha but if they don’t I hope you and Mimi enjoy your trip to Italy and all the places you will visit this year.
Congratulations on her book!
May God grant you both much Peace, Love, Joy and Hope in the New Year! Lisa Spellman
Thanks for the update on your family, Lisa! Your work at Rosebud and in Nigeria must be truly rewarding. Hard to believe your kids are that old!
You looked better with the beard, not that you look that bad without…
But younger-looking without, right?
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