2021 Christmas Letter

This year has been quite fun for our family and a huge improvement on our social lives, yet the year has brought the difficulty of several good-byes.  At the beginning of the year, Shannon felt re-inspired to embrace more minimalism in our lives and went through a whole house decluttering.  It has felt awesome to shed some of the excess that we have accumulated in the years since our Thailand adventure, and we are currently reaping the benefits with a more simple Christmas decor and schedule focused on memories and time together.

The spring continued much as last year with yard projects and schoolwork.  We opted not to do pigs this year as we focused on drought proofing our front yard.  We removed most of the grass and created a woodsy feel with a dry river rock bed, wood chips, downed pine and oak branch borders, a handmade cedar branch footbridge over the river, and two baby fir trees.  We left dirt paths for biking and “earthing.”

The time and energy that the kids gave to us in removing plants and spreading wood chips earned them money towards a zip line, which Mike and the kids (along with some help from Grandpa Jim) installed along with an awesome tree house for launching from.  We repurposed a play structure from a neighbor as accessories for the treehouse, and Maggie also got her own playhouse from a reconfiguring of the upper level of the play structure.  She loves to play with friends and eat lunch in her little house.  We had some lovely Friday evening and Sunday afternoon pizza and Tolkien dates in the treehouse as a family and even slept all six of us in the treehouse for the first three hours of one night.  Shannon couldn’t quite handle all night in the hammock rocking 15 feet in the air, and Maggie couldn’t handle the cold, so they ended up inside; but the other four made it all night under the stars.

In school, Michael finished up his 8th grade Constitution Class with the top grade and Beren and Tali finished out the year strong, with Tali excelling in Math and Beren quickly improving his reading skills.  Maggie continued to ask to do her own school and referred to her binder with all her special art work in it as her “math” book, which she would get out and rearrange daily.  We also answered the older kids’ need to socialize by consistently gathering with another homeschooling family for lots of fun outdoor time.

Mike also took the opportunity to explore another avenue of nursing after the strain of 2020 and began in the OR in April.  He has really enjoyed the change of pace and is even willing to help out in the ER on occasion without feeling too burned out.  The surgery department at Tehachapi Hospital continues to expand, and Mike appreciates getting to be a part of the experience.

By summer, we felt more ready to mingle, and Tali briefly had the opportunity to take a sewing class through school.  Beren wanted to join too, but he was too young and will have to wait until next year.

Mike and Michael started off summer a little early for Mike’s birthday as they went on a 3-night hiking trip at Castle Rock State Park. They thoroughly enjoyed the trip and hiked 30 miles! Mike will be the first to admit that he made a wrong turn early on the second day which added about eight miles to the planned seven mile hike. Needless to say, they were very happy to see redwoods at the end of the day which signaled their arrival to that night’s camping area. Overall the trip was a great learning experience for both of them and an experience they will never forget.

We took an amazing family trip to Lake Tahoe, which was our longest camping adventure yet as a family.  We stayed six nights in a campground tent camping, where we got to mingle with several baby bears.  Everyone agrees that the highlight of the trip was our day at Tahoe Treetop Adventure, which involved harnessing up and climbing into mighty Tahoe pines to trek through varying levels of obstacle courses, including ziplines and ropes courses.  Maggie was too young to participate, but she enjoyed walking under the courses and watching us zip and climb around.  She also got the only ice cream cone of the day, so she was pretty content.  Other highlights were night fishing, swimming to an island in the middle of a mountain lake with the big kids, and watching Doctor Doolittle on an inflatable screen lakeside.  We counted it as one of our most successful family vacations yet.  The only mishap was the night the baby bear climbed on our campsite table and ate the gluten free brownies before Beren could get one.  There may have been some tears that night.

After all the outdoor projects from the spring, in the summer, we turned our attention to the indoors with its cooler temperatures and cleaner air.  Shannon and the kids repainted the girls’ bedroom, the downstairs bathroom, and the living and family rooms, including one of the brick fireplaces.  Mike installed laminate planking floors in the living and family rooms and painted the kids’ bathroom.

In July, we had the first of several good-byes to dear friends.  We had participated in a zoom Bible Study with the parents for the first half of the year, and Beren and Maggie have special connections with their two kids.  They relocated to Southern Ca, so we will still get to catch up with them on occasion, but our family was sad to see them go.  A month later, just before school began, we had to say another good-bye to a very sweet homeschooling family as they relocated to the Southeastern United States.  A few weeks after that, a family on our street relocated to one of the Mountain states.  We will miss seeing them walking by on their daily walks.

These good-byes hit us especially hard as we had not gotten to spend much time with these friends during our family’s Covid hermitage and had not gotten to reconnect with them much since coming out of it again.  Life circumstances often feel permanent, but all these good-byes have been a reminder that seasons change and the current season will not last forever.   

In fall, we jumped back into a more normal schedule with the kids taking enrichment classes on campus at their school and all four of them playing AYSO soccer.  The year before Covid, we had kind of a bumpy soccer year and had decided not to do it again.  However, after hanging out with friends around their firepit over s’mores and hearing about how they had just signed up for soccer, the kids got the soccer bug again.  We decided to give it another try, and we are so glad that we did.  The whole experience was much better all around.  We have all matured (Mike and I included) in our attitudes about winning and losing, and not having anyone in diapers or strollers made a huge difference too.  All the kids had great teams with caring coaches, and we were fortunate enough to have practices overlap.

We even continued a tradition that we started our first AYSO season of having the kids’ teams over midseason to hang out and get to know each other.  We really enjoyed getting to share our outside space with their teammates.  Michael’s team especially enjoyed the zipline as well as a high-stakes, bragging rights, cornhole tournament, thanks to a beautiful corn hole set made by Mike’s dad for us, which has been a major hit during many of our outdoor gatherings. Mike and I also participated in AYSO, him by refereeing games and me by coaching Beren’s team.  We had amazing little guys on our team with great attitudes and very supportive families.  I am so thankful to have had the redeeming experience; and that God moved our hearts to participate, since Michael said that without soccer he may not have survived his first semester of high school.

Speaking of that first semester, whoa, has it been a doozy!  Michael has risen to the challenge, completing all his work to the best of his ability and sticking with assignments even when it meant all day Saturday and sometimes Sunday to get them done.  We are very proud of him, but the whole family is looking forward to this two week holiday!  The other children continue to thrive with Tali developing her research skills in English, getting close to completing 6th grade math several months early, tackling Italian and coding, and trying out for the school play.  She earned three small parts and will make her theatrical debut in May.  Beren is sticking with his dream of being a zoologist and grew a frog from a tadpole this year.  Sadly, we learned the hard way that a cave we made for his habitat had a toxic coating on it that was lethal to the poor guy, and he lost him the same week that Michael lost his beta fish.  There may have been some tears that week too.

Maggie has been frustrated by mommy’s rigorous homeschooling schedule this fall and has been struggling with learning to manage her emotions.  We are all trying to stay patient and be understanding of her position as the youngest, who doesn’t have official schoolwork with which to demand mommy’s attention.  However, she also got to play on her own soccer team this year, which helped to give her some of her own time in the spotlight.  She even made a new buddy through soccer, which helped with the sadness of losing some of her other buddies this year.

The other kids have made some new friends this year too, both through school and soccer, but it has also been nice to reconnect with old friends post-Covid lockdown.  Michael has even been able to maintain a friendship he began the first year we moved here even though his friend now attends THS while Michael is still homeschooling.  It’s fun to see them maintain the connection despite their demanding workloads.

Despite this rigorous fall schedule, we also found time to demo and remodel our master bathroom under the guidance of and with a lot of work done by my step-dad.  We now have a beautiful, cozy room that functions so much better than before when there were doors, walls and light switches in all the wrong places.

We also took the time this fall to pursue appointments with pediatric specialists for Beren in order to check up on the Celiac diagnosis and his lung capacity (after all the health issues he had at birth).  We received excellent news that the gluten free diet is working and his villi are all healed as well as that he has normal lung capacity for his age.  Yay!  He was a trooper throughout the many appointments, tests (including three Covid tests), and long car trips; and we are so happy to know that his body is growing healthy and strong.

This last week marked another sad good-bye, as the neighbors right next door to us embarked on a new family journey.  Since moving into our house three years ago, we have really enjoyed having a homeschooling family to do life with.  We are so sad to see them go and are praying that our new neighbors will be kindred spirits.  They want to keep our neighbors chickens, so that’s a good sign!  Later this month, we will say another good-bye to the homeschooling family we spent the spring seeing on a regular basis as they embark on their own new adventure in the Pacific Northwest.  Hopefully, it will be the last major good-bye of 2021!

As we enter into this Christmas season, we are full of hope that even when life doesn’t go as planned, a new horizon full of possibilities and surprises, sometimes pleasant and sometimes challenging, comes into focus.  We are not sure what 2022 will bring, but we know that God will work out His purposes in mysterious ways; and we will be along for the ride together as a family.  We look forward to telling you about the adventures that await us.  

Wishing your families love, peace, and joy into 2022,

The McMahons

O Holy Night!

English lyrics written by John Sullivan Dwight

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

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