Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas from The Claytors 2017

Well, well, well, you just couldn’t stay away, could you!?  Don’t blame yourself, we are quite adorable and you’re only human after all.  And if you expected 2017 to be a bit of a “lull” after last year, then you haven’t been paying attention, grasshopper…

 OK – in age order we start with Colin, though he’s hardly a “kid” anymore and nearly as tall as Chris nowadays.  Early in the year we got him behind the wheel for a 1,000 mile drive around Lake Michigan.  Yeah.  That Lake Michigan.  The big one.  Heading North from Chicago on a three-day road trip was a great way to complete his mileage quota before getting his Driver’s License.   Go ahead…read that statement as many times as you need to and let it sink in (he’s actually an AWESOME driver.)  Colin also continued performing with his band “The Difference” with a repeat appearance at Soldier Field and open mic nights at the Lamplighter Inn.  He played Mr. Bucket for Spotlight Theater’s Willy Wonka production, and we’ve just learned that he scored the leading Role for next year’s SHREK!  Grab your torch and pitchfork!

Caitlin started the year on a great rock climbing trip to Arizona over Spring Break with Chris and Kelly.  During the semester, she participated in a 5K benefit run raising money to benefit the Crisis Nursery in Urbana, Illinois, carrying a Sousaphone the entire distance.  After another summer working at Chris’s office she headed back to Champaign for her fifth and final year at University of Illinois.  The term is (ahem) “Super-Senior”.  For her last stint with the Marching Illini, she won a slot with the Sousaphone section (she’s the short one…easy to pick out this time.)  Aside from marching, classes, and tour-guiding, she’s joined the Sixth Street Brass band as their featured singer, playing gigs all around the college town and even up near Chicago, close enough for us to see her.  You know, with her busy schedule and adoring fans we take what we can get.

What is there to say about Otter?  He spends his days sleeping, shedding, and staring, in no particular order. So happy to have all his people around him, he really settled in with Chris being back from Europe, and Caitlin spending the summer home from school.  He’s an old man these days, making funny noises getting on and off the couch, and now sports a few extra supplements and pharmaceuticals to get him through the day.  But the daily walk routine and barking at passersby never ends and he shows no other signs of slowing down.  What’s “dog” for “get off my lawn, you damn kids”?   

Kelly started the year  by promptly tearing something important in her shoulder on the Arizona climbing trip with Caitlin and Chris.  After a few attempts climbing at the gym and a weeklong trip to Boulder, Colorado to catch up with all our friends who’ve relocated there, verified it was properly wrecked and surgery was needed.  This caused her to stay home through the summer, with strict instructions that she was not allowed to drive. Her recovery consisted of chick flicks and attempting to butter toast one handed.  She’s finished the first draft of a long in process novel - it’s currently under edit – and there’ll be more to follow on that project early in the new year.  She didn’t let the bum shoulder slow her down too much, and we scheduled a long overdue visit with friends from upstate New York, renting a cabin on Lake Champlain with a quick day trip to Montreal.  In the rain.  Yeah that part hasn’t changed.  Sending her to drought stricken areas should qualify us as proper humanitarians.

Working briefly in The Netherlands last year was an interesting experience for Chris but he’s definitely glad to be home.  Being back in the US allows him to return to his favorite pastime…spoiling the family.  He worked the backstage for Colin’s musical, overloaded Caitlin’s apartment with food, and cooked up a storm for Kelly and anyone who happened to be visiting.  Along with the travels that Kelly puts together, he’s been climbing a lot more and getting back in shape for future trips outside.  Chris decided to take up trail biking (we’d call it mountain biking but…you know…Illinois…)  So far after a dozen or so outings he’s only gone over the handlebars three times.  We’re pretty sure that means he’s a natural, although Kelly did buy him the best helmet available, just in case. And shin guards. And gloves. And eye protection.

So yeah, how’s that for an update completely devoid of controversy or political scandal?  #FAKENEWS!  Admit it.  We say a lot of words, we know tons of words.  We have the best words. 

Love to everyone!
Chris, Kelly, Caitlin, Colin, and Otter!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Claytors 2016

OK – show of hands:   Who survived 2016 with their emotional well-being intact…?  It all started with a gorilla (Harambe…RIP) and seems to have ended in a spray tanned orange Cheeto.  Anyone else hoping for a kinder, gentler 2017?  We should be so lucky but anyway…here goes nothin’ !!!

Colin’s first year at Prospect High School went well and he’s happy to be an ever more independent sophomore.  Still crushing guitar lessons at El Ray Music School, he performed in three musicals with SpotlightYouth Theater (Charlie Brown, Hairspray, Joseph and some kind of jacket or something, I forget now.)  In the summer, he visited Dad in the Netherlands (not sure if he steered clear of the Red Light District?) and upon return started DRIVING on his learner’s permit.  He’s really quite good at it if you don’t look in the rear view mirror and ignore the honking...  The official license is expected spring of 2017, which we’re all looking forward to so we can officially suspend the rotating parental Uber service for the busy artist.  We can all stay home, have a cocktail and wait for the phone calls…    

Caitlin is in year 4 earning her Music Education Degree from the University of Illinois, and spent the summer shunning her parents, living in her apartment in Urbana, and working as a tour guide for prospective students (which perfected her backward walking and pointing at buildings skills.)  She’s still playing Mellophone with the Marching Illini although she’s being courted by the Sousaphones to join them.  Or somebody lost a bet…whatever.  Aside from longboarding all over campus, she went on her first climbing trip without her Dad hovering over her, and was able to make it home for a week over the summer to join us for a quick visit to our friend’s Wisconsin cabin, shortly before turning 21.  We kinda “looked the other way” and let her have a few sips of adult beverages during that trip.  I wonder how she liked it because I’m sure that was totally the first time…        

What is there to say about Otter?  He accompanied Kelly on a few Friday's out in The Nature. Evidently he's taken on the role of Chris's spirit animal, as we determined Otter to be strangely sensitive to the comings and goings of all the family members. With Caitlin staying away all summer and Chris overseas he was quite put out, often found sleeping by the side door waiting for his wayward people to return.  But now that everyone is home and he has all his people near him, all is right with the world. Good Dog!

Kelly started a new job with The Joint Commission, enjoying a part time schedule through the spring and summer which allowed her to boss around the contractors during our kitchen renovation, organize rocks in the yard (fortheloveofgod don't ask), visit Chris during his stay in The Netherlands, and primarily spent her days endeavoring to maintain his sanity. A year in the planning, Scotland was on the itinerary for our 10th anniversary, an epic trip complete with puppies and rainbows and bagpipes...So. Many. Bagpipes.  She went full time in October just in time to resurrect the infamous “shark costume(fortheloveofgod don't ask) for the company’s Halloween costume competition…which she won, duh.  After traveling to San Diego to paint a thirty foot long mural (fortheloveof - oh whatever) she capped off the year by donating twelve inches of her unreasonably thick hair.  She briefly considered making 5000 paint brushes with it, but figured donating to Wigs for Kids will balance out her Karma...Hair Follicle Namaste?  

As many are aware, it was quite an eventful year for Chris.  It all started with an work assignment overseas.  Before diving into that he made sure to take a rock climbing trip to Arizona, Emcee a competition at Vertical Endeavors, and perform a summer Recorder recital with The Baron’s Noyse.  He did make it to The Netherlands, but no one told him it was full of Dutch people (was anyone else aware of this?)  After living and working in Dordrecht (the Dutch equivalent of Schaumberg) for a little over 3 months, he decided to return to more familiar ‘Merican surroundings and return to his post at Michael Lewis.  So he’s officially repatriated, exceedingly happy to be back with family and friends, and already planning Dutch-Free adventures for 2017!

This was definitely the year that we turned over the apple cart and tried some new things – some of it stuck, and some of it didn’t.  But we’re all happy to be together, healthy, and definitely looking to push the boundaries more every maybe the boundaries to Canada, eh.

I’m pretty sure the Russians have hacked this Christmas letter, so please don’t take it too seriously or consider any of us for higher office.  I mean, how much worse could it…ohhh…right.

Oh well – here’s to surviving!

Love, Chris, Kelly, Caitlin, Colin, and Otter!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Scotland 2016

Ten Years.  It’s a milestone, and after ten years of blissful marriage, a travel-loving couple ought to celebrate with a trip worthy of the event.

Scotland and Iceland have always been on our wish list, and although the original plan included visits to both, my “European Work” event of 2016 and all the additional travel that created for everyone meant that scaling back to “just Scotland” was the smart thing to do.  Kelly set out planning our next trip of a lifetime, and left me in the dark – just as I requested.  “I don’t want to know what’s happening until we pull into the parking lot,” I said quite bravely.  

Our flight out from Chicago was a bit delayed in departing, but it’s funny how that’s not really a big deal when sitting in International First Class – HA!  We enjoyed the fine dining, cocktails, and cushy lie-flat reclining seats for the nine hours to Dublin.  Then reality slapped us around a bit on our propeller powered puddle hopper (we got bumped due to the plane being above weight). We arrived a few hours late, unscathed and welcomed by unseasonably dry and warm weather in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle
Friday: Day one started with a short nap in the swanky Old Town apartment that Kelly booked – a veritable stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle.  Jet lag induced Zombie-ness  subdued, we went out for a walk through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival followed by dinner at a proper pub.  That night we could hear the bagpipes and drums from the Castle just up the hill.  

Saturday: Day two in Edinburgh, we visited the excellent National Museum of Scotland listened to a few street buskers, and caught a decent comedian putting on a free show.  After dinner we enjoyed premium seats at the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo, which showcased bands, pipes and drums, drill teams and dancers from all over the world, capped off with fireworks and more perfect weather.
Glengoyne Distillery
Sunday: The next morning we drove north – out of the hectic city and quickly into the countryside. First stop was the Glengoyne distillery where Kelly had arranged a private Malt Master class for us to tour the facility and try our luck at mixing our own whisky from cask samples.   The results were…interesting…?  We managed to swill our own very booze throughout trip (and also used a bit of it to clean cuts and scrapes acquired during later hikes, but never mind if it served better as an antiseptic). Yeah, it was a wee bit strong. 

Finnich Glen
On our way north to the Highlands we found a hidden place called Finnich Glen.  We hiked down a muddy gorge to a spot called the Devil’s Pulpit, located in an 80-100 foot ravine, cut by a copper colored river.  There are mysterious light shafts and features in the rock walls that seem to form faces that follow your movements.  We were a bit apprehensive about the approach (known as “The Devil’s Steps”), a steep, slick, muddy descent with nothing stopping a potential fall - until we saw a couple kids and a Shih Tzu come bounding up the gully.  So um, yeah, guess we’re goin’ in, damn the consequences and white fluffy dogs be damned too.  Safely at the bottom and only slightly butt muddied, we wade in the frigid waters and were surprised to find that we could see our breath in the cool air. Properly wet and dirty, we left there and started our real journey – to Glencoe. 

You know, I’ve heard people talk about how beautiful the Scottish Highlands are.  We’ve been around the world a bit, and seen some pretty cool places, natural wonders, etc. so like, how “beautiful” could the Highlands possibly be…honestly?

Holy.  Fu&k!ng.  Sh/tB@lls.

I don’t think there has been anywhere as stunning as the landscape we’ve enjoyed as much as the Highland mountains and hills around Glencoe.  We can’t take a picture or describe in words how remarkable it is.  Driving around windy roads, hiking on trails, and saying to each other, “oh look over to the left, the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.  And to the right, the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.  And straight ahead oh DAMMIT IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VIEW I HAVE EVER SEEN. Just knock it off already OMG…SERIOUSLY?!?!?  WITH THE RAINBOWS???!!!”
We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast, and had dinner that night at the famed  Clachaig Inn, sharing a table with a honeymooning Dutch couple (seriously…who do I need to pay off for these people to leave me alone?) while listening to live Scottish music. Monday We hiked the Devil’s Staircase – a wee hill trail that’s included as part of the West Highland Way (think Appalachian Trail but shorter, and with a Scottish accent). Upon advice of our B&B host, we went off trail the extra 150 meters up to the top of Stob Mhic Mhartuin for fantastic views down the glens. Later that day, thoroughly exhausted and blistered and windblown , we drove the road to James Bonds Skyfall house – in Glen Etive. 
Munro - Stob Mhic Mhartuin

Tuesday: Next day was spent on a quest for a mysterious art gallery somewhere on the road to the Isle of Mull, and another in Oban…which involved 3 increasingly larger ferry rides and a glimpse of the outer highlands before the Western Isles and the Hebrides rise from the sea– definitely places on our itinerary for the next visit. 
Somewhere on Mull

 Wednesday: Sad to leave Glencoe, we took a drizzly drive east to Cairngorms National Park, making a stop at the Highland Folk Museum to check out how folks in the 1700’s lived in the mud and thatched roofs and stuff. And some crazy talk about it being an “Outlander” film location. Not necessarily “riveting,” but interesting, and enough of a time killer until Kelly’s next surprise...

Highland Folk Museum
Kelly navigates us to our next stop - rather sheepishly...(ha!) a working sheep farm with BORDER COLLIES!!!   I try to contain all the feels and watch the black-and-whites at work during a herding demonstration.  And I really had held it all together quite well…Until… 

They unleashed.  The PUPPIES.  And I seriously considered the ramifications of sneaking one lovely little lady out in my jacket.  No, I’m NOT CRYING.  I just have a little dust or something.  In both of my eyes…

We expected the Cairngorms to be of “lesser” grandeur than Glencoe, but honestly they did not disappoint at all.  We enjoyed driving on steep and windy roads past rivers and castles, in and out of little towns and villages, past rolling hills of heather, arriving at a cabin in the woods that Kelly had booked for 3 relaxing nights.  

After using the first day to stock the kitchen and catch our breath a bit from all the week’s activities, Thursday finds us just chilling out around the property, walking among the forests of the estate, which whets our appetite for something “bigger.”  So Friday we went to the Linn o’ Dee (such funny names around these parts) for a seven mile hike towards An Sgarsoch (we stopped at the White Bridge). The delightfully flat path took us through a winding heather covered valley next to the River Dee. 
Linn O'Dee
Luckily we picked a nice breezy day in an open locale to avoid the midges (nasty, bitey, little nosee-em bugs…way worse than any mosquito swarm…) and for mile after mile enjoy sun and clouds, wind and a misty rain, bikers and hikers, and saw stone settlements along the river valley that were abandoned long ago.  We said a cheery hello to several packs of unsupervised teens on scout camping trips – after all, with basically zero crime and benign wildlife, how much danger could they possibly get into?

Saturday was our drive from the Cairngorms back to Edinburgh, with a stop off at Kelly’s final surprise destination – the Braemar Gathering – for a day of Highland Games. 

Once again we’re flooded with the sounds of bagpipes and drums and thick Scottish brogues as we watch foot races, dance-offs, high jumpers, tug-o-war contests, and big stout men in kilts throwing unreasonable large objects.  There’s whisky and food, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.  No, really!  The spry 90 year old monarch, being the patron of the games, attends them almost every year, so we chummed up, shared some grub, whisky toasts, and talked about the whole Brexit nonsense.  She liked my ideas, totally has a plan now.

From Braemar, we drove all the way back to Edinburgh, with a quick stop in Perth.  It took some mental adjusting as we got closer and closer to the capital city as the roads got busier and busier.  We returned the car and made our way to the hotel for our flight to Amsterdam the following day.  Don’t worry, we only spent about 24 frantic hours in The Netherlands to gather up my things from the work assignment which is now ended.  The following day we caught a flight with Iceland Air back to Chicago, which is cool because it means a quick layover in (duh…) ICELAND!  Although we didn’t leave the airport, we did get our passports stamped, and got a chance to speak to some other travelers about their visit and are certain that we’ll make it there for a proper vacation in the future.  Until then, we’re both back in the US for the foreseeable future.

A map of our travels:

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cheese Curds & Beer

Once again, the Claytors were lucky enough to accept an invitation to the Wisconsin north woods and join the Nobles at their family’s lake house.  This was especially great this year because it meant that a much needed break for Chris coming home from working in Europe…
Did someone order some kick-ass with a side of freedom?
Sadly we were short one kid, Colin had scored some concert tickets that he didn’t want to miss out on. And besides that, he had already endured 2 full weeks vacationing with us in Holland (poor kid) so it was all the “drinking age” Claytors on this trip!
Cocktail Cruise – Engaged!
As happened last year, there was all manner of swimming, boating, watersports, paddleboarding, and good ‘ole relaxing family time.

We all again flexed all our foodie muscles and cooked up steaks, chicken, brats, and Chris’s Maryland Crab Cakes (probably made enough for half the houses on the lake…!)

And no matter how life is treating you, we’re pretty convinced that the cure for anything that ails you, is a good soaking in fresh water, a bold refusal to count calories, being out of wifi range, and falling asleep to the sounds of loons calling across a north woods lake. Kelly and Caitlin had a close up encounter when a tiny hummingbird hit the cabin window and fell into Caitlin's hoodie. Kelly carefully extricated the bird and let it sit out the next round of cocktails while it recovered. The bird flew off into the pine trees a little while later - with Kelly yelling, "It's ALIVE!!!" and throwing her hands up, victorious. She sure does like The Nature.

We can’t wait for next year to hopefully do it again!