Soule Family Christmas Letter 2014

As we look back on the year, we are amazed we made it through all the challenges (maybe we didn't and just don't know it yet). For many of the things we did (more Ralph than Pamela), we find ourselves wondering both “What were we thinking?” and “How did THAT happen?" Well, we have pictures to prove much of it, some of which can be found here.
 
Beau reached many milestones this year. He turned 21 in February. He found out that he can drink in public in Edinburgh without getting arrested. He found out he can wear his prescription sunglasses all the time after losing his regular glasses while barfing out the window of a car moving at high speed. He learned that he can call the police on his father when he does not get his way. He learned he has to find another place to live after the police depart. Other than police visits, we are learning there are few services here in Virginia for people on the high end of the autism spectrum. Despite the challenges of the adult world, Beau has been living separately from us since Oct. Except for some pleading when the money runs out or roommates get obnoxious, it looks like our last loved fledgling is ready stepping out of the nest.
 
Ralph completed his coursework for his Doctorate in Education. He is working through the research apprenticeship known as dissertation, which apparently involves talking to himself in front of the computer a lot. He claims he is just proofreading his dissertation, but Pamela remains dubious because this is not the only odd behavior she has observed. Target completion is still next August. He has sworn off all conference travel and most other projects until he finishes. Pamela provides lots of support in the form of cups of hot tea and questions like, "Shouldn't you be working on your dissertation?"
 
Pam's work at a spa in Norfolk ended when the owner closed it after many years. She made good use of her newly freed time by taking highly specialized training that nearly ruptured her brain, but has opened the door for doing specialized massage for cancer survivors and Ralph whenever she can  wrangle him onto the massage table. Pam expects her new skills will propel her practice to new heights. Now, to just get someone to employ her! In the meantime she practices, and continues to volunteer for the Citizens Committee to Protect the Elderly.
 
There have been almost too many trips this year. Ralph spoke at a patient safety symposium in St. Louis, attended a high reliability organizing conference in Ft Worth, TX, attended an academic conference in Oslo (his pink pants were quite a hit), and conducted an assessment at the U.S. shipyard in Yokosuka, Japan (no pink pants for this trip). Pam's advanced training took place in D.C.  Shortly after returning to wash clothes, she visited her sisters and good friend Jane in Oregon (she doesn't think Ralph noticed because of his studies). She and Jane went camping in the Cascades, which not only helped her reassemble her brain after the class, but catch up on greatly missed friendship time. Pam also attended a Society for Oncology Massage conference in Sarasota, FL. She claimed this was real work, but Ralph was skeptical after hearing about the booz cruise and Halloween party. 
 
Ralph and Pam, and friend Steve Jones spent a week in Wales in July to attend the international Eisteddfod, a music festival. Steve got to practice his cattle herding skills when a large group of cows broke free of their pasture and blocked the tiny farm road they were using to get to the festival. Steve and I broke into a nearly spontaneous rendition of "Men of Harlech" on the castle battlements, which Pamela capture on video. Pamela insisted the team drive close to an hour on tiny, unmarked roads in the pouring rain (it seemed longer to Ralph) to find one of the world's oldest known trees. It is a yew, which is more than 4,500 years old. Ralph was dubious about the whole adventure because the directions they got from the website and two different pedestrians conflicted and mostly sounded like, "do you see that road over there, don't go that way because it will do you no good." Ralph appeared much more interested in the three people dressed in white bedsheets (togas?) walking on stilts nearby. We also took a trip with friends Mike and Jeanelle in June through northern California from  Lasson N.P. to Arcata, and Humboldt Redwood S.P. down to Napa and San Fransisco. Pam got a small Sierra fix, and felt that the trip was planned for her. The entire family went to Edinburgh in June for an academic conference and in August to Zurich for a speaking engagement for Ralph. We deposited Beau in hostels near our accommodations, which Beau prefers when he travels with us. No more personal trips until the dissertation is complete.