We are approaching the end of 2014, and with that the time to reflect on all that has occurred during this latest orbit around the sun. Below are a few highlights and favorite moments from our year, told from the perspective of each individual family member, even though most experiences were shared ones.

Debi has had a biNASA suitg year professionally. On April 1st she started what she considers her dream job at the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. In her job search she was specifically looking to work for an international non-profit, and preferably in a position that allowed her to combine her science and education backgrounds. And voila! Challenger Center was the perfect fit, and also throws space science and simulation technology into the mix. Challenged and inspired on many new levels she couldn’t be happier with her work, her geeky colleagues, the beautiful Capitol Hill work location, and the relaxed atmosphere in the office (e.g. casual Fridays every day, bring your dog to work whenever you like, and the kitchen has a fridge dedicated to beer and wine to induce productive brainstorming sessions, or a nap on one of the many comfortable couches). Challenger Center’s mission is to inspire kids to be curious about world around them, engage them in exploration and discovery, and interest them in science. This is accomplished by providing students the opportunity to become astronauts for a day and fly missions to the moon, Mars or the International Space Station at 44 Challenger Learning Centers across the planet. Debi works at Challenger headquarters in Washington D.C. and, among other things, manages a large project to develop a new simulated mission which will take students to the bottom of the ocean. She chose this topic because ocean exploration is one of her personal passions, and a mission to inner space is the perfect compliment to Challenger’s suite of outer space missions.

D&QuincyOn a personal note, Debi is very happy that she got to spend significant amounts of quality time with all of her bridesmaids (and -men) during 2014, which is not that easy as they are scattered across the US and beyond. She got to spend time with Gerald on a recent visit to D.C. from Hamburg, and she spent many hours at Lauren’s house chatting, eating, helping with the kids, and generally enjoying each other’s company. In January she visited her friends Quincy and Achim in Dallas, TX for a week and experienced their new home town through their eyes.

The bridesmaid Debi gets to see the least is Nicole, who lives in Bielefeld, Germany, so this year we decided to vacation together inIMG_5825 Finland to make up for all the times we do not get to see each other. First, Nicole, her husband Jochen, Ted and Debi spent a few days together in Helsinki, where Debi did much of her growing up. So in addition to spending time with Nicole she also got to take many trips down memory lane (her last visit to Finland was eight years ago), and celebrate her birthday there. This trip proved meaningful for Debi on so many levels! Then we all drove three hours north of Helsinki to the famous Saimaa lake area and rented a cottage for a week, which was beautifully situated on a lake and offered views of the most stunning sunsets. It was one of the most relaxing vacations we have ever been on, and we had much fun spending it with Nicole and Jochen. A big bonus was seeing Carmen at the opera festival in Savonlinna, a spectacular performance in the courtyard of medieval Olavinlinna castle.

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Trouble started 2014 with a snowy and cold winter, much to the content of this Bernese Mountain Dog. It started with the most snow Trouble has ever experienced in Maine, and continued for several more months of snow fall at home in Alexandria. She was so happy to be in her element and we made sure she got to enjoy it every single day.

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Trouble also went on several vacations this year to places where she was able to run free and roam to her hearts content, the main criteria of a good trip as far as she is concerned. She got to visit Roanoke, VA in the spring, and enjoyed the hospitality and attention from the entire Patten family. In the summer Trouble spent a weekend in the VA countryside for our annual trip to our favorite B&B, and there she helped Ted and Debi celebrate their fourth anniversary. The fall took Trouble on her sixth trip to Ironbound Island, Maine, which is especially close to her heart. We never see her happier than when she roams the island, and this year she got to do it with her canine friend Mia. Finally, Trouble got to spend Thanksgiving in Manhattan with the Metzler family, and the days following in Sugarloaf, NY where she was greeted with several inches of snow.

When Trouble is not on vacation she excitedly does her therapy work with children at our local library. Kids ages six to 12 read to her, and Trouble loves all the attention and cuddles she gets while she “works”. The librarian told us that Trouble is the most popular dog in the program…you can tell from the picture what a good listener she is.

IcelandTed had a very good year himself, with enjoyment and successes at work, though as before he cannot talk about any of it. His choice for this year’s vacation was Iceland, which served as a good, 5 day stopover on the way to Finland.  The weather in late July was pretty cold and dreary, but that did little to detract from the awesome scenery and experiences.  Glaciers, icebergs, volcanos, lava fields, lava caves, Viking ruins, midnight sun, waterfalls, rancid shark…Iceland served up all kinds of adventures.

Ted also attended his 20th high school reunion at the Mississippi School for Math and Science. He gave a presentation titled “Spy Games and Smart Bombs: Going After the Bad Guys” (http://www.themsms.org/reunion-seminars/). The abstract went like this: “Originally from Starkville, Mr. Blaney graduated from MSMS in 1994 and went to Virginia Tech for a BS in aerospace engineering. While there he worked as a co-op student with Pratt & Whitney, developing the engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. After graduating in 1999, he went to work blowing things up as part of the Lethality and Vulnerability Assessment branch for the Air Force Research Lab

20141018_145031_resizedMunitions Directorate.  After a brief detour to get an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida, Mr. Blaney moved on to the Washington, DC, area as a contractor supporting the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Hard Target Defeat branch, where he helped design weapons such as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a 30,000 lb bomb whose purpose is to destroy the deepest underground bunkers.  Currently, Mr. Blaney helps the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) understand and defeat Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by exploiting multiple intelligence-gathering methods and engineering expertise to figure out what our adversaries are up to and how best to disrupt their plans.  He currently lives in Alexandria, VA, with his wife and dog, and his hobbies include reading, video games, ultimate Frisbee, and traveling the world.”

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In October Ted visited his brother Wes in Austin, Texas for a boys’ weekend watching the Formula 1 race, as well as a couple of Ferrari Challenge and Porsche Cup races.  Circuit of the Americas is an excellent venue to watch a race, and Wes’s corporate RV parked trackside (along with its smoker and huge coolers of water, soda, beer, and Jack & Coke slushee) made it quite the event in between races as well.

Though this Holiday Letter ended up being on the long side it doesn’t even begin to cover all that went on this year. So, to put it in one sentence: 2014 has been an incredibly wonderful year for our family. We look forward to continuing our adventures in 2015, and are thankful for all the love, friendship, health, travels, job satisfaction and humor we have in our lives. If you are still reading this you are a trooper and we wish you a very Happy Christmas and a most wonderful, healthy and happy New Year in 2015.

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