Dear Family and Friends,

2023 has held triumphs and tears, but even in the grief we’ve been held in the grip of God’s grace.

In January, we attended the award banquet for the 2022 Veterans of Foreign Wars “Voice of Democracy” audio essay youth scholarship program where Ruth tied for second place in Washington state. Ruth was given the opportunity to give her speech about “Why Is the Veteran Important?” several times throughout the year, including being one of the speakers at the Memorial Day ceremony at a local cemetery.

March brought the Washington State American Legion Oratorical Contest. Ruth advanced through semi-finals with her speech “The American Machine: What We Can Do for America” and was delighted to have the Sixteenth Amendment drawn for her final round. Ruth did a fabulous job and placed fourth overall. She gave her speech about the Constitution at our farmers market Fourth of July celebration as well.

Later in March, we took a family vacation to Idaho. It was special to spend time with Merritt’s 94-year-old Grandma Billie and her husband Jerry. We also visited the Whitman Mission, Warhawk Air Museum, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Idaho State Capitol, JUMP vintage tractor tour, and even saw ruts from the Oregon Trail. We stopped at every used bookstore we could find along the way (thirteen in all)!

In April, I (Gretchen) spent a week at my grandparents’ ranch. I’m so thankful I was able to make that trip, because on May 23, just a few weeks after his 92nd birthday, our beloved Papa Bill entered into the presence of the Lord. He was at home, surrounded by family and his wife of 69 years. I arrived a few hours later and was able to spend another week there. We buried Papa’s body in a pine casket made by my cousin out of trees from the ranch, in a cemetery just a few miles up the road from their home. My children and I returned in June for Papa’s memorial service. Each of us eight cousins had an opportunity to share our own memories of Papa. It was a beautiful tribute to a life well lived, a man whom many described as “the James Herriot of our community.”

July brought fun times, including a visit from my parents over Independence Day and a visit from Merritt’s sister Marlys and her children. Sara traveled with Auntie Jess for a special visit with Grandpa and Grandma.

In August, the kids and I took a quick trip to my parents’ to see my brother William and his family while they were there, getting a chance to visit with my Grandma Mary as well. We also made a family trip to Grand Coulee Dam.

In September, I went on the Read-Aloud Revival® team retreat to Boston. We saw the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Boston Public Gardens, toured the Alcott’s Orchard House (a highlight for me!), Walden Pond, and the Boston Tea Party Museum. I even got to finally meet an online friend of many years while I was there!

My parents joined us for Thanksgiving—and our new Thanksgiving morning tradition of the Turkey Trot. It was my very first 5k, and it was so special to walk it with my mom. I also joined my mom for a road trip back to the ranch to celebrate my Grandma Jessica’s 90th birthday in December.

This fall, our three older children participated in a nine-week homeschool speech program called Stoa. The first weekend in December was the local tournament they had been preparing for. Daniel advanced to finals with his original oration! Meanwhile, Ruth placed first at post level with her 2023 VFW Voice of Democracy audio essay and Mary placed third at post level for this year’s Patriot’s Pen essay contest.

Our year also included lots of time cooling off in the river and taking hikes (including a few with Aunt Melanie when she visited in September). We attended three concerts as a family: concert pianist Sam Rotman, Country singer/songwriter Granger Smith, and Christian folk singer/songwriter Skye Peterson (our girls were front row fans!). We enjoyed fun times with our local two-year-old nephew—and a new nephew was born in September.

My year was filled with work and travel. In October of 2022, I was given the opportunity to join the team at Read-Aloud Revival® as website manager. After years as a solopreneur, it’s been a delight to work as part of a team this past year! Between RAR and my other clients, I work four to five days a week—plus bookkeeping for our family farm. I get to hang out with my husband and at least one of my children each week in the summer at farmers market. And despite the various caretaking challenges of this year, they have brought quality time with my mom, several of my cousins, and my sister-in-law. I didn’t accomplish any great reading goals this year (with a title count nearing 70), but I especially enjoyed The Words We Lost by Nicole Deese, The Sound of Light by Sarah Sundin, and The Divine Proverb of Streusel by Sara Brunsvold.

Merritt’s year was busy too, between installing a new walk-in cooler for the farm, putting up three cuttings of hay, and making lots of wood trim pieces for a local boat company. It was fun to see all his hard work at a local creamery come to fruition when they had their grand opening. Merritt finished installing wooden stair treads early this year and has steadily been working away at trim and baseboard throughout our home. He also completed a beautiful rock wall alongside our driveway. Favorite woodshop projects this year included a key rack and a footstool. He listened to around ninety audiobooks this year—the most interesting ones being The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan and The World’s Fastest Man by Michael Kranish.

Here are our children’s perspectives on the year…

Ruth (age 16): This year has rushed by and Mom says that means I’m getting old! A few highlights of my year: I competed in the American Legion Oratorical Contest, which included giving memorized speeches, meeting new people, and learning new things. In March, we visited the Whitman Mission, which was one of my favorite historical sites of the whole year.

Two of my favorite books I read were Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I loved the dark, passionate writing of Charlotte Bronte, and though I wanted to murder Willoughby, I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility. Another—well, always—highlight of my year was working on the farm. We had a strawberry patch this year and spent many hours gathering the berries. I’m still writing journal entries, short stories, and novellas, though I had a bad case of writer’s block over the summer. 2023 has been crazy, but overall, it’s been a good year.  

Mary (age 14): This year, I have enjoyed running, writing letters to my pen pals, knitting, working on the farm, sewing, and learning manual photography on my Canon Rebel camera I named “Johnny Tremain.” I ran five races, placing in every one of them. I set a new personal record in the 5k distance and placed top female in one race. I enjoy the quality time with my brother and little sister while we train.  

My favorite subjects in school this year were speech and literature. I took a class and participated in a book club on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I enjoyed making friends and giving speeches at our Stoa speech class. My favorite audiobook this year was The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly. I love the historical feel and strong characters.  

Two of my favorite places we went this year were the Idaho State Capitol and the town of Grand Coulee. The marble of the capitol was so grand and picturesque; the massive sand pile that rose above Grand Coulee was so fun to climb. I also enjoyed driving with Daddy to get fruit from a local orchard.  

As Tiny Tim Cratchit says at the end of A Christmas Carol, “God bless us, every one.”  

Daniel (age 12): I am now in seventh grade. I have enjoyed raising my flock of chickens and ducks, woodworking in our shop, getting to know new friends at our Stoa speech class, and running. In October, Dad and I went on a mule deer hunt with Grandpa Mark. I shot my first deer with Grandpa’s 6.8 Western —the buck was a fifteen-inch, two-point.  

In our woodshop, I have enjoyed making a little box to hold speech cards for our Stoa class, restoring an antique stool, and making gifts for friends. I have run several 5ks and other distances this year, placing in all of them. I enjoyed practicing for them with Mary and Sara. This year we purchased two new cats from the local shelter; their names are Archie and Molly. 

Sara (age 8): My favorite thing this summer was spending a couple weeks with Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt Jessica. I made cookies and graham crackers; we picked blueberries and I learned how to swim in Great Grandma Mary’s pool. Great Grandma Jessica and cousin Abbie visited as well. I also enjoyed working in our farm garden. One of my favorite memories with Daddy was playing baseball together.

Mary, Daniel, and I have been running a lot. I placed in all three 5k races I ran and was first girl in my age group at the Turkey Trot. We got two new cats—their names are Archie and Molly. We also planted two new trees—a London Plane Sycamore and a Sugar Maple. Audiobooks I’ve especially liked this year include Beneath the Swirling Sky by Carolyn Leiloglou, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and Andrew Lang’s Rainbow Fairy Books.

As my friend Lanier Ivester wrote recently at The Rabbit Room, “While grief can be one of the most clarifying forces in the world, it’s the love that remains when the storm has cleared.” Wishing each of you a Christmas season filled with reminders of His love and faithfulness.

Because He Lives,
Merritt & Gretchen, Ruth Anne, Mary Kate, Daniel Merritt, and Sara Elizabeth

Photography Courtesy of Hannah Acheson

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