Physicists and engineers rely on repeatability: run the experiment over and over, making one change each time. Map the territory, ploddingly and methodically, until the problem is solved. But the grand experiment of life is an entirely different matter, neither repeatable nor even deterministic, a one-shot wonder built on nature, nurture, and faith. Condition and contingency constrain human beginnings, and after our births we make choices that further mold who we are, irreversibly writing history and histones, differentiating our own lives from all others, past or present. Old Crow Medicine Show sings it: "In this life, you don't get no next go-round." The experiment is unrepeatable and so we observe, keeping alert for change and surprise, serendipity and joy.
Neely, Jessie, Martha, and I have seen plenty of change and surprise in 2014. Congratulations go to Neely for finishing a Master's degree in accounting from the University of Rochester, and moreover for landing the only job she can throw her heart into: New York State Lead Organizer for Mothers Out Front. She has garnered great publicity protesting Bakken oil trains, facilitated many house parties, established a local organizing team of volunteer leaders in Rochester, and mightily protested both fracking and the Keystone pipeline. Her work took her back and forth to Boston, to DC, and with the family (and dear friends Leslie, Leila, and Nora) to New York for the People's Climate March.
Meanwhile Martha and Jessie attend second and third grade at their fourth school in so many years, changing this time for a short commute (literally: cross the street, preferably with neighbor Embla). The improvement in family quality of life is huge, and the school is excellent by any measure. The girls have stayed active outside school, playing soccer and taking sewing classes in the spring, taking Spanish and singing in choruses in the fall, and keeping up with Girl Scouts throughout. Both girls clamour constantly for more books: Percy Jackson and Neil Gaiman are done almost overnight; Harry Potter takes longer. Growing up fast, the girls shop for and prepare their own lunches, dress with their own styles (always storing hair bands conveniently on their wrists), and live social lives more intricate and nuanced than their father's has ever been.
I work hard at my own dream job, growing my research team as we study fluid mixing in everything from oceans to batteries, submitting papers and grant proposals, and teaching new classes (dynamics is great). I saw a bit of the world on work trips to Oberwolfach, Syracuse, Berkeley, Stuttgart, Trieste, Ilmenau, and San Francisco (whew). The family's most unrepeatable trip of 2014 took us all to Germany to visit Neely's sister Conoly, stationed there while her husband, Matt, was on duty in Afghanistan. Conoly hosted the whole Ellefson clan in grand style, and led excursions to Normandy, Alsace-Lorraine, Heidelberg, and Luxembourg — thanks Conoly! Neely, the girls, and I also took a four-day side trip to Paris, biking to kid-friendly sights, strolling gardens and palaces, and living simply and well in a little apartment in "Little Africa" by the Sacré Cœur. Friends and family have traveled to our place, too, including Ralph and Kim, Melanie (in the dead of Rochester winter!), Miriam, Jane and McLeod, Justin, Arthur, Haynes and Melanie, and Guy and Rosie. As always we love hosting, and we treasure fine times with good folk. Come back soon!
So go our lives, hustle and bustle, time accelerating, once and for all, precious and unrepeatable. Perhaps in this we are to be artists instead of scientists, embracing the inherent value of the process, observing and experiencing as we go, knowing little of the goals until we have lived them, seeking out sacred wonder all along. Though neither deterministic nor repeatable, this process is surely sensible, intuitive, human — and God willing, beautiful. We wish you and yours all the best in 2015.