Christmas 2006

After some skiing in Tahoe (Ivy actually took snowboarding lessons for those three days we were there--I stayed w/ normal skiing) we cruised back over to my parents' place just outside of El Dorado Hills.  My sister Melissa's kids are looking great: Jacob (almost 2) and Will (10 months I believe...).  They were the center of the action and fun w/ everyone.  Some good presents were exchanged:  Ivy got me the superb Beatles "Love" c.d. (based on the excellent Cirque de Soleil show featuring the Beatles--we saw it this past 4th of July in Vegas);  Ivy also hand-crafted and painted two corkboards made out of wine corks in a wooden frame (I helped with the hole drilling, which impressed Ivy as she always likes to see me do anything "handy") and gave one to my parents and the other to Laurel.  My mom gave Ivy and me two more classy leather-bound books from the Narnia series and we're looking forward to reading those with some kids some day!

Ivy had to go back to work this past Wednesday, but I got to hang out with Melissa, Mark and their kids and--amazingly enough-- all five of us fit pretty well in our little one-bedroom apartment w/ one bathroom.  I just reminded everyone that this is how families live together in much of the world outside the U.S. (e.g. we saw about 10 people living together in one room in Thailand) and so it's no big deal.  But they decided to leave anyway after 2 days with us for some reason!

I finished the John Adams biography yesterday.  It was phenomenal.  I loved nearly every page and have concluded biographies are my favorite books.  It's always so moving to see the highs and lows of a person's life and how they dealt with adversity.  I'm also always very sad at the end when the person inevitably dies, but inspired too to live life purposefully because time is clearly limited.  In another post I'm going to add a bunch of great quotes from the Adams book.

 

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Stawberry Lodge Near Tahoe; Ode to Laptops

(The post below was written three days ago.  Currently we're staying up in El Dorado Hills near Sacremento for Christmas with my parents)

 

Ivy and I are staying for two nights at the Strawberry Lodge which everyone sees on the way to Tahoe.  It’s about 5 miles south of the Sierra at Tahoe ski resort and I’m sitting in front of a nice fire in the lodge on Thursday afternoon while some slushy/rainy “snow” is coming down pretty heavily.  Not many people are here mid-week and it’s very peaceful to sit here with a laptop and do some writing and reading.

 

The younger generation is going to wonder what people did before the days of portable computers.  We’ve been taking a laptop on most of our trips these days and have been loving it.  It’s a great tool for finding out information (if you have internet access—we don’t here), but also of course it’s fabulous for watching dvds and avoiding watching tv in your room with all those commercials.  Also, laptops are fantastic for saving digital pictures from your camera after spending a day shooting to your heart’s content at wherever you’re visiting.  The first big trip we brought our laptop on was to Paris this past April and we unloaded pictures and videos we took with it each night.  It was fun too to see the pictures displayed on a bigger screen and immediately re-live the beautiful sights of the day.

 

Also, being able to watch a dvd while on the road is a very satisfying way to unwind and get away mentally from the occasional hassles of travel.  Ivy and I have become huge fans of Alias (tv show starring Jennifer Garner as a CIA agent) and in the last year and a half, have gotten through nearly all 5 seasons.  We like that each show is 45 minutes long and fits in well on “school nights” unlike 2-hour long movies.  The international locations featured on each show are a lot of fun and we think it’s well-acted and intelligently written.  We obviously became very drawn in to the story-line and the characters and are going to be sad when we’ve gotten through it all.  The show “24” is apparently also highly regarded and we may check that out next.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Two types of people

It’s pretty interesting that you can divide this world into two basic groups:  those that like to write or blog and those that don’t.  My lovely wife has really no interest at all in writing a journal or blog and yet I really enjoy doing it.  In contrast to me, she takes great satisfaction from working on and completing projects—for example, she just finished another three! online classes (php, javascript and xml) and got A’s in them all!  She also likes to cook and bake and do some artsy-crafty projects from time to time.  While she has enjoyed putting puzzles together in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever done a single one.

For those of us who are writer and journaller-types, we find value in writing thoughts down even if others don’t read them at all.  There’s something very important about slowing down time and capturing thoughts, memories and impressions that will soon be gone.  (What happened back in 2004?  Many are really not so sure.)

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Christmas Party in Santa Cruz with Laurel

Last Saturday night, Yardu and her roommates in Santa Cruz threw another great Christmas White Elephant party.  Hanging out with her roommates and all of the ultra-hip, post-college age Mountain Hermon camp leader and “emerging church” folks, it reminds me a bit of the group at that Laurel and I were a part of for a number of years.  Fortunately, Ivy and I seem to fit right in.

 

Some funny moments for us:  Ivy “stealing” (as per the White Elephant rules) the cow-themed alarm clock gift that has an authentic mooing cow noise because she wanted this to wake us up every morning.  Perhaps Ivy and I both have rural, farm-based roots that we want to get back to.  (I grew up with some chickens, goats and horses and Ivy loves animals, plants, trees, berries, gardening, etc.  By the way, where we currently live there are about 10 squirrels outside our apartment in a little grove with two oak trees.  This squirrel colony is bustling.  In Hungarian, a squirrel is called a “mokus”  (pronounced “moe-koosh”) and we spend time every day watching these guys jump around and nervously and quickly eat their nuts.  They are hilarious.)

 

Back to the White Elephant party and to the other funny moment for us:  We wrapped up two old thick “Labor Law” casebooks as my gift and it turns out that the only young kid at the party picked this gift.  He was probably 9 years old and was crestfallen when he pulled open the wrapping paper and saw these two boring books staring back at him.  This nevertheless got a lot of restrained laughs from everyone and the kid was actually a pretty good sport about it.  Ivy and I later gave him the “Poopy Reindeer” gift (a plastic reindeer action-figure that drops realistic-looking pellets) that came with her Moo-Cow alarm and this got him very excited and happy.

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Blood Diamond

This past Wed evening, Ivy and I went to see Blood Diamond (starring Leonardo) with Rebecca S and some of her co-workers from NASA.  Ivy and I liked the movie a lot:  good, compelling story about an important issue;  the struggles and brutality of Africa were highlighted--especially the suffering & inhumanity behind the creation of child-soldiers;  the importance of avoiding "conflict diamonds"  (diamonds from areas where there is civil war or strife amongst different groups fighting over the goods and inflicting atrocities on women and children and villages to get them). 

Leo did an excellent job.  Neither Ivy or I liked him that much during his Titanic era, but he was amazing as a white south African military mercenary.  Check it out!

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Learning to Pick Battles

At my job, I negotiate contract terms quite a bit with suppliers and customers and the last several weeks have been particularly busy because of the end of the year.  So as a result I've had quite a few teleconferences with various legal people from other companies recently and there been lots of negotiating & maneuvering and polite arguing.  For the most part I like doing this a lot and I've seen very clearly how just about everything that appears to be set in stone can be made flexible with enough pressure or financial incentives (no, not bribery or extortion).

However, this past week I started to argue and debate more than I should with people providing services outside of my job and I've learned it just isn't worth it.  When our web hosting company basically increased our rate slightly, I launched into an epic email struggle with them in which I was digging up old email and pounding them for being inconsistent.  You shouldn't just sit back and do nothing but the amount of energy I put into this was way out of proportion to the benefit I got.  Something similar happened when our apartment manager wanted to take up some of our closet space to install a new drier vent for the people below us and I had a big telephone showdown over the terms of our lease about whether they could do this.  Again, for the amount of energy I spent on this (and for an apartment we're going to be leaving in several months) it's just not worth it.

I also appreciate in the John Adams biography I'm close to finishing that in Adams older years he became less feisty and pugnacious and saw this as the effects of accumulated wisdom.  Similarly, his penpal Thomas Jefferson--despite being a lawyer, president, etc--actually refrained from arguing with people directly at all.  I believe he didn't find it dignified.   Finally, on the presidential theme, it's interesting to see how Bush Senior and Clinton have developed a good friendship over the years after their bitter presidential race and they've united on common causes.  I like that.  It seems wise and the right thing to do.

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Birthdays and Why the Dutch Know Best How to Celebrate Christmas

This past December 5th, my lovely sister Melissa turned 32 (this is the one month out of the year we're just a year apart) and good amigo Cameron F turned 33!

At my company's Christmas ("Holiday") party, on Friday, Lovely Ivy spoke with one of the many Dutch guys who work with me. He described how the Dutch celebrate Christmas differently than the Americans (and presumably the British) do. I think the Dutch model has a lot of advantages for good reasons. Over there in The Netherlands, their Santa Claus equivalent comes and brings gifts for the family and friends sometime during the first week of December. Then, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, no presents are exchanged because that's all been taken care of already. What is great about this is that you don't focus on the materialistic aspects of what should be a family-centered spiritual holiday and so instead a family can better emphasize what's truly important--very similar to how Thanksgiving works in the U.S.   Ivy and I both like their approach much better. We suspect that the retailers might have pushed for the gift exchange to happen as late in the year as possible to pump up annual sales results!?... Anyway, we may go the Dutch Christmas route with our own kids someday. (An added benefit of the Dutch approach is that everyone gets to open their presents earlier than everyone else!... Or--to rid Christmas of its materialism as much as possible--maybe we should ban all gift-giving entirely in our family? Nah--all in all, we should just go Dutch.)

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Christmas Party

Last night was my company's Christmas party at the Bay Meadows racetrack near San Francisco.  It was fun:  pretty good food, some dancing, we shared a whiskey sour and talked to lots of co-workers.  Ivy was, predictably, the most stunning woman at the party.  I've also scanned in and posted the High School Prom-style complimentary picture, complete with cheesy background.  I definitely enjoyed, however, winning $500 in cash at the raffle after dinner.  Corporate largesse at its finest.  

 

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Mark Twain & St. Augustine

Ivy and I did some Christmas shopping yesterday and as I was flipping through the very intriguing book "1000 Places to See Before You Die" I read a great quote from Mark Twain.  He said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the things you did do."

It reminded me of another quote Ivy and I came across hanging from the ceiling of the San Jose Public Library from St. Augustine:  "The world is a book and those who do not travel see only a page."

Traveling around has enriched our lives and we shall keep it up!

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Christmas Tree Farm in Santa Cruz

On Sunday afternoon, Ivy and I met up with my sister Laurel (often called Yardu--this is the name my little brother Matthew gave her when he was very young and couldn't pronounce tricky names like her's).  We met Laurel and her relatively new Boyfriend--oww!-- David up in Santa Cruz.  This area really is gorgeous.  All the big, green pine trees, mountains and ocean are a beautiful combination.  It's expensive to live there too but if you could get a nice set-up (as David does) right in Mount Herman or Mission Springs, you are set!

We went out to the Johnson Family Christmas tree farm and enjoyed the festive atmosphere, took a lot of pictures (will post some soon) and liked seeing all the kids run around excitedly, petting the goats, and riding the tractor around the farm.  It must be incredibly hard work, but I can see the appeal of farm living.  (Growing up, my Mom did have a goat, some chickens and horses at our home in Cupertino.  Perhaps it was a mini-farm?).  I have fond memories of throwing farm apples at my sisters when we had to clean the horse stall.

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Hungarian Rhapsody

Last night we went to an excellent concert featuring a pianist from Hungary in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian revolt against the evil Russian communist empire.  (By the way, the death of that ex-KGB officer in Britain recently has the fingerprints of the KGB all over it.  Very intriguing if Putin was involved too of course). 

The concert was put on by the Palo Alto Philharmonic and featured Liszt, Bartok and Brahms.  Brahms was a German/Austrian who was heavily influenced by Hungarian music and I'm looking forward to visiting Austria again and checking out a number of cities (including the Sound of Music city Salzburg).  Perhaps this Summer!  (Austria, as you know, is directly west of Hungary and only about a 4 hour drive from Budapest.)

Another cool thing about hearing Brahms last night is that the orchestra played the one and only song I ever really learned to play (after about 2 years of piano lessons as a youngster)--the Hungarian Rhapsody (yes, how appropriate given who I've ended up marrying).  I performed that song as a 5th grader I believe at a mini recital and can actually still play it today (though my sisters in particular are sick of hearing it.)

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Different College Major

If I had the chance to do my undergrad education over again, I'd probably have majored in world history.  But what's good now is that I can learn to my heart's content and one of the most satisfying things is seeing connections in different books and learning about the same characters & important figures in world history.

I'm listening to a book on Western philosophy and the author is hitting on the major Greek figures and currently he's on Aristotle.  Ivy knows all about these guys already from her decidedly more thorough liberal arts education.  What has helped me out is that we also both read a fictional novel called Sophie's World a few years ago by a Scandinavian high school philosophy teacher that was very good in giving an overview of the major western philosophers.

Anyway, my main point is that Aristotle was a student of Plato and the tutor of Alexander the Great (there's the connection between historical figures) and he had a cool statement I wanted to share.  Aristotle said, "Plato is dear to me.  But truth is dearer still."

Final note on this before you hit the snooze button:  for those who don't know a lot about science and want to learn, I highly recommend the Bill Bryson book  on the history of natural science called "A Brief History of Nearly Everything."   It was excellent--informative and entertaining.  (Bryson is normally just a very funny travel writer.)

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