Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Letter

Greetings Everyone -

I hope that everyone has had a great and fulfilling year.

As with every passing year, this one seems busier than the last. As the kids continue to grow and develop their interests there are more things that require our time and energy.  More and more of the individual personalities of our three kids are starting take shape and in many cases diverge from one another.  We are lucky that more often than not they are able to co-exist with one another in relative harmony.  Not every day is smooth, but we really can consider ourselves lucky on this front.

Anytime you write a retrospective letter like this it seems a near impossible task to avoid the standard cliches that seem to permeate everyone’s description of their lives.  With that said I can say we’ve had a pretty adventurous year.

In April, Christy and Ainsley took a trip to the East coast visiting Washington D.C. for a couple of days followed up by a whirlwind trip to New York City with Christy’s life long friend Janice and her daughter, Libby.  The trip included a visit to the U.S. Mint, the National Mall, a bike trip through Central Park and, of course, a sampling of New York pizza.  Upon arriving home Ainsley quickly proclaimed her intention to live in New York when she gets older, which means 18-19 years old to her. Her description of what she envisions this to look like is funny to listen to since, from what I can tell, aren’t based on any sense of reality.  But I don’t really recall having dreams of my ideal living destination when I was 13, so maybe her continued focus on these thoughts and dreams over the next few years will make it easier for her to realize.

She continues to volunteer at our local library which she enjoys quite a bit.  Sometimes I think it is hard for us to remember how old she is and let some of our protective tendencies subside.  When she comes home and tells us how she used the giant paper cutter we both shudder and cannot believe that she has all of her digits remaining.  Yet, admittedly, she’s a big, responsible kid capable of a lot more that we probably give her credit for. Something the aides at the library see in her more easily that we do. She is taking high school prep classes at ORLA this year and is doing really well.  She’s getting the chance to write a lot of argumentative essays which I’ve enjoyed witnessing - she’s got some skills and it won’t be long before I’ll be able to transfer this letter over to her.  She’s also continued to take piano lessons and earlier this year she participated in her first competition.  She didn’t win but she showed an amazing sense of confidence and ability to perform in a tense situation.  For me, the way she handled the prep and actual event impressed me more than her tickling of the ivories.  To have that skill at 13 is beautiful, I hope she never loses it and I also hope one day to have it myself.

Jade is also taking classes at ORLA this year, including a Latin America class, a cooking course and karate.  She seems to really be excelling at cooking.  Just the other night I was helping prep dinner and she offered to help; asking if I needed the pot on the stove stirred or whisked and then went on to explain the difference by way of example.  Being the novice I just deferred to her expertise. She’s continued with ballet this year which included a performance at the Washington Center for Performing Arts in spring.  She absolutely nailed it.  Just about anytime you watch a child production of anything there are always those kids who spend most of the time either 1.5 beats behind everyone else because the can’t quite remember everything and are looking at those around them for cues, or are just standing there awestruck.  Not Jade, she was in total command the whole time, confidently executing the whole routine, with the biggest smile on her face.  She was the one being watched.  The pure joy she felt just flowed from her, it was wonderful to watch. She moved up to the next level of classes this fall and is already annoyed that some of the girls aren’t taking it seriously enough.

Finn is also taking Latin America, P.E. and karate, which happen to be back-to-back, and yet he still comes home full of energy.  The good news he hasn’t learned enough in Karate to kick my butt yet, but I suspect my days of dominance are limited nonetheless.  He is also taking a class in cribbage and chess.  He was already pretty good at chess, but adding in some more skills isn’t good for either Christy or I.  Years ago I learned to play cribbage so I had a passing familiarity with it, but re-learning with him has been fun and it is just one more thing that he can enjoy beating his parents at, which I believe may be his greatest joy of all.  He’s developed a pretty strong interest in comics this year and I think he’s at this point checked out all of the comic collections from the library, some more than once.  We do have a little comic book store downtown that I’m guessing we’ll become regular patrons of soon enough.

Both Finn and Jade played baseball and soccer this year.  Baseball was a little funky this year as they had to combine two leagues in order to get enough teams, so a lot of the teams we played were filled with younger, less experienced kids, so that took away from the fun a little bit.  Soccer was interesting to watch.  Jade seemed to take a natural defensive position, hanging back towards the goal and setting up a last line of defense against the other team.  Whereas Finn would float around, seeing anytime that his foot touched the ball as an opportunity to score.

All three kids participated in Olympia Family Theatre's production of Pinocchio: Jade’s main role was Gepetto’s cat, Finn was a few different roles, and Ainsley was the Fox.  Finn and Jade also took part of a one week theater camp that ended in a showcase.  Once again Jade was on top of it, knowing all of the lines, cues and exuded happiness.  Finn was one of the watchers, but he said he had a good time.

In August we spent some time on Lopez Island with Christy’s family.  We had really nice weather and Jim brought along their boat, so the kids all got the chance to drive us around the San Juan Islands.  We explored a few different beaches, did a little line finishing and played frisbee.  The kids also spent a fair amount of time in the swimming pool, which allowed the adults time to sit around and relax.  In September the five of us, along with my parents, went to Maui for a week.  Again we had the good fortune of splendid weather and safe travels.  It was Finn and Jade’s first time on a plane, which is pretty brave of us really, we don’t know how that is going to go so we jump on a six hour flight.  It was like they’ve been doing it for years, handled it just great.  We snorkeled, attended a luau, got Hawaiian shirts, consumed a lot of shaved iced, and of course, spent a lot of time in the pool. Both Island trips were really nice and I cannot wait to do them again next year (hint…).

Christy continues to keep all this chaos in check with ease and elegance.  She’s been doing a lot more chauffeuring this year - she is looking forward to the next location of ORLA this coming spring as it will be within walking distance.  Despite how busy the kids keep her I think there is a small sense, from her perspective, that there is less to do.  The kids are able to get their own snacks and take care of each other a little more.  As a result she’s taken on the project of training Memphis.  She’s take about a dozen classes so far and continues to work with him.  There is some talk about eventually getting him to the point where he can do hospital visitations. He really likes people and loves getting loved up by others so there does seem to be a good fit there, but he’s got some work to do to get there.  I think Christy really likes the challenge.

I am getting ready to celebrate two years at Oracle, which is pretty hard to believe how quickly this time has gone by.  I still have a lot to learn but I’ve also been part of some pretty successful projects that have gained me some visibility.  Now that we are supporting global teams my meeting schedules are more complicated.  So far the craziest day was a meeting at 6AM and another at 8PM on the same day in order to accommodate all of the different time zones.  Luckily days like this are rare.  I’m challenged and have a sense of value, which might be the first time in my employment history.

I had a moment just a couple of weeks ago, when I was putting something away that one of the kids had left behind.  At first I was annoyed but then something clicked for me and I realized that the kids are really just masters of living in moment.  It isn’t that they are incapable of closing the drawer, putting the hair brush away, putting a lid back on the jar or making sure the q-tip (or all five q-tips) actually makes it into the garbage, they are just too consumed with the here and now, the current moment that they don’t think about and worry about all of the possible things that might happen in the future.  They don’t worry about *maybe* spilling the jar contents because the lid is loose, not being able to quickly find the brush the next time you need it or someone hitting their hip on the drawer left open.  That isn’t now, and those things might not happen.  No, they live right now, happy to be staring at their hairdo or enjoying the jelly sandwich.  When this finally occurred to me I became less annoyed and a little envious.  Their doing it right, I’m stuck in the future, the next, the “what ifs”.  Fretting over the state of my Roth IRA has its place, but it isn’t everyday, the worry about all of things that could happen robs me of the present and the inability to enjoy the jelly sandwhich.  I’ve missed moments, I can’t say which ones obviously but I know that I’ve missed them because I wasn’t present.  So with this new awareness I endeavor to learn from my kids and try to be more in the now and encourage everyone to do the same and savor the moment.

Best wishes for 2015, may your new year be full of peace, love and good happiness stuff.

Tony, Christy, Ainsley, Finley, and Jade

Thursday, January 30, 2014

2103 Letter

                                                                                                                             December 2013
Greetings One and All -

I hope that this letters finds everyone in good health and high spirits.

This year I’ve decided to try something a little bit different.  I’ve asked the kids to give me their thoughts on the past year.  I originally asked them to write their own section, but this didn’t quite work out the way it played out in my mind.  Nonetheless, once they started giving me ideas it was hard to turn the fountain off.  So most of what you are about to read is a re-write of what the kids dictated to me.

We had a pretty busy and productive year.  We once again added to our family.  In late spring we fulfilled a long time aspiration of Christy’s and became chicken farmers.  It might seem like a bit of an overstatement, but we like to consider it farming; there is daily maintenance and care of the animals, it requires their own building / yard space and provides a crop.  We had to do some  construction and yard renovation in preparation which was made dramatically easier thanks to a gift of a coop kit from my grandma.  We created the space next to our greenhouse under the shade of some neighboring trees and built a nice fenced area to keep them safe.  We have a couple of different varieties yielding mostly brown eggs and one green egg.  Given our current trajectory I cannot say what I’ll be writing about next year, a pig or a cow maybe.  I think I need a tractor.  Jade is a real animal lover and has a bit of a horse whisper effect on the birds.  At one point she was able to get them to roost on her head.  Not many others were really willing to even try.

Jade’s been active all year.  She once again played T-Ball, this year graduating to coach pitch.  This is a combination of coach pitched baseball and in the second half of the season player pitched.  She got the opportunity to play many positions but her favorites were shortstop (like her big sister), catcher and pitcher.  She surprised us with how well she did pitching - having a natural motion.  We only had to work with her a couple of nights in the backyard and she was ready.  She got a couple of strikeouts and ground ball outs.  The highlight being the inning where she made all three outs herself.  In the spring she took a gymnastics class that was highlighted by her finally achieving the “pull over”, a move that requires her to pull herself over the uneven bars feet first.  She also mastered the rope climb (which as a parent was not fun to watch, it is very far off the floor).  She is currently taking ballet and tap and is really enjoying learning how to dance.  I must admit that the at-home tap practice isn’t my favorite, my ears can only take so much.

She is also having a good time learning Spanish, geography (especially learning about the Iditarod), going to the library, swimming, playing with barbies and tending to her new Betta fish, Rashina.

Finn was the ultimate hard swinging power hitter this year.  He didn’t always make contact, but when he did it was often for extra bases.  He liked playing second base except when the sun was in his eyes and doing the base races at the end of games.  Right now his favorite things are Spanish, math and learning to read.  His reading of Green and Eggs and Ham is fantastic and gets better everytime.  He’ll often add in some additional commentary that makes each reading unique, keeping the reader interested and laughing.  For him the best reading material is Spiderman and Superman comics.  He cannot get enough.  Luckily the library has a pretty solid selection.  He really liked learning about D.B. Cooper and getting the chance to go the special exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.  He keeps others in the family busy with his insatiable appetite for games: specifically Carcassonne, Monopoly (whew...that’s a long game), chess, checkers, and card games like gin, golf and war.  He likes to stay active riding his bike, swimming at the lake, throwing the ball to Memphis (especially when camping), playing with his pal, Zarin, doing Legos and attending ECOS (Environmental Connections Outdoor School).



Ainsley has been very busy this year.  In March she was in the musical Oliver! at the Capital Playhouse.  She played an orphan and the pickpocket named Charlie Bates.  Unlike the productions she normally does in the summer, this was a “normal” production that also included adult actors.  This summer she played a Puerto Rican gang member in West Side Story. She enjoyed camping at Lake Wenatchee and swimming at the pool at the Wenatchee hotel.  In early January she will be getting braces on for the second time, this time being for about a year.  This summer she found the best volunteering position possible:  at the library.  She was able to get second volunteer stint this fall and is really enjoying being part of the staff.   She loved attending Les Misérables at the Village Theater in Issaquah.  Thanks to Pandora she and her siblings are very well versed in all the songs.  The production was great and proved just how special live theater can be.

As you can guess by reading about the three kids’ year, Christy has been mighty busy.  I am so proud of her not just with the homeschooling but as a parent in general.  She is everything I would want my kids to have in a parent/teacher/mentor.  She finds creative and engaging ways to teach the kids things and focuses on keeping them involved in the process.  Just talk to the kids about the Iditarod and you’ll see what I mean.  We, along with another family, have a Spanish instructor come to the house an hour each week.  He’s great and all three kids (plus Christy) are getting a lot out of that.  I don’t know how she does it all:  between the chauffeuring, cheffing, cleaning, food shopping and budget tetrising, teaching, chicken farming, gardening.  She handles it all with grace and patience.  

In February I made my first career change in seven years, I left the State and joined the real world again taking a Database Developer job at Oracle.  What a difference.  While I would never claim to have fully acclimated to working at the State, I can say that I forgot what it was like to work in the private sector.  Obviously I haven’t worked with everyone at the company, but of those that I have worked with are impressive.  They all work hard, care about their work, are very helpful and respect everyones’ time.  In seven years at the State I attended zero meetings that started on time.  Now, you’re late if you get there on the hour.  The team I am on is pretty small, only eight people including myself and my manager.  We support the entire North and Latin American financial groups.  As of two weeks ago we are moving to support on a more global role which should be fun.  It has been a pretty big learning experience.  I still have a long way to go, but it has provided me with something I’ve never really had at a job; confidence that I can contribute and make an impact.  I work from home and am still adjusting to that - I find that having the work in front of me all the time makes it difficult to “turn off”.  I’ll eventually find that balance and hope that it is at least seven more years before I make any more changes.



Love,  Tony, Christy, Ainsley, Finn & Jade  

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2014 Reading List

January

Never Go Back - Lee Child
Starting the year off right with a new Reacher novel. What more could I want.

Cruel Intent - JA Jance
An Ali Reynolds tale - my first.  Seemed like a little more action and maybe a little more of an edge than her other pieces.  Good stuff.

Shock Wave - John Sandford
Rough Country - John Sandford

My first Virgil Flowers novels, I like him as a character.  What I found interesting is the infusion of religion in these books which, to me, doesn't really show up at all in the Davenport books.  It isn't overwhelming by any stretch but does play a role in Virgil's day.  Maybe it is a bigger deal since I actually noticed it/


February


Taking the Fifth - JA Jance
Trial by Fury - JA Jance
Justice Denied - JA Jance

March

Red Mist - Patricia Cornwell

First Cornwell book. Ehh.  Spoiler alert, it was an unknown twin.  Really?  Seems a little soap opera-esque in the plot twist.  I thought it took a long time for this story to get going.  I only finished it because I'd already invested so much time.

11th Hour - James Patterson
Meh.  A little too paint by number for me.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
As advertised, a really great read.  Don't know if I've ever read a story with a more frustrating ending.  Not to say the ending was disappointing and a let down of the book, but just frustrating from a character stand point.

Drop Shot - Harlan Coben
Coben, probably more than any other author, surprises me the most.  Nice twists but nothing too hokey.

April

Chosen Prey - John Sandford

Hidden Prey - John Sandford

Left For Dead - JA Jance

May

Dead Wrong - JA Jance
Heat Lightning - John Sandford
A lot of times when I read books I try to picture a current actor that could play the book character.  I think I have settled on .  Maybe it is because I watched Mud not that long ago and the physical descriptions matched. 
The Martian - Any Weir
Christy got this from the library on my behalf and after about thirty pages I was hooked.  Somewhat technical and nerdy at times, but a good read. The last fifteen pages or so were quite good, I read those faster than the others.  I'd recommend it.  If you are adverse to crude language then it might not be for you though.

Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Recommended by both Ainsley and Christy.  It was good enough, probably not something I would have read on my own, but good enough to finish.

The Hard Way - Lee Child
Classic Reacher.

June

The Persuader - Lee Child
Mad River - John Sandford
Storm Front - John Sandford
As I've set before, the Flowers novels are a little more bent towards religion, this book seals that feeling in for me.  It took slightly too long to get to the end, but overall good.
Silken Prey - John Sandford

July

Judgement Call - JA Jance
The Brady series is about 95% as good as the JP Beaumont series. The missing 5% is the edge JP gets for being from Seattle.  Home town rules.
Cross My Heart - James Patterson
This is the best Patterson I've read, which I'll admit isn't a whole bunch, but this is a good one.
Missing You - Harlan Coben
Coben once again finds a way to make the last two or three pages stunning.  Once you think everything has been revealed you're hit with another blow.  He's so good at his craft.  I'd love to be around during his writing process and see exactly how tales like this are crafted.
Nine Inches - Tom Perrotta
Didn't read all of the short stories provided here, but they weren't bad.  I know that they were short stories but they still felt a little incomplete and the endings were a little rushed.
The System - I learned a few things here, 1) I really wish I had been an elite athlete in college (or any time for that matter).  Sounds like college life is pretty good for these guys.  There is a lot of bad stuff behind the scenes though.  This book, ultimately, was depressing.  Didn't bother finishing it, after cherry picking some of the chapters I am not sure there is anything positive to take away.

August

Queen of the Night - JA Jance
This is the first book by Jance that I didn't really enjoy.  I couldn't get into it at all, predictable and a little discombobulated in its delivery.  I won't complain too much since I've ready so many others by her that have been winners.
The Enemy - Lee Child
Another story from his days in the army.  His raise and fall in the army has been mentioned in other books, cool to read some of the background on this one.  Not the best overall Reacher novel, but probably one of the faster paced ones.
Sugar Pop Moon -John Florio
Bad Blood - John Sandford
There are certain story lines that, as a parent, just don't sit well anymore.  I am sure fourteen years ago I wouldn't have though twice and cared that much, but child sex abuse, kidnapping and the like are things that I just don't want in my head.  Lame...maybe, but I just don't need to think about that stuff.  That said, it is a decent book.  The story wasn't a surprise and probably isn't the best piece of work.

September

The Bourne Ascendency - Eric Van Lustbader
Of all the Lustbader Bourne novels this one was probably my favorite.  He writes pretty dense novels, lots of related story lines and lots of characters.  I thought that it was easier to keep it all together this time, more than some of the others.

Invisible Prey - John Sanford

October

Field of Prey - John Sandord
I don't know what to think, the story's good, typical Davenport novel.  But it seems to me that Sandfords novels are getting more graphic and more violent as he goes along. The last couple of books I've read, including Bad Blood and Field of Prey are a little much, maybe it's me.  But child sex, excessive rape and killing.  It is getting to be a little too much.

Personal - Lee Child
At this point there aren't many surprises in these novels, you know what you are going to get.  This isn't a knock really, still good.

Sharp Objects -  Gillian Flynn
Not too bad, compared to Gone Girl and can see that this book came first.

November

The Burning Room - Michael Connely
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
You can see the evolution of her writing style and their are components here that make their way into Gone Girl.  The different character perspectives, changing of time from past to present.  The story though is just a little too much.  It feel almost like she was trying to prove a point, that women can write dark, heavy material like men.  It was just a little too much.

December

Web of Evil - JA Jance
Part of the problem I have is that I don't read books/series in sequence.  I read whatever I can get at the time.  In this case I knew a fair amount of what was going to happen in this story based on other books I'd already read.  But it was still a good read and I still wanted to continue to read it, I think that is a statement on the quality of material Jance produces.
And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie
Ainsley read this as part of her book club, her first real suspense/mystery type book.  I haven't read anything Christie before so when Ainsley suggested that I read it, thinking I would like it, I thought it was good opportunity to maybe find a new author.  One thing that sticks out right away is the difference in the language, part of it is geographical (England) and part of it is temporal (originally produced in the 30's).  For me it makes it slightly harder to read, but a good story nonetheless.
Deadline - John Sandford
It might be that the Virgil novels are better than Davenport.  At least, for me, the investigation seems a little more complex.