Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us. This page is a photographic annotation of the email (or regular post) that you may have received. [If you want to see a bigger (and sometimes also wider) version of the pictures, just click on them.]
In February we visited our daughter Kate in Barcelona. She was working as an English teacher there for the academic year. We spent around 9 days there and saw quite a few of the sights. The architecture by Gaudi is dominant in a way, as exemplified by the unfinished Sagrada Familia church shown. The Sagrada tour is a much better deal than the Gaudi houses which you can also tour. I'm not going to say any more, since if you have to ask about the cost of visiting Barcelona, you probably can't afford it. Visiting a daughter who knows how to economize is a big plus!
We took a tour of the harbor by boat, shown in the picture of Kate and me. You can tell from what everybody is wearing (or not wearing) that the weather in Barcelona in February is quite a bit warmer than here. The city is pretty dense and the traffic is unbelievable. I paced off a 7-lane road right downtown as being only about 53 feet across. Yes, that's 7.5 feet per lane (or should I say 2.3 m), and although most of the cars are small and fit in them, as do the motorcycles, they do have large trucks and buses! After a few days of studying the traffic light patterns, I figured out how to jog for a mile or two in downtown Barcelona without having to ever stop. The key trick is that your route is not predetermined, but with high probability you end up near your starting point.
We did depart from Barcelona once by train to visit Montserrat, as shown in the picture at left. (In case you're puzzled, the island with the volcano is another Montserrat named after this one.) There are some fantastic mountains there, and we heard the famous monastery boys' choir sing.
Laura and I spent some time doing conversational English classes this year with foreign graduate students from UMass Lowell. It's always fun and we learn as much as they do. We took a trip up to Ogunquit, Maine after the spring semester, driving separately so we could take a few more students. This Chinese extended family of four drove up with me. On the bridge near the beach they met these fishermen who gave them a fish they had just caught. Perfect vignette in experiencing America, I think. Nice picture, also of the Maine natives embracing (literally) visitors from abroad!
Looking through the year's pictures, I was struck by the number of animal pictures. Since we hardly ever have wild animal pictures on the Christmas web page, this is perhaps a first (and last). The skunk at left visited us for enough days in a row that I finally had to go out with a camera and take some pictures. It was pretty dark, but you get the idea. I have never seen a skunk so white, but if you look on the internet you find some that are close!
The baby fox at right was a more dramatic story. On a Saturday morning a mother fox and three puppies were walking by, and two of them got stuck in our yard behind the 4 foot fence. One got out, but the other just couldn't figure it out. Laura and I had to chase him out, which took a few minutes in itself. By then the rest of his family had left, but I'm guessing he caught up to them. Those were some cute puppies but I don't think they'd make good pets!
The skunk was photographed in the dark, and the foxes wouldn't stop running, but the turtle was pretty stationary, so you'd think we'd have better pictures. The high resolution picture of this guy was lost, so this is just a facebook-resolution version. The mother snapping turtles come up at the end of May/start of June to lay their eggs in ours and neighboring yards, but few actually hatch. The dogs, skunks, and what-have-you tend to eat them. This little snapping turtle defied the odds and was heading down to the river. He was right in the tread of the Volvo that exited the garage 10 minutes earlier. Lucky for him!
Kate finished up her teaching job in Spain in May, did a little traveling around Europe, and then headed home. You know, when your offspring majors in "human rights studies," not every parent considers that a ticket to a top job. Little did I know that my daughter would get a job at a human rights organization (uusc.org) and even join the human rights workers local of the UNITE-HERE union. She's in the union so I figure she's set for life! In this uncertain economy all nonprofits are feeling the pinch, so Kate's staying with us for a while rather than signing a long-term lease downtown. We're happy to have her.
Matt is still at Stony Brook University but he changed majors to Computer Science. He's doing well there, but will need to take a little more time to graduate. You can only change schools and majors so many times and still graduate in four years.
In January, Laura's startup laid off the VP who hired her and managed her. That's never a good omen, but to replace her they gave a software geek a battlefield promotion, as it were. Well, Laura lasted through August with this situation and then they let her go, shortly before they were going to move much further away, almost exceeding her normal commuting limits. So it was kind of a blessing to be out of that situation. The lack of vacation compared to my MIT deal was also causing us issues. She hasn't been looking for work seriously, but probably will do some looking this year in the QA area. It's obviously not the best time ever to do that.
Laura and I continue to teach the pre-K/K kids in Sunday School and sing in the choir; I joined the missions committee this year. Laura spends some time painting and playing her guitar, while I'm still snowboarding and log splitting. In this tough economic time, we're thankful for all our blessings and praying that the powers that be (and will be in a few weeks) can address the issues we face.
Tim (and for Laura, Kate, and Matt)