Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!
Our little family comes into sharper focus each year. Interests, hobbies and activities cause us some diversion for a while, but then most are discarded like the daily newspaper (remember those?). We have moved on past the swing-sets, painting and musical instruments, but in their place have emerged some deep and abiding interests. Most of them have to do with Smart phones, of course.
Emily has taken to distance running with gusto. The Cross country team enjoys a unique, easy camaraderie, and they took second in the Empire League, qualified for CIF, and then made it to the finals! We can see the self-assurance Emily has gained as one of the leaders on the team.

Claire has two main passions, girl scouts and soccer. The friendships are paramount to her, but she did achieve a self-proclaimed ‘life-long goal’ by being selected one of the All-Stars.  I am, of course, immensely proud, and do not even notice the additional Saturday requirements of AYSO refereeing, every week, two games, irrational and belligerent fat men stalking the sidelines. (And those are just parents—the coaches really behave poorly!)

As far as Jenn and John go;...there is nothing to see here folks, keep moving, keep moving. One year older and fatter, and not much else. How about them daughters, huh?
We had a really fantastic year with the larger family.
In March, Kathy Geise arranged a house for all Jenn’s side (Paul, Stephanie, Alex, Holly, Rich, Joe, Susan, Tori, Evan, Ken, Kristin and us)in La Quinta, where we had fun playing in the pool, celebrating a milestone birthday, cooking, eating and maybe a little drinking together.

April saw us take an overnighter to Catalina with Holly, Rich, Aunt Jan, Uncle Dave, Paul, Alex, Stephanie, and her parents. We met a semi-renowned artist, Donald Demers, creating a water color in the botanical gardens. I plan to save up for forty years and buy one of his lesser paintings. Hmmm, maybe a print will only take me twenty years.

Claire and Holly went to Washington DC on a “Road Scholar” tour once school let out in June. While in Arlington, they referred to the white monolith as the Lincoln Memorial, and it stuck for a time. The tour guide tactfully pointed out the mistake and agreed that a statue of Washington on top would make it easier to remember.

We had two huge July events. With my parents, we went on a ten-day cruise to Alaska. We saw Mendenhall glacier from kayaks, rode in a golf cart powered by sled dogs, and walked around Butchart gardens after a truly memorable van tour of Victoria on Vancouver Island. If you need to know where the Dollar Tree is in Victoria, we know. We exited the van about halfway back and hiked through downtown Victoria.

At the end of July, we went back to Wisconsin to my parents’ new cabin. My brother’s family met us there, and we had a great time spending a week with him, Carolyn, Emma, Josh, Kedzie, Camden, Natalie and Magdalen. My dad and I went to battle with a huge pine tree. There were heavy losses on both sides, but we emerged victorious. The girls, Jenn and I were able to float the Namekagon in tubes with the McKenzie-Gillems, and finished off the summer at a fish fry with the Ryders.

Our tradition in November is to camp with seven other families (Kims, Blums, Johnsons, Jows , Zeemans, et al.) in Joshua Tree—beautiful stars at night and excellent rock scrambling during the day.

We spent the night of November 7th, election night, at home in absolute shock. Who foresaw this?!  Naturally, we wish him all the best. But still, how could my best friend since childhood get elected Mayor of Garden Grove?!  Why? What were you thinking?

Emily will be driving soon, and this is Claire’s last year in middle school. I’d better start doing more with my years.

All the best,

The Leebs

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

This year we focused on home improvement. It is superior to self-improvement in almost every way: it requires no cringe-worthy introspection, fulfills long wished-for items, and guarantees a better result at the end of the process.  I have spent several weekends in quiet contemplation of my life without such benefits. Show me the spiritually enlightened person with hard-wood floors to die for.

Speaking of home improvement on a grand scale, we started the year at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. After a mysterious Doheny family tragedy, the mansion has been considered one of the most haunted buildings around.  If you are looking for a setting for a Gothic novel, this place of creepy extravagance would work well. Both sets of grandparents shared the day with us. No family tragedies ensnared us.


For Spring Break we traveled out to Utah to visit Paul and Stephanie in Sandy.  It was great to spend four days with them. Other highlights included the girls skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and the dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum on the University of Utah campus. We went out for ice cream on a Friday evening and experienced an “Only In Utah” moment: we waited thirty minutes to get a table at an ice cream shop amid the happiest people imaginable waiting thirty minutes to get ice cream. They weren’t grumpy or sullen; they actually enjoyed the time to socialize with each other. They even struck up conversations with complete strangers! So friendly, it’s like the whole state has never watched KTLA’s “Live at Five” report.

Claire spent an entire week outside the company of family during Outdoor Science Camp. Yet Camp Highland Springs is less than two miles from where my own father attended high school. So there are plenty of familial connections to the area. She climbed a tower made of logs while roped up and went on several hikes. She was so inspired by the activity that she ran in the 5K at the Strawberry Festival after her return.

Sometime in the spring, I was persuaded by the salesman at Lumber Liquidators that a new floor was easy to put in, “Just snap it in place.” And he was right. After you scrape off the old floor (backbreaking and tedious), level the subfloor (knee-killing), fit the vapor barrier (frustrating and possibly purposeless), and cut the sound pad to shape, you can pretty much snap the floor into place, except when you run into things like walls, doorways, closets and stairs. Thanks to the help of my father, it came out great. Many years ago, a man who was watching us work together said, “I could never work with my dad like you two.” We hadn’t even realized we were doing anything unusual. I am very fortunate to have him. And, of course, during the project our antiquated electrical panel failed. I was faced with the choice of spending some hundreds of dollars for poor fuses (old, lousy fuses are more expensive to replace than new, good ones, paradoxically) and keeping the box as it was, versus significantly more for a brand new panel. I had no guarantee more poor fuses would not fail soon, and I bit the bullet and got a new panel. Neither my father nor I had any wish to be electrocuted, so that project was farmed out.

Since Garden Grove Unified School District outlawed the term “Graduation” for anything other than completing twelfth grade, our girls experienced something else at the end of 6th and 8th grades. I think Claire had a “movement” to junior high school and Emily “capitulated” to high school…sounds about right. 

Afterwards, Emily departed for Washington DC and New York with about 250 of her closest middle school friends. She got to experience both Broadway and close contact with a debit card for the first time. I am not sure which excited her more.

Once Emily got back, both girls, the dog and I set off for Wisconsin in my parents’ van. Emily said she could get used to sleeping at KOAs or at the Geise’s mountain retreat, just not one right after the other. We had a fantastic time in Silverthorne with them and the Cotas, hiking, kayaking and playing board games. Bailey charmed everyone (or so her owner thinks).

We finally made it to our cabin sometime around the middle of July. Emily got to drive our van on the back roads for her first driving lesson. Those scrape marks were on the trees before we got there. Claire’s highlight was the new rib place in Hayward—we bought too much and had to take some home, Drat! My highlight was our visit to the Holy Land of Football aka Lambau Field.  Brats and beer in the stands even without a game happening is an experience.

At the end of summer vacation we were intending that the whole family take four nights up in Sequoia with the big trees, but I had the misfortune of getting a job that started right away. I had to weigh four nights in the forest with my family versus a steady paycheck for months. One of my family members was particularly persuasive, and I took the job. They encountered a bear meanwhile, and treed it successfully (Ole Dan and Little Ann would’ve been proud).

Emily returned from the trip right before school started, and she had to make up for missed time with the Cross Country team, who had been training all summer. She must have done all right, as she made the varsity team. Oh yeah, and she was the number two runner on the varsity. And she ran at Mt. SAC in the CIF Prelims, like her father and uncle before her, and because Mt. SAC has this weird aversion to changing the course ever, all three of us can describe each section of the race. I could (and really want to) go on, but just say she had a very successful season (awards abounded). I am supposed to maintain my usual self-effacing tone here, but I just can’t.

Claire enjoyed another season of AYSO soccer. She had a lot of fun with her teammates and was very sorry the season came to an end. 

In October, Jenn traveled out to Sandy to meet her new nephew, Alex. She reported that it was a joy to hold a baby again, and if she never changes another diaper, that’s okay.

On weekends, I have been putting in baseboards, door and window trim. It didn’t seem like much when we took them all down five years ago, but apparently it was much.

Our last two trips of note were our annual pilgrimage to Joshua Tree with our local friends and the daughters heading off to Sandy to meet their newest cousin. We have some lovely pictures of each girl holding new-born Alex.

The last house upgrade for a while is a new stained-glass window in our front door. There is still some finish work to do on the rest of the door, but I’ve got to have something to do in 2016.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

I’ve been trying to think of a unifying theme for our Christmas letter this year. “The Year We Built a House with Handtools and Lived in it for a Year,” “The Year We Cooked a Meal from a different Country Each Night,” or “The Year We Sold Everything and Lived on the Beach in Hawaii” all suffer from the same shortcoming—no basis in reality.   “The Year We did Stuff and Things Happened” lacks pizzazz, but is accurate…I guess it’ll have to do.

January’s highlight was whale watching off Dana Point.  We saw only one whale, and that was just his fluke, through binoculars, at 200 yards.  Not exactly the “whale rider” experience we were hoping for.  But the captain opened the throttle through a massive pod of dolphins.  They hurled themselves in the air behind the boat, playing in the wake: flips and turns and twists.   We returned cold and smiling.

Emily turned thirteen in March, a fully-fledged teen.  Her plumage has undergone a remarkable transformation.  I harbor a sneaking suspicion David Attenborough is lurking outside, waiting to make some trenchant observation about humanity’s connection to animals in a clipped British accent. Who hasn’t wanted to punch Attenborough in the face?  Emily enjoys standing as straight as she possibly can in order to gaze past the top of her mother’s head.  Meanwhile, Jenn has enjoyed looking at Emily’s baby pictures. She’ll look up, see Emily in the flesh, and faint.  I can hardly keep her conscious these days.

During Spring Break we had two halves of the Los Angeles experience.  One day we visited the Griffith Park Observatory with its huge, zapping Tesla coil, Foucault’s pendulum, and live image of the sun.  The Art Deco architecture is a favorite, as is the smog-obscured view of the lowlands.  Two days later we visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum on Hollywood Boulevard.  Throngs of tourists, locals dressed in ridiculous costumes trying to entice tourists to pay for photographs, and celebrities made of paraffin were all in full display. It was all silly good fun.

Claire’s Girl Scout troop raised money to go to San Francisco for their Bridging Ceremony.  Previous bridging ceremonies have been conducted on five-foot homemade bridges and on Kiwanisland’s four meter foot bridge.  Clearly, traversing the Golden Gate bridge was the next logical step.  Claire pushed a wheelchair occupied by her friend Emily Kim, who had injured her knee.  We turned it into a family weekend with Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and Jenn’s favorite, the truly magnificent Grace Cathedral.  We stopped by Pea Soup Andersen’s in Buellton on the way home.  Funny thing, neither of the girls likes pea soup.  Now we know.

Once school let out, we had options.  We visited Universal Studios Theme Park and had a lot of fun.  The tour of the back lot is still the best part. 
 Emily took a trip with her Grandma Holly through the desert Southwest. 
 The girls and I drove to Las Vegas to fly to Duluth for the start of our Wisconsin vacation with my parents.  Jenn joined us for the last nine days in Wisconsin.  On the way home, we spent time with my cousin Steve Arnett and his lovely family.  We stopped by Hoover Dam, and I tried to point out the Art Deco design elements, but the heat was overwhelming.   
When we returned, we learned that Emily’s photographic entry in the Orange County Fair had won a judge’s choice award. 
It was a busy, exhausting and fulfilling summer.

Jenn’s unique skill set was acknowledged by Disney when they made her a permanent manager, not just a fill-in manager, in September.  She gets to wear business casual to work (a rare ability among Disney employees) and comes home much happier than the days when she spent eight hours in a ticket booth…excuse me, in a vacation planning center.  We are very proud of her.

In November, we spent the long Veteran’s Day weekend in Joshua Tree with the Kims, Blums and Jows, all Girl Scout families.  The kids always have a great time scrambling on the abundant rocks, and the adults have fun putting up tents, fetching water, cooking, cleaning gravel out of everywhere, rolling up sleeping bags, straightening up the tent, building fires, extinguishing burning children (just the once), and the like.  Camping is fun! Because I said so.

We are healthy and happy and wish you the same,
Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Christmas 2013

I don’t know why we even need another year. We saw it all in 2013. And as far as I’m concerned, I have seen enough age related deterioration of my physical self to know that I will have no more part of it, thank you very much.  Time can stop right here.
For example:
Emily saw snow falling in Southern California.
 We touched the Endeavor space craft and Rose Parade floats.

We met a family in Theodore Roosevelt National Park who suggested we inch our van forward so they could keep its bulk between them and the bison that had just charged through their ranks.  I’m pretty sure infantrymen in WWI did the same thing with the first tanks. It was everything we could do not to ask why they had left their own vehicle in the midst of a herd of bison.  It’s best not to ask insane people too many questions.

We said goodbye to a beloved pet and adopted a new one.
Generally, I don’t see how 2014 can live up to the high standard set by this year; disappointment surely awaits.
Timothy Leary said all great literature is about a trip.  We took trips all right, but not Timothy Leary’s kind. 

Jenn went off with her mother for five days, playing the ultimate tourist in a game of New York City smackdown.  The city never stood a chance against these two. You name it—they saw it. 
 Claire, Emily, my dad and I reprised our car trip from last year from Garden Grove to Wascott, Wisconsin.  We hiked Arches National Park and saw the last unburnt parts of Colorado.  It was a very fun first leg to our summer travels.

Jenn joined us in Minneapolis for our road trip home during August, our highlight of the year.  We spent seven days on the road and stayed at KOAs most nights in our tent, eating one hot meal per day.  It was loads of fun seeing Yellowstone, the crazy bison-baiting family, Little Bighorn battlefield and the Grand Tetons. I devised a wicked little social experiment on the integrity of Midwesterners our first night out: I left my wallet behind in a Perkins restaurant.  Jenn was less impressed, as it meant my turn behind the wheel was performed sans driver’s license.  But the Midwesterners passed, as we knew they would, mailing my wallet to our home address with all the cash inside. 

Outside Yellowstone, Red Lodge, Montana was our favorite small town.  We had pretty good Mexican food, and I tried the sampler platter of beers at the microbrew next door.  It reminded me of Jackson Hole without the crush of tourists.  We walked the downtown and were charmed by its red geraniums in huge flower pots and live music drifting out of the pubs.
By the time we got home, it was nearly time for school to start.  Emily attends the local middle school, and Claire officially goes to Barker, but its campus is closed for remodeling.  Emily was up in our local mountains for science camp in March, and this is when she saw it snow.  Now she thinks she wants to live somewhere with precipitation, like Seattle.  It’s not the traffic, the idiots or the mundane suburbia that will drive my daughter out of CA—it’s the weather.
In November it was time for our annual Joshua Tree weekend with three other families: the Jows, the Kims and the Zeemans. Hiking, climbing, sitting and socializing were the orders of the day.  All activities were accomplished, but not by all attendees.  Age seemed to be a deciding factor. All the families are veterans now and things run smoothly.

As our last memorable excursion of the year, we took a tour of Huntington Harbor in one of those electric Duffy boats to see the Christmas decorations.  It’s similar to Newport harbor, except that instead of ridiculously extravagant the decorations are merely garishly over-the-top.  We had cookies and hot apple cider.
In the non-trip category, there are two big contenders for occurrence of the year. We attended a celebration of my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary.  Try not to think about how old you’ll be at yours.  We had a photo montage and scrapbooks to look at while we snacked.

Number two was the adoption of our chocolate lab, Bailey, from a family who couldn’t keep her with a newborn in the house.  At first I thought, “Labs are great with babies!” But after a week with her, I understood that she needs only slightly less attention than a newborn.  She is active, loving and very active.  I thank heavens for the inventor of tennis balls, because without them we would have difficulty filling the time. She is not much of a conversationalist.

That’s it for us.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

The Leebs

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas one and all!
If you are reading this, we survived the Mayan apocalypse.  Hurray!
I should probably put all that money back in our retirement accounts. And maybe I can get that 911 Turbo back to the dealer before they notice.

Soccer has taken on undue importance in our household.  Emily’s team in the fall of 2011 was stacked with some really great players, and they made a playoff run that lasted eight weekends: parents were groaning with jubilation.  It seems now that the fall season lasted until April for her.  Claire’s team had the misfortune of being coached by me, and we came in a solid fifth out of ten teams—never in danger of extending the season.  We watch the highlights of the English league and have become the annoying people who discuss how soccer should really be called football, and that American thing with helmets could get a lesser name.  If my girls were unattractive boys, I would foresee many beatings in middle school.  Claire is improving dramatically, both as a keeper and a field player.  Secretly I enjoy every minute of soccer with them (I can’t let them know how much or they’ll hold it over me).
Adorned with her awards

Ready for battle

The girls’ activities have become the focal points of our lives: music, church, girl scouts and soccer.  Every once in a while, I get a stray thought on some intellectual topic and then reprimand myself for not focusing on laying out cones for practice or sorting out the cookie boxes quickly enough.  Claire is playing the violin and Emily the flute.  We tried to record the Winter Music program but our iPad was acting up.  We were quite embarrassed to be the only parents there enjoying the event without recording it.

We got a couple of good trips in this year.  Over spring break we saw Death Valley with Holly and Rich while it was only dad-blasted hot, not %$d-d@*+ed blasted hot.  
Not too hot??
Badwater - the lowest point in N.America

 The girls, my father and I took a week-long road trip from CA back to Wisconsin at the end of the school year.  Don’t we all have memories at staring out the window at the desert Southwest?  Of course, this time part of it was on fire.  Jenn couldn’t come along as Mickey Mouse takes a dim view of his employees taking the busy season off.  She had been to Santa Fe with her mother in the spring and recommended we see Mesa Verde and its ancient cliff dwellings.  Two days later we met up with my brother and his family, Carolyn, Natalie, Magdalene, Emma, Camden and Kedzie at Wind Cave, but we were traversing the continent in opposite directions and couldn’t stay together long enough.  Lots of stories from this trip: double rainbows, fire, wind and ice; so if you’re interested please ask.
At Bishop's Lodge - Santa Fe, NM

Mesa Verde, CO
Wind Cave, SD

We became good friends with a lovely family down the street with a daughter Claire’s age and a younger son.  The mother has been dragging me out running most mornings, so I berate her publicly and thank her privately.  We ran a 10K in April and are training for a half marathon in May 2013—we have our doubts, too.  The Kims have been a true blessing.  So much so, in fact, that Mrs. Kim has helped secure some employment for me, making math videos for an education company.  Better days ahead.  We also had them along on our annual pilgrimage to Joshua Tree over Veteran’s Day.  They are still thawing out, but hope to have feeling in their extremities by February.  Mr. Kim and I were bemoaning the pathetic state of the wisps on our heads that try to pass themselves off as hair, when I half-remembered a report that said men with excessive testosterone experience early hair loss. “Ahh, we are so manly, it scared the hairs off our head: I like it!” he said.  It’s good to live next to happy people.
On the rocks

The trail blazers

Jenn also upgraded her employment situation by taking the management training program at Disneyland so that she can switch over from hourly to salary with benefits—full exhale.  We celebrated with a dinner at the new fancy restaurant in California Adventure, Carthay Circle.  We are all very proud of her.
Fall 2012 Emerging Leaders Class (I'm just to the right of Mickey)

Claire is now nine years old and growing up quickly, but some subtleties escape her.  The other day in the kitchen I was focused on making sandwiches when she said with a note of self-criticism, “I’m not a very good cracker.”  My Father Warning System shot from zero to Defcon 4.  I was trying to simultaneously pin down where she heard that particular Southern term (not on our road trip surely) and wondering how to respond to her not claiming membership in that group (“That’s okay, honey, you’re not supposed to be a good cracker” seemed insufficient). Then I noticed she was handing the ice cube tray to me.  She couldn’t get the ice cubes out for her water bottle.  Parenting crisis averted.
This has been just another crazy year in the ongoing chaos of the Leeb family.  We hope you all are well and enjoy the Christmas season.

The Leebs