Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas 2007

honeysuckleMy favorite honeysuckle vine grows by my nightly dog-walking route. It has a complex scent—jasmine with a hint of camphor-wood and musk. I stop every night to smell it. It amuses me to make the dogs wait while I stop to smell something. Generally, it blooms from June through September but this year it is still blooming in December -odd weather this year.

Some may suspect that, since I opened with the weather, this will be a no-big-news year for the North Carolina Haslups Christmas news letter. I suppose… but the weather has been big news this year. You see, we are having a drought here in the Carolinas. Last spring they declared a minor drought and since then they changed that to a moderate drought, then major, severe, extreme and finally exceptional. Efforts were made to conserve water but it was only after it was too late that they realized that they should have been conserving adjectives as well. “Exceptional” is the last one – the highest level. Now they’re out.

papaLee is still working for Keane, Inc., on a computer system to track environmental mitigation projects that offset impacts of DOT construction projects in NC. What is new is that this year the time he steals from his honey-do list is spent on photography. This mild obsession was made worse when Irene gave him permission to buy a new camera for his birthday and Christmas. She thought that, since digital cameras don’t use film, they make photography an inexpensive hobby. What she failed to take into account is that the camera he wanted takes interchangeable lenses. Having a Nikon D40 around is a bit like having an unspayed female cat. So far the litter includes two zoom lenses, an attachment for copying 35mm slides, a telescopic converter, several close-up lenses and a Ukrainian-made Russian SKF-1 stereo attachment for taking 3D photographs. Fortunately, the D40 is almost content—lacking only a faster prime lens, a flash and a much bigger camera bag to be totally happy…for the moment.

100_1005_cropMy Halloween costume was a member of the 3d Paparazzi. To view this photo you need to cross your eyes slightly so you see three vague images and then concentrate on the image in the middle which will be in 3D. It takes some practice but most people with good vision in both eyes can learn.

Less satisfactory are Lee’s new glasses. Most people start to need glasses when they are Lee’s age, officially 39, and Lee thought it might be time for him. The progressive bifocals are Lee’s first glasses that he is supposed to wear all the time. Trying to look on the positive side, Lee has compiled a Pollyannaish list of things his new glasses do well. The new glasses, he decided, are great for looking at his watch, good for reading the odometer in his car and perfect for futzing with his cell phone. Sadly, they are irritating for almost everything else. The are unsatisfactory for reading, driving and, oh yes, they give him a bit of a headache in his recliner with his laptop while writing a Christmas letter.

ireneIrene still sells cheese for Harris Teeter. They are renovating the store where she works. It is to be a “Super Flagship”, one of only five Harris Teeters so designated in the country. For the cheese department this means a much bigger facility with fancy new cases—needed, presumably, to keep the cheese from flying about when the Super Flagship is maneuvering at high speed.

She took another trip on the corporate jet to Wisconsin, this time for a course on cheese making. On last year’s trip the Wisconsin Cheese Producer’s Association plied Harris Teeter with food, wine, entertainment, dinner cruises on the lake, etc. This year’s trip was a four-day intensive course on cheese making—up early, in class all day at UW, bag lunches, dinner in the hotel--quite a different scene. Irene thinks that several people on this year’s trip were managers who, hearing how much fun last year’s trip had been, suddenly developed an interest in cheese when another trip was being planned. That newfound interest in cheese was severely tested and, in some cases, came up short when the class ran far into the evening, leaving time only for hotel food before bed with class starting early the next morning. Irene had a swell time but some of her classmates got a bit cranky.

cheese whizzes
The Harris Teeter Cheese Whizzes.

Speaking of being cranky, Irene struggled with frequent migraines most of the year. She went to her doctors saying she had headaches. They did CAT scans of her head and MRI images of her arteries, they measured, they consulted, they evaluated, they employed the full arsenal of diagnostic technology, and in the end they had good news: she just had a headache. The process cost our insurance company some money but, on the positive side, after being married to me for almost thirty years she has finally had her head examined.

It turns out that the expensive drugs do work better for migraines than the cheap ones. As the holidays approach Irene is now more often cranky about the cost of her medicine than about the pain in her head. This is a big improvement.

savanahChristopher is a Senior at the Ringling Art School in Sarasota, Florida. Since he works hard and keeps his nose reasonably clean there just isn’t that much to write about for him. He gets good grades, his teachers and his boss at Big E’s coffee shop think well of him, and neither he nor his girlfriend ever seem to need bailing out of jail. Next year there should be more to report—there will be graduation, for one thing (in May), and maybe a new job and/or a change of locale, and who knows what else. But, for this year…

He was given an assignment in his Documentary Photo class: to document his Thanksgiving dinner. His teacher, doubtless, was hoping for Norman Rockwell shots of a golden-brown bird surrounded by a quintessentially American family. What Chris had to photograph was his girlfriend’s pleasant, but not particularly photogenic parents and grandfather eating in a restaurant where Chris would have felt awkward turning supper into a photo-shoot. After taking a desultory shot or two he decided to hope that his good performance on other assignments would make up for one dud.

Amber still works at the Carolina Living and Learning Center, a home for adults with Autism in Pittsboro, NC. She is still applying to medical schools where she hopes to specialize in psychiatry. Her grades and scores were good and she volunteering in the ER at the local hospital to jazz her resume and improve her chances. She lives in Chapel Hill with her two ferrets and a cat. Her latest boyfriend, Jake, is a graduate student in Modern Languages at UNC and teaches undergraduate classes in Italian.

Amber reviews some photos of her cousins in South Hill.

Her best friend from High School, Liz/Anna, got married this year and Amber was Maid of Honor. Anna decided to go by her middle name (Liz) when she left for college. At the wedding you could tell who were family and who were her college friends by what they called her: Anna for family and Liz for friends.
Amber was Maid of Honor.

It is wonderful having Amber live close enough to do things with us. We seldom go to a film without calling her first to see if she has seen it, and on Tuesday there is the “pub quiz” at the Hibernian Pub in Cary. The prize for the team with the most correct answers to a list of (occasionally idiotic) questions is a $100 gift card. When Amber is there (every other week) I play on her team, The Boondocks Saints. We win often enough to make the pub quiz thing about 75% self-financing. If Amber gets into a far-away medical school those state capitol and European geography questions will be trouble.

Lee’s father is doing well. He had his cataract fixed and no longer walks into walls in dimly lit environments. This year’s “beach week” will be Hilton Head again so we’ll see if his improved vision helps with his bicycling abilities. To be fair, the problem was not so much his vision as the coaster brakes on the tourist bikes we rented. If you stop on a hill you have to decide between falling over with your feet on the brake or putting a foot down and rolling down the hill towards the muddy, alligator-infested canal. Dad tried both options and found neither altogether satisfactory. This year, we’ll get him a hand brake. (More about Beach Week).
No brakes needed on the beach. The sand slows you down.

We had a very enjoyable visit with him for the Thanksgiving holiday and also had Lee’s college roommate, Bill Ritch visiting from Atlanta. Bill’s girlfriend, Caran, was able to come, too, and we had a wonderfully full house for the holiday.
We also got to spend some time with Bill and Caran at two Science Fiction conventions we attended this year: the Robert A Heinlein Centennial celebration in Kansas City (see my blog postinghere), and DragonCon in Atlanta (see my blog posting ).

Both Lee and Irene lost cousins this year. Lee’s cousin, Tod Mears, was struck by a truck on a highway in West Virginia. Tod and Lee have a great-grandfather in common, Eli Motts, and many of the same people who were at last year’s Fehl-Motts 100th reunion were at this year’s funeral. Funerals are not as good as reunions but it was good to see everyone again. Hopefully, next year we can manage a happier occasion.

On Irene’s side of the family, she lost a cousin-by-marriage to illness in November. His wife, Krystal., was Irene’s cousin Wayne’s step-daughter. Irene never met him but her parents, who met him at Croft family reunions, spoke well of him. Irene’s cousin, once removed, several times hospitalized and occasionally jailed, born Robert Knievel but better known as Evel, R.I.P..

Wishing you a merry Christmas, the happiest of New Years and all the joys of the holiday season.

– The NC Haslups, Christmas 2007

jaxonTamAs I type this Jaxon has just sent his Holiday greetings… if I understand him right. He may just have been barking at this critter who sneaks into the back yard sometimes at night to scavenge for uneaten dog food.

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