1999 Christmas Letter

What another exciting year. Some excitement that we welcomed with open arms, other excitement that we could have done without.

You’ll find that this letter may be longer than in years past. I just was not able to get everything on to two pages this year. Hopefully, I don’t bore you too much.

This year’s letter begins with some wintry excitement that we experienced on our trip home to Minnesota and Wisconsin last Christmas. We had flown into Milwaukee (with fresh Boston lobsters as stowaways on the plane) to spend the first few days with my family. Then we drove up to Minneapolis with Joshua and Justin to spend the last few days with Jan’s family. We had to return to Milwaukee on January 2nd to drop the boys off and catch our plane home on the 3rd. Those of you who live in the Midwest may remember what happened on the 2nd. Yes, we left Minneapolis and drove head on into the worst blizzard in 52 years. We made it all the way to Madison before deciding it was no longer worth risking our lives on the road. We were able to reach Milwaukee the next day, but because of the storm we could not get a flight back to Boston for two more days.

In February, our firm announced that I had won the company’s "Guess the Dow" contest. In February of 1998, all contestants had to predict what the Dow Jones Industrial average would end up at on 12/31/98. There were over 500 contestants including mutual fund managers and financial advisers. My guess was 9,167.88. The market ended the year at 9,181.43 – a difference of only 13.55.

My wintry ‘luck’ would continue later in February. A snow storm hit Boston on the day that I was to return from a business trip in Atlanta. Stuck again in Atlanta for an extra day because no planes were flying in to Boston. I remember thinking, I’d sure hate to deal with this wintry weather for five or six months out of the year.

In March we celebrated my promotion to Assistant Vice President.

The month of April brought Jan’s parents down for an Easter visit. It’s always so nice to get to spend time with them – too bad we don’t get to do it more often.

The winter months soon melted away and before we knew it summer was here. In June we celebrated our wedding anniversary at a wonderful bed and breakfast in Kennebunkport, Maine. One evening we went to dinner at the famous White Barn Inn. About half way through our meal, Jan nudged me and said "Who is that that just sat down at the table next to us ? Is it who I think it is ?" Yes, it was. Sitting at the table next to us was President George Bush, his wife Barbara, and Diane Sawyer. We soon found out that Diane Sawyer was up there to interview the Bushes for Good Morning America. No, we did not interrupt their dinner for autographs.

The end of June brought about the years biggest excitement that we could have done without. On June 23rd, Jan and I were both laid off of work. In a nutshell, the company has decided to outsource its LINC application to another firm that processes mutual fund transactions. To that end, the company laid off 1/3 of its staff – including us. The remaining staff will likely be finished sometime mid 2000. It was a very nice company to work for, and the move was totally unexpected.

When we took the jobs in Boston, I promised Jan that if we ever had the opportunity to move again, that we would make a concerted effort to secure jobs in either the Milwaukee or Minneapolis area. By the end of July we were indeed able to both secure new positions in the Minneapolis area at a company called TIES (see Unisys profile). We didn’t start work until September because of all the preparation that had to be done in the meantime – selling our home, packing up, driving back, etc. TIES writes the computer software for most of the school systems in the state of Minnesota. In addition, their software is so full featured and user friendly, that they now have begun selling their software to other school systems across the country. Considering that TIES is a government entity, we hope that we have found secure positions – at last.

The timing of the layoff could not have been better. Just a few days after the ‘good news’, Jan’s parents arrived for their summer stay with us. A few days after that, the boys arrived for their summer visit. Now, instead of us only have a couple of weeks of vacation to spend with our families, we now could spend the entire six weeks with them. In the end, the summer turned out to be one of our most enjoyable seasons ever.

Earlier in the year, the boys were asked where they wanted to go for the ‘road trip’ part of our vacation. We were quite surprised by their answer – Paris. Two teenage boys wanting to see Paris above other ideas like the Grand Canyon or a East Coast Baseball tour. We were surprised by their choice, but sure were please with their decision. The trip was wonderful. It's said that Paris is for lovers, but it is also a great family place. Since the Paris trip was in late July, let me first tell you about some of our other jaunts in our last year on the East coast. 

We spent a lot of time doing things that we would not have been able to do had we been working. We saw a number of movies including Star Wars - Phantom Menace, Wild, Wild West (Grandma and Grandpa took the boys to this one), October Sky, Saving Private Ryan, The Cube, Good Will Hunting, The Natural, and The Big Lebowski. We also rented some of the classic movies that the boys had not yet seen; The Godfather, The Sting, Pride of the Yankees, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

We spent all day on the 4th of July securing a coveted spot along the bank of the Charles River in preparation for the evening fireworks and Boston Pops concert. This year, a Colonial co-worker and his family joined us for the festivities.

We spent one hot day at the beach in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. The beach had glistening, white sand and some nice waves. Joshua rode one of those pesky waves right over a rock hidden in the water. He scraped his belly pretty good. Fortunately, his stomach was not sunburned, so it did not hurt too badly. On the way home from the beach, we stopped for a couple of fresh lobsters. When we got home, Justin volunteered to drop the lobsters into a pot of boiling water. Justin didn't eat any, but he enjoyed cooking them.

We went to Riverside Park on another day in July. Riverside is similar to Six Flags, but not quite as nice. It was a beautiful day, but just a tad chilly for the water attractions. The park has two sections. The first section contains the typical theme park rides like roller coasters, log ride, etc. The second section is the water park with a wave pool, chutes, etc. The best ride in the water park section was the Swiss Family tube ride - where we all went down this long twisting chute on a single, large inner tube. The best ride of all was the Mind Eraser roller coaster. We went on this coaster three times.

On another day, Grandma and Grandpa went with us down to Plymouth to see the spot where the Pilgrims landed in 1690. We saw Plymouth Rock and a replica of the Mayflower which actually sailed across the Atlantic to Plymouth.

After Grandma and Grandpa left for home, we headed to New York for a few days. We figured that if we do indeed have to relocate again, this may be our last chance to see the East Coast for a while.

It only took us about 3 ½ hours to drive to NY. The drive was pleasant and the roads were not too crowded. It was even easy getting to our hotel in Midtown Manhattan. We decided to stay in town because it was so convenient. We stayed one block away from the Empire State Building on 42 West and 35th Street.

As soon as we checked in and unpacked, we walked up to Times Square and got some brochures and booked some tickets to Cats. We then ate lunch at Planet Hollywood. Later, we went up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building for a view of the skyline. It was a clear night and the view was excellent. We waited for the sun to set, and were able to get some beautiful sunset pictures of the city from the top of the building. We had a great NY cheese and sausage pizza for dinner.

The next day, we toured the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to climb up to the crown. During the summer months, tourists are only allowed to climb up to the crown during the first tour in the morning. I guess a 22 story climb (340+ steps), can be hazardous in the heat of the day, especially since there is no air conditioning in the stairwell. However, we did ascend to the base of the statue and experienced some nice views of the city from Liberty Island. After returning to shore, we bought lunch from a hot dog vendor and then proceeded to the World Trade Center.

We took the elevator to the 110th floor of the World Trade Center and took some great camera shots from the tower.

We had dinner in Little Italy at a place called La Mela. It was true authentic Italian. As soon as we were seated, the waiter brought us a bottle of sparkling water and bottles of red and white wine. We then had appetizers of cheese and asparagus, stuffed mushrooms, bread, tomatoes and cheese, cooked red peppers, and black olives. For the main course, we had three types of pasta. There was more food than even two growing boys and two adults could eat – we were stuffed. It was the best Italian meal I ever had.

On our last full day in the city, we would happen to be in just the right place at just the right time. We heard that the woman’s World Cup Soccer Team would be in town that day. So, the first item on our agenda was to determine if we could see them. We went uptown to Niketown at Trump Towers. We waited for about an hour as the press and a small crowd of about 500 people assembled. The police put up barricades, and we were able to secure a prime spot at the corner of one of them. This location gave us the perfect line of sight as the Team emerged from the store. Donald Trump said a few words and the Team was introduced. The Team signed a few soccer balls and kicked them out into the audience. We came very close to catching one of the balls, but missed. Fortunately, the Team kicked out a number of other unsigned balls and Joshua was able to snare one of these. He almost broke his ankle in the process, but it was worth it. As the Team left, I was able to get high fives from most of them, including Mia and Brandi. Later in the afternoon, we took the subway to Greenwich Village in Washington Square Park. We had dinner at Manhattan Chile Co. which was located next to the Ed Sullivan (David Letterman) Theatre. After dinner we went to the Broadway musical Cats, at the Winter Garden Theatre. After the theater, Justin and Joshua walked the dark streets of New York, by themselves, to pick up another pizza. Yes, they returned alive.

On July 17th, we started off on our trip to Paris. We headed for the airport at 2:30pm for a 6:00pm departure. The flight was delayed two hours because the captain that was to fly our plane was stuck in Chicago as a passenger on another aircraft. Once the captain arrived, we boarded and took off. During the flight, we saw a beautiful sunset AND sunrise. It is not too often that one is awake to see both the ending and the beginning of a day.

We all tried to sleep on the plane, but I guess the excitement was too much. Most of us had a cat nap or two, but no one slept much more than an hour. After a smooth flight, we arrived in Paris at 8:30am local time. We knew that we would be tired by the end of the day, but we tried to do as much as we could on the first day anyway.

After clearing customs, we took a bus ride from the airport to the Metro (subway). We then took the Metro to the St. Paul stop which was two blocks from our hotel, the Grand Hotel Jeanne D’Arc. Our hotel was located next to a nice square and many cafes and bistros.

After checking in and unpacking, we headed for the Eiffel Tower.

One could walk to the top of the tower, but because of the heat and humidity, we decided to take the elevator – we would have other lengthy climbs later in the trip. Although it was a bit hazy, we could see all of the city from the Eiffel tower – a great view. After the Eiffel tower, we returned to the hotel, showered, and had dinner at a sidewalk café near the Bastille.

The next day, we visited the Bastille monument which was about six blocks from our hotel. There is a tower in a square that marks the place where the Bastille used to stand. We then boarded the Metro and headed for Sacre-Couer. We toured this famous and beautiful basilica and then got back on the Metro and headed for the Arc de Triomphe.

After climbing 250+ steps, I took some nice shots from the top of the monument. We then walked down the Champs-Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre – about a 2 ½ mile walk. Later in the trip, we would walk from the Louvre back to our hotel.

In the evening, we took a boat ride on the Seine. We were able to time the trip perfectly so that we would be on the river at sunset. It was a beautiful night and the sun provided a breathtaking view as it set behind Notre Dame.

We also saw the spot were Princess Diana was killed.

Most of the next day was spent at Versailles. It was a beautiful palace, but not quite as exquisite as I had expected. Since visiting the Newport, Rhode Island mansions, I had expected Versailles to be much more ornate, but it was not so. Perhaps the reason Versailles did not seem as spectacular, was because there was very little furniture and decorations since much was destroyed during the Revolution.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit Paris’ replica of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, the statue was being dismantled because it was being shipped to Japan for an exposition.

We took the Metro up to the Hard Rock Café so that Jan could further her T-shirt collection. While we there, we had our one non-French meal of the trip.

The next day, we visited Notre Dame and climbed the 387 steps up to the gargoyles and the bell towers. Fortunately, it was a cool day so the climb was not as strenuous as it could have been. After Notre Dame, we stopped and toured Ste. Chapelle church.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a brasserie (bakery) for a loaf of bread. The boys (especially Justin) loved the French bread. Justin though it was cool to carry the three foot loaf of bread under his arm - just like so many of the natives do.

We spent most of the following day at the Louvre. The museum, which once was a French palace, was huge and had much to see. The boys were a bit bored by the time Jan and I had decided it was time to go, but they did enjoy seeing a number of items, especially the Mona Lisa and Egyptian Sphinxes. The boys could not believe that so many of the paintings and sculptures contained nudes – male and female.

For dinner, we ate at a very nice, but small restaurant in the square behind our hotel. Jan and the boys each had Coq au Vin (chicken in red wine), and I had rabbit. Justin had his fill of bread and washed it down with a half glass of wine.

On our last full day in Paris, we toured another museum (Oh no) – Musse D’Orsay. This museum contained mostly paintings, but because it was much smaller than the Louvre, it did not take as much time to see. The boys learned how to distinguish a Claude Monet painting. By the time they had viewed six or so Monets, they were able to pick a Monet out from among a group of other artists.

After the museum, we visited the Catacombs. Before going to Paris, we knew that the Catacombs contained transported skeletons from cemeteries dating back to the late 1700’s. However, we were not prepared for what we saw. Millions of skeletons all piled in an orderly fashion for a very long distance. After we returned home we found out that:

This unique bone collection of 5 to 6 million people covers a surface of 6 ½ square miles, a tiny portion of the 186 miles of old mine corridors. Galleries are an average of 7 ½ feet high, and the temperature is a constant 52 degrees, during summer and winter.

See the following Internet site for more details: www.multimania.com/houze/english/. On the Metro ride back to the hotel, we saw three French policemen or Army soldiers looking for something or someone in the subway. Two of the men were carrying Uzis. The boys thought it was cool, but it was not the most comforting sight to see.

For dinner, we ate at the same restaurant as the day before. Joshua and Jan had a beef in beer dish, Justin had Coq au Vin again, and I had duck. Joshua had some wine tonight, and both boys had cappuccino.

After dinner we returned to the hotel and packed most of our bags for our return to the USA. We also played some cards. While we were playing cards, we heard some screaming from outside our window. We looked out the window and saw a fire truck and smoke coming from OUR BUILDING ! We ran downstairs to discover that there was a small fire in the opposite corner of our hotel. Fortunately, the fire department is only a block away and they were able to extinguish the blaze before the building had to be evacuated. I was able to capture the scene on video tape. We saw the firemen running up and down the street trying to connect a number of hoses to reach the nearest fire hydrant. Around the corner, the hook and ladder had arrived as well. Everything was under control within a few minutes. A thrilling evening to end our trip.

The following are some other interesting facts/observations about Paris:

There are very few buildings that have air conditioning. Only some of the most expensive hotels and a very few restaurants have a/c. The busses and the Metro do not have a/c either. The museums do have a/c and are the place to be on a hot day. Our hotel did not have a/c, and we had to leave the windows (with no screens) open much of the time. Because most apartments must also have their windows open, we could see people in their shorts and underwear across the street in other apartments. Needless to say, our room could be quite noisy at times.

Dogs are allowed in most restaurants and are allowed to ‘do their duty’ on any public sidewalk or street. One must carefully watch where they walk so as not to step in it. It’s not that bad, however, since the city does hose down the streets/sidewalks and clean things up on a frequent basis.

The police cars, as well as most other vehicles, are much smaller than their American counterparts. The sirens produce the familiar sound that one normally hears on television when a show is filmed in London or Paris.

Many people use small motorcycles or mopeds to get around in the city. Pedestrians need to be careful because the people riding these vehicles rarely obey any traffic laws.

If you need to use a rest room while in public, you must pay to use the facilities. There are some ‘single seaters’ out on the street, but mostly there are a number of public rooms which contain 20-30 stalls and urinals. These larger facilities are staffed and cleaned after each use. It costs about 30 cents to use a stand up urinal, and about 45 cents to use a stall.

Of course there are many, many cafés and bistros where one can enjoy a cup of espresso and a smoke while sitting at a table out on the sidewalk.

Coca Cola still comes in glass bottles with bottle caps that require an opener (Justin brought a bottle back to the states to show everyone).

Wow !!! What a great summer. August came too fast, and our thoughts and energy now turned to the trip back to the Midwest. We lived with Jan’s parents for about a month until we could purchase a new home. We were able to find a nice home about three blocks from a lake (Minnesota has 10,000 plus lakes ya know) and yet only eight miles from work. We even have white tail deer that visit us in our backyard.

It’s so nice to be back in the Midwest and close to both families. One September weekend, we drove down to Milwaukee for Joshua’s volleyball tournament. He is a junior this year and made the varsity volleyball team. We hope that we’re able to visit my family and friends a lot more often (we hope they visit us more now, too).

In November, we had our first Thanksgiving in the new home. My brother, Daniel and his family (Becki and Matthew) came up for the long weekend, and Jan’s entire family came over for turkey dinner as well. I hardly had any leftovers from a 24 pound bird !!

Well, I think that’s enough excitement for this year. Here’s hoping that your Y2K will be uneventful and safe and that we get a chance to see many of you in the near future.

This will be the last year that I will be mailing the Christmas letter. Starting next year, I will post the annual letter on our Internet web page only. Those of you who may not have access to the web, please drop me a letter and let me know, and I will send you a printed copy of all of the web pages at Christmas time next year. Please visit our web page if you wish to read more about our Paris trip, or if you wish to see more pictures.

One final teaser to entice you to visit our web page NEXT year – we will be posting pictures from our upcoming Hawaii vacation.

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and may God Bless you during this holiday season and throughout the coming year.