Christmas: Family, Friends and Future
January 5, 2002
(Written January 18)
Dear Families and Friends,
After two-and-a-half months of traveling, Marianne and I returned to Maryland to visit with my family, see some friends and start looking for future work. It was a surprisingly busy four weeks.
First, family. My sister Auda, Bim to most family, was going in for a round of serious cancer surgery. (I never call her by her given name - Auda - but this is a "public" diary so I suppose I my first reference should be properly formal.) She's fought cancer more than once before and this was the first time I could be around to support a bit. It was important for me.
Bim's surgery went well. She was out of the hospital in two weeks instead of the three forecast and she was even heading off to work by the time Marianne and I left. Cancer makes people weak but it makes them tough too. We think about her tough fight every day and continue to admire my big sister.
Nephew Mike had come back from Marine Corp training in Florida to visit his mom and help us all with Christmas. At 19, he is making the jump from a high school boy to a young man. Marine boot camp is helping him make the jump in a hurry, whether he wants to or not. His job will be maintaining aircraft for Marine flyers after another few months of training. Of course we now all hope that serious fighting by the U.S. military will end before his training is done, but that's being selfish. In today's world, someone's young nephews, nieces, sons and daughters have to be doing the hard and dangerous work. Good luck to all of them.
Over Christmas, we were loaned a wonderful house and our own kids could all join us for the first time in years. Brian and his bride Jen came out from Colorado. He's working for Maxtor making computer hard drives that store more stuff, get at it faster, and cost less. He claims they lose money on every device, but they'll make it up with volume. His previous employers did the same. Meanwhile, Brian and Jen are busy with setting up their household, including moving to a bigger place. They claim to need room for someone else, sometime. It's hard to imagine being grandparents but so far it's just a rumor.
Geoff and his friend Suzanne both took a break from area graduate schools. She is studying psychology to work in schools. Geoff continues his Ph.D. dissertation research. The theory is that he will do research and get paid for it once he finishes the dissertation work which, as any graduate student knows, is done almost for free. Both of them still have some years to go and we wish them luck and perseverance.
Gabby also took a break from school out in San Jose. One more year and she too will be free to pursue a career and a salary. We expect she will be producing programs for television before long. Meanwhile, she needs a related summer intern position in case anyone has connections.
Speaking of jobs, at our Christmas gathering of kids, I noticed that among the seven people, we had over 40 years of university and nine or ten assorted degrees but only Brian had a full-time job.
The other visiting we could do was with friends. John and Mary Bowen invited Marianne, Gabby, and me to their annual family Christmas Eve Chinese dinner. We three had joined five Bowens two years ago in Kyiv for the event but this year one of their daughters was just starting a Peace Corps assignment in Mozambique. We have now promised to try to repeat this tradition, but next year's location is already set for southern Africa and that may not be where we happen to be. Maybe, maybe not.
Later in our stay, we joined the Bowen's open house and saw even more of the Kyiv crowd. John had worked at the embassy there and Mary had worked with Marianne at Kyiv International School. A number of the government folks had rotated back to DC so we got our dose of State Department discussions. I have to admit, I understood only a little. Conversations with Geoff about his Ph.D. Physics dissertation are only slightly more obscure.
We also were able to join Kyiv veterans Nancy and Steve Silcox for their holiday season open house. They had invited acquaintances spanning 20 or 30 years so we were the new friends. Nancy had gone through some heart repair last fall, but she seemed as lively as ever. We asked if they were ready to go on another overseas project and they gave a definite maybe. I hear Afghanistan will need US aid-sponsored infrastructure projects.
On "my side", we seemed to socialize with former bosses. We had dinner with Jack and Joan Sorenson. Jack is part of the ex-NUS mafia as well as a fellow graduate of Grove Engineering. Dinner at Jack and Joan's is always filled with good conversation and this was no exception. Jack has put off retirement by accepting another six-month assignment at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I think he's one of several of my friends who could retire but doesn't want to stop working and being busy. Meanwhile, we talked about our current situation where Marianne and I want to continue "retired" for a few months, then work for a few years, then retire for a few months, then work, etc. Jack and Joan understood. I'm not sure I do.
Meanwhile, also from the ex-Nus and ex-Grove days, we visited with Alice and Chuck Negin before they generously loaned us their house while they went to Florida to visit his dad during the holidays. Chuck is normally busy helping run yet another new engineering company and Alice is guiding some new school teachers. Everybody's busy and I can never imagine Chuck retiring or even slowing down.
For part of our house stay, we seemed to be loaned another 20-something son too. Zach Negin stayed at the house to help properly feed the cats and it was good to talk with him both at the house and at the restaurant where he worked. While we were there, Zach had an interview for his first engineering job after graduating from Carnegie Melon engineering. We are happy to report that he got the job offer and his table waiting days are probably behind him.
In the same son-graduates-and-looks-for-work vein, we were invited to a graduation party at Jack and Gunilla Stone's house in honor of their son John's graduation from Boston University. Jack had hired me almost thirty years ago when I was a young engineer (so was he) and now we were talking about the job prospects of future engineers like John and Zach. It seemed that "new work" was a theme for the party since Gabby was also talking with new acquaintances about internships, jobs, and careers. As proof that things go around, Jack and I were also talking about new work for experienced engineers - for him and me. The current business climate isn't easy for new or not-so-new graduates, but maybe it's always a bit that way. Where will we all be next Christmas?
Speaking of next Christmas, I also took the opportunity of a US visit to search for future work. This was both a positive and a negative experience. In the Washington DC area, I have a number of old contacts and I was able to talk to many of them. All of them seem to be doing OK despite the general prospect for work in the nuclear power or nuclear waste industries. If I were back for good in the US, some work for me should be possible in a relatively short time. That was the good news.
On the other side, most people described a very cautious business environment. Nuclear power industry reorganization and contraction. Recession. Enron's bankruptcy. Unclear (nonexistent?) energy policy. For thirty years in the engineering-consulting business, I've heard that uncertain times are good for business. But now, that common wisdom does not seem to be holding true. Uncertainty is just offering uncertainty.
So, what will the Trotters do? It's hard to say. We'll travel for a bit more before the bank account calls a halt to our Road Trip. We'll retreat to Kyiv, where a nice apartment and low cost-of-living wait. By then, maybe one of the seeds planted during this trip will grow and bear fruit. I wonder if Zach's job waiting tables will still be available?
Just for Road trip tradition, I will include some photos from our US visit, including our time at some of DC'c tourist destinations. In fact, we did remarkably little touring because we were busy with hospitals, visiting, networking, and just normal US-paced life. At the end of four weeks, we definitely need a vacation. Another story.
Take care. Happy New Year. What will we all be doing at the end of this new year?
John and Marianne
I've added some pictures below. The emphasis is "people pictures" although some straight tourist shots are here too:
Bim and Ron and I at the Canopy Bar-B-Que restaurant.
Great country cooking. Negin's house that they loaned us for Christmas.
Chinese dinner with the Bowen's on Christmas Eve.
Our own "Christmas" dinner -- a couple days early.
From left to right: Brian, Jen, Suzanne, Geoff and
Gabrielle. And here is the great Christmas Derby. Each of ten
races were run under variable rules so no one really knows
who won. Yet another meal. This time at a nice Italian
restaurant where Zach Negin was our server, complete with
the Christmas hat. At the Newseum, Gabby was given a chance to read a
news story. And here is the final product. She's got a
future! Inside the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception. All the interior is covered by mosaic tile.
Anywhere else this church would be a major destination.
Maybe it just needs another few hundred years. Marianne at the Air and Space Museum, the real
Washington D.C. tourist destination. Marianne and Gabby out in front of the U.S.
Bim and Ron and I at the Canopy Bar-B-Que restaurant. Great country cooking.
Negin's house that they loaned us for Christmas.
Chinese dinner with the Bowen's on Christmas Eve.
Our own "Christmas" dinner -- a couple days early. From left to right: Brian, Jen, Suzanne, Geoff and Gabrielle.
And here is the great Christmas Derby. Each of ten races were run under variable rules so no one really knows who won.
Yet another meal. This time at a nice Italian restaurant where Zach Negin was our server, complete with the Christmas hat.
At the Newseum, Gabby was given a chance to read a news story.
And here is the final product. She's got a future!
Inside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. All the interior is covered by mosaic tile. Anywhere else this church would be a major destination. Maybe it just needs another few hundred years.
Marianne at the Air and Space Museum, the real Washington D.C. tourist destination.
Marianne and Gabby out in front of the U.S. Capital.
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