Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Solstice Again

Happy Solstice 2009! Happy New Year 2010!

Hey, Everyone;

It's Solstice again, time for my annual newsletter. I hope everyone has had a good year. I have to admit, 2009 was a difficult time for me. I went on worker's compensation for a chronic wrist injury, then disability for chronic fatigue syndrome, and a slew of other bad stuff happened. I spent a lot of time in doctors' offices and in bed, miserable. But Solstice symbolizes things getting better, right? In the meantime, let's forget the bad things and focus on the good things.

I rang in the new year in South Carolina with my friend Saima, her husband Sajid, and their new son Safan. Here we are touring a regional plantation.

As you know, I don't spend much time around babies, so I took a little time with Safan to disprove the theory that Andrea and kids don't mix. I even got him to smile (just not in this picture) by rubbing his belly and repeating the phrase "happy baby!" over and over.

The next few months were spent in therapy for my wrist, business travel, and coming down with that mystery illness eventually diagnosed as chronic fatigue. I was able to rouse myself for a visit from an old college friend, Travis. We spent a few days doing the quintessential LA stuff like seeing the "Hollywood" sign, checking out the beaches, and cruising Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills.

Here I pose with the cast of "Star Wars" on Hollywood Boulevard after seeing a movie premier at Grauman's Chinese Theater.

In May I travelled to Oakland to spend my birthday weekend with my sisters Carmalyn and Paige, both of whom now live there. They made me a giant chocolate chip cookie with candles to celebrate. We also took in a show, an art festival, and of course, sight-seeing. Here we are near the Golden Gate Bridge. That was quite a hike! I practically had to be carried back to the car.

In July, I shored up my health enough to go with my chorus to sing in a music festival in Salzburg, Austria, birthplace of Mozart. It was amazing! Here is a view of the town from the fortress above - I borrowed this photo from a fellow traveller. We sang a mass with other choruses from around the world in the DOM cathedral (with the green dome) you see in the bottom right.

The day before, we sang the "Concert of Nations" in the Mozarteum. Here members of my chorus, the Torrance Civic Chorale, do our individual numbers for the audience and other singers. If you're looking for me, I'm in a light green scarf in the front row way on the left end.

In our free time, we took bus and walking tours. I also snuck out on my own to pay a visit to Mozart's birthplace at the famous No 9 Getreidegasse, and another house where he lived across the river. I also paid homage to the grave of his sister Nannerl, who I think should be the patron saint of set-aside siblings. I really got into the spirit with my musical umbrella and scarf!

Salzburg is famous for several things. The most popular being, of course, the birthplace of Mozart, and the (very close) second being that it was the setting for the story that inspired "The Sound of Music". Perhaps the third most famous thing about Salzburg is its triple-centered chocolate candy, called Mozartkugel. All along the streets are wooden life-size cut-outs of Mozart advertizing this candy. Music and chocolate together! I thought he could use some company.

The fourth most famous thing about Salzburg is its salt (from which the city gets its name). On our way out of town we visited a salt mine. The most interesting thing about the mine is the means by which the workers did (and tourists currently do) get down to it, which is two long wooden slides. Here Mary and Christie and I set an underground speed record.

One afternoon we snuck into nearby Bavaria to visit the Eagle's Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), former vacation hideaway of Hitler and current scenic overlook/restaurant. Here I make a vain attempt to look wistful among the breathtaking backdrop of the alps.

After we were done with Austria, we took a short visit to Budapest, Hungary. Before then I'd never had much interest in Eastern Europe, but now I'm completely fascinated. Budapest is so close to Vienna and yet it is so exotic and otherworldly, with its strange language, gypsy heritage, and peculiar architecture, not to mention the crazy cars! Also, it was HOT, reaching 100 F most of the time we were there. One afternoon we took a steamy boat ride on the famous Danube and were served cocktails while taking in the various sights. I tried to look as classy as I felt, and maybe missed by a little bit.

Hungary considers itself to have been settled in exactly 896 CE, and in 1896 the vast majority of its capitol was renovated in celebration of its millenial anniversary. Budapest is a town of many monuments to its heritage, and certain land is protected due to its irreplaceable view. Here I sit on the outposts of a church in hilly Pest and look out over the Danube to the Parliament building on the flatter Buda side.

Upon my return to the US, it was work, work, work for the next several months. My health was slowly improving but I was still in a lot of pain and needed a great deal of sleep to maintain a full work week. Nonetheless, I tried to make the best of it. On several occasions I was dispatched to the New York City vicinity, and found a few hours to make it into Manhattan. Here my coworkers and I take the Staten Island Ferry for the free views of the Statue of Liberty. I was also able to visit my college friends Peter and Travis, and a former co-worker Adam. Seeing old friends definitely makes business trips more worthwhile.

Of course, no newsletter would be complete without some photos of my all-weather companions, Ginger and Dusty. I have started taking them for walks around the complex on leashes, and they are taking to it better than you would imagine. Mostly they walk me, not the other way around, and in Ginger's case there is more grass-chewing than walking involved, but I think it works for all of us.

Here's Ginger, in her favorite wildlife-viewing window.

And here's Dusty, in his favorite summer sleeping pose.

I recently joined a gym and cut way back on my sodas and desserts. I'm starting to need less sleep and feel a little better. The doctors told me they couldn't help me, just that I need to rest a lot and not push it. But I find that exercise makes me feel better, not worse. So there goes seven months of sleeping too much and not getting well. I'll have to keep you posted on how things progress from here.
I wish you a great winter solstice and a very happy new year!

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