And spring became the summer

It’s Vivian’s first day of summer vacation. She’s a junior suddenly! She met some friends for coffee this morning and is at Barton Springs pool now. I think. Evan still has two days of school left after Memorial Day (his school does this just to fuck with parents). He is a rising 8th grader! He is at the PanIQ Room (love the name – it’s an escape room that belongs to a franchise that started in Hungary) to celebrate the end of the school year with friends. Jo is at a hot springs about an hour’s drive away. Ouiser, Phineas, Zeus and I are lounging on the couch with a nicely chilled glass of sauvignon. And a few minutes to catch up on the blog.

Spring in Texas is a vague term. It could mean anything from between New Year’s Day and the official start of summer. Back at the end of January we had our predictable annual winter ice storm. The kids have come to expect school closures and weren’t disappointed. Live oaks and cedars this far south don’t shed their foliage during fall. So they tend to easily collect ice. Austin is full of live oaks and cedars and they dropped like flies all over town during the winter storm, especially on to power lines. We didn’t have power for many days while the city recovered. Streets were lined with dead tree debris for months.

In Canyon Lake the winter storm mangled a majority of the trees. I had finally sawed down the big ash by the front door that we lost from the 2021 winter storm and haven’t even contemplated what needs to be done to clean up after this one beyond some cosmetic work to clear the driveway. Let me know if you’d like to come over and spend a week with a chainsaw.

We started prepping the backyard for a new pool and the first thing that had to go is the deck. If you think the yard looks trashy here, the deck is completely gone now. All the greenery has been scrapped down to dirt. The city-mandated tree protection resulted in about a foot of mulch covered in sheets of plywood and rolls of temporary fencing around the trees. Yesterday they painted the layout of the pool on the dirt so that city inspectors can OK that. One day they will start digging. Before our sun swallows the inner solar system, there may be a pool.

Evan finished a pretty decent first season of playing school basketball and then gave school soccer a try. He is loving it because most of the players on his and other teams aren’t soccer kids and so he thinks he is Mesi. Evan decided to join his school track team. They don’t have a school track program but a parent (the founder of Alamo Drafthouse) who has two kids in track trained the motley crew for an hour on two Sunday mornings. Evan ended up participating in one meet at St. Stephens and did pretty well. He continues to improve is academics and ended 7th grade with better than expected results (he has learned the art of setting low expectations). I complained that he was only in the 99th percentile on a standardized test and he sarcastically replied that 99th percentile is the highest score anyone can get. So he was at least awake during the stats unit. His article for the school newspaper was on quantum computing. He continues to geek out.

Vivian ended a great sophomore year. She had so many activities that she complained when she has to do a regular five day week. She traveled with the school to Fort Worth for arts festivals, San Antonio for a diversity conference, and to Taos for a rock climbing trip. She went to the state capitol to help participate in the legislative process – but our legislatures need a lot more than high school kids helping to display signs of intelligence. Vivian created several interesting works of visual art that I will shortly (haha) post on this blog. She had a couple of poems in the Proteus, St. Stephen’s annual collection of student published poems and essays. In her final essay for history she wrote about the relationship between the American romanticism school or art and the realism school that followed it, with references to what was going on in society and the way people lived that was reflected in the art of those times. I learned something from reading it. I was not writing such analytical pieces when I was in the 10th grade. Oh – and Vivian’s second set of braces came off! I don’t yet have a photo of her displaying her expensive teeth without braces.

Among other spring goings-on, Partha stayed with us for a weekend. He was in Houston for a cricket match and dropped by Austin. I am glad that the Hyderabadi kids are getting to know each other a bit. May be there will be second generation friendships where they can brag that their parents knew each other from when they were babies. Vivian also has a distinct shortage of interactions with Indian older cousins and Partha helped fill that for a few days.

We got through the 29th Rosedale Ride. That day is usually a magnet for bad riding weather, but for the 29th, it was perfect. May be a bit windy on the return side of the loop, but I only did the 22-miler so it didn’t matter. Thanks to friends who went out and had a good ride. Your support helps the students, families, and staff at the Rosedale School. Speaking of the Rosedale School, the architects who designed it – Chad Johnson and Jim Brady from Page won the “Humancentric” award at the AIA Austin awards ceremony. Congratulations!

After a promising start, the bluebonnet season was a disappointment. The blooms started earlier than expected, and then a hot dry spell ended things well before Easter. But I did get a picture of one of the kids in a bluebonnet patch : – ). Since then it has rained regularly (though not enough) and the late spring blooms like the Mexican hats, cedar sages, and Indian blankets are doing very well. They look particularly good around Ouiser in what I call the Upper Turkey Creek trail. The honey suckles were in crazy full bloom for a couple of weeks and the trails smelled like citrus honey. OK – I reluctantly end my spring bloom report right here.

Phineas Schrödinger is growing up quickly. He does not spend as much time on Jo’s boobs or our shoulders but he still is a loving wonderful kitty. He and Ouiser are great friends and they tussle with each other several times a day. At times he leaps up and grabs Ouiser’s head. Ouiser reciprocates by gently holding Phineas’ entire head inside her jaws. Zeus is getting to be slightly friendlier towards Phineas, but it is still too early to tell if Phineas is a butt head or is trying to play with Zeus. Cats, inscrutable as they are, keep us guessing.

Jo travelled to Barcelona on a solo trip for her birthday. She sent back daily texts and photos of Picasso paintings and Gaudi buildings on the family group chat till Vivian begged her to stop. Vivian wishes that she had taken her pre-spring break trip to Barcelona instead of Maui. Jo had a good time and found a nice apartment on airbnb and I am hoping that sometime in the near future doing a shoulder season she can take me back there. I went to the Big Bend Ranch State park for Easter. It is less than half the size of its national park neighbor and in all my years of going to the national park I had never set foot in the state park. We started our hike from near the town of Lajitas at the Mexico border and stopped for lunch at the ruins of the old the Beuna Suerte mines. Then bushwhacked to the Lower Shutup slot canyon where we spent the first night. Next morning we headed through the slot canyon towards the Solitario – the remnants of an old caldera. But our path was blocked by smooth canyon walls and a big pool of water in a tenaja. Half our party turned back. The rest of us backtracked and climbed out of the slot canyon and found our way back into the Solatario. We spent that night at the Tres Papalotes campground where a friend who had driven out in a 4×4 met us. The last day we walked past the Solatario Bar into the Lefthand Shutup and then hiked out of the park’s eastern edge. We humped another few miles of desolate dirt roads with an inexhaustible supply of ups and downs over hills and across dry creek crossings. Just when we were getting a little tired we found the entrance to a friend of a friend’s hunting lot and as we walked up to the shack on the property we were met by a truck full of friends, cold beer and steaks ready to be grilled. Brendan was fantastic with the topo map and the gps and we never felt totally lost though we spent a lot of time staring at the map. I’ve marked some of our 35 mile jaunt through the park in the map below in case I do this trip again someday.

Jo and I dressed up and attended a few galas and Nicolle came into town for her birthday. In other notable events we finished up a crunch project at work and now have a bona fide partner who will use our technology. It has almost been two years and the interesting thing is that we haven’t deviated very much from our original vision. Still plenty of roadblocks and challenges between where we are and success but if the journey is the trip I am pretty darn happy already. Oh – and at the end of spring I started my tenure as the president of a non-profit board. That was our spring, roughly.

Good times never seemed so good

Spring Break

Aloha. Vivian gets two weeks off for spring break. Evan gets one week. I get zero. So Jo and Vivian went to Maui for the first week and joined Evan and me for a second week at the Big Island. The girls had a great time in Maui. They stayed at Neela Masi’s house in the upcountry (who was cruising South America at that time), and had their own adventures, including getting locked out of their car due to some kind of fob malfunction in near freezing temperatures at the Haleakala crater at 10,000 feet after sunset. But they survived and met Evan and I when we landed in Kona just in time to witness a stunning sunset on a Friday evening. We spent the next very fun 9 days together. I dare say the middle-years slump is over and it is again great to travel with the offspring.

We grabbed a quick substandard Chinese dinner near Kona airport and headed off into the darkness of the highway connecting to the Hilo side. Somewhere between the snow-dusted peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea we parked on the side of Saddle Road and stepped out and stared and stared at the night sky. It is nothing like we see here in Austin. There are no dark spots. Look long enough at any patch of sky and you’ll eventually find it filled with twinkling stars and galaxies and glowing nebulas and perhaps a star that went supernova.

We started off staying on the Hilo side, visiting the farmers market and snorkeling with turtles in the little rocky beaches north of Hilo airport. One morning Jo waited in the car while Evan, Vivian and I ran into the Big Island Candies’ giant store and ten minutes later we returned with a shopping bag full of chocolate delicacies and a rather impressive bill. Jo and I usually awoke at dawn and walked, she with her folding chair, me with a cup of Kona, down the street next to Kahakia park and watched the sun rise over the Pacific while the waves crashed on the house-sized boulders below. After breakfast one morning we visited Volcanoes national park and hiked through the muddy puddles in the dark and cool Thurston lava tube, and past the bellowing steam vents on the rim walk while peering hopefully at the Kilauea crater which had been spewing lava till just a few days ago. We drove up to the volcanoes observatory that had been damaged during the latest eruptions and is now closed. Many years ago, Vivian was enchanted by a painting of Pele the Goddess in the entranceway of the observatory. Jo had fashioned Vivian’s halloween costume one year based on that painting (Evan had been the other Pele, from Brazil).

We walked down into the much smaller (and much more dormant) Kilauea Iki crater and hiked through it up on the other side, stopping to pick lava rocks that should have weighed fifty pounds but were almost as light as feathers. Then we drove down the Chain of Craters road, stopping like the jaded tourists we were, to look at only the best craters. I was planning on driving out to the Muana Ulu lookout or as far south as the road would take us but we were soon swallowed up by a late morning fog that reduced visibility to a few hundred feet and turned the lava – duh – grey, so we turned around and headed home.

One day we drove for hours out to a the Isaac Hale park. The roads to it and the park and beach itself have been altered by the 2018 lava flows. In places it looks like an alien landscape – with fresh tarmac laid between miles and miles of desolate black and grey lava rock. And then you drive past a small island of greenery that the lava flowed around and spared. The coastal road is lush and green mostly with occasional pullouts where locals had parked their trucks and kids were playing in sandbox sized beaches. There are sections where the trees form a tunnel above. I didn’t get a photo of that so I have included a link from the internet above (which may disappear without warning).

We spent the next few days on the Kona side, driving through the small towns along the coast from South Point all the way to the Waipi’o valley. We drove to the end of the road at South Point and walked down to the Kaulana boat ramp which was busy with boats and their extra long tow attachments. Jo and the kids sat on a big bleached driftwood log and enjoyed the view while I decided to walk part of the way to the Papakōlea green sand beach. I gave myself 30 minutes, after which I was going to turn back. I practically ran so I could cover as much ground. Along the way I passed several locals hawking rides on their pickup trucks warning me that it was a six mile roundtrip. There were a few people who were walking, though most eventually hopped into the trucks. The scenic dirt path by the ocean alternated between very pointy rocks and ankle deep yellow dust. I passed a couple who were walking back from the beach. A few minutes later my 30 minute timer went off, and I turned around and started walking back. I passed the same couple, this time going in the same direction. We said hello again. Then I noticed they were staring at my feet. They were both wearing light hiking boots. I was in my flip-flops. The woman finally said “My husband was marveling how fast you are walking in your flip-flops.” Then she smiled guiltily and added “He said you Hawaiians are probably born wearing flip-flops”. It was fun to tell her that I had been in Hawaii for precisely three days.

We tried to go to Manini beach where the kids spent many an hour when they were tiny but it was full. It is a secluded beach and tourists like us don’t usually get all the way down there, but this was spring break week in Hawaii too and everyone was out. We tried to find the house up the street from Manini beach where we spent two different memorable vacations, but the whole area looks quite different. The shave ice place where we had celebrated Evan’s second birthday with a huge shave ice in lieu off a cake is now a kayak rental place. One of my favorite places near Manini is the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (it’s a mouthful) – an ancient place of refuge for injured warriors or those fleeing the Hawaiian belief system of Kapu. It is a magical place of stone and sand and calm waters and tall coconut palms and 17 foot wide ancient rock walls and on my third visit here I am happy to say it felt just as magical.

Our favorite bbq place, Big Jake’s Island bbq, was closed because the owner was out for knee surgery. We met a semi-local (spends six months in Kona and the other six in Colorado) who sent us to Foster’s Kitchen in old Kailua-Kona for dinner (“y’know the place – where Rosa’s used to be – upstairs from the beach volleyball courts”) and we had a good time.

The precarious road down Waipi’o valley was closed due to “damage” to all, even pedestrians, unless you were a local – which put me in a bad mood because I was so looking forward to walking down into the valley which is my favorite spot on the Big Island. We have two sets of kids photos from different ages from the lookout on top and I asked Vivian and Evan to lean in so I could add to that collection and they rolled their eyes. Already being in a huff from the road closure, I went off and enjoyed the view on my own. I must say it looked great without them in it : – ) Assholes. Tex’s malasadas were just as huge and delicious as we remembered them. The pizza place (and many other restaurants) in Honokaa looked like they hadn’t made it through the pandemic.

One morning we went down to the Kahalu’u beach park. Vivian and Evan joined a couple of other kids for a surf lesson. Jo and I walked to the back of the white and blue painted wooden toy-like St. Peter’s Catholic Church and sat on the stone wall and watched them attempt to stand on their boards and ride the surf. They managed enough to give them a head start the next time they try again. Then I snorkeled the bay and it was amazing. It is much shallower than Kealakekua bay at Manini beach or Honaunau bay at Two Step beach but the sea life was very good. The corals are mostly bleached but a few seem to be making a comeback. The park has stewards who help people learn not to step on the bottom and to use a less poisonous sun screen, so may be things will get better.

We also spent some time at Hapuna Beach. Jo got us a room at the fancy hotel there for one night, and we drove up and use the public beach access another time. We love this beach. Evan had a diaper blowout on this beach 11 years ago while Jen fell asleep after a few drinks. One morning at sunrise Evan and I raced on the beach. Evan gave me a 30 m head start and then sailed past me in another 50 m. We measured his stride in the sand – it is longer than he is tall. So now both my kids can officially outrun me.

Remember I said I got zero weeks off for spring break. My team was very accommodating. There was a lot to get done, and I got on Zoom for the first meeting at 8:30am in Austin – which was 3:30am in Hawaii. By breakfast time in Hawaii when the rest of the family was stirring, I had usually finished a very productive five to six hour workday. Often I caught a nap in the afternoon, and if not, there was good coffee to be had. On the whole, this was an amazing vacation and a busy work week. I really did get the best of both.

Jo booked us a night manta ray snorkel. On our last night, we drove down to the boat docks at Honokohau marina. There we wiggled into wet suit tops and took a windy 45 minute boat trip down the coast. They threw a mat with a bright LED light into the water and chummed the water with plankton. The mat had a PVC frame around it and we held in to the frame with our hands and kicked our flippered feet behind us, looking downward through our snorkel masks. Moments later we were rewarded with the sight of giant manta rays. The biggest – Big Bertha – has a 15 foot wide wingspan and weighs over 1500 pounds. The mouths on these things are wider than Evan. They swim straight up towards the surface to the light, mouths gaping open, sucking up plankton laden water. Just as they almost break the top they flatten out with their bellies upwards and then summersault back down for another loop.Their mouths are inches from our faces. Their wingtips occasionally brush us, though we are warned to not touch them. We enjoy this spectacle for almost an hour. I don’t have any pictures of this adventure, but I’ve linked one from the internet (it may disappear without warning).

Then, cold and wet but filled with wonder and amazement, we retrace our trip back. By midnight we are showered and in bed. Our alarms go off four hours later. We see the sun rise over Hualalai volcano as our plane taxis down the runaway. Before midnight, with one stop in Las Vegas, we are back at our white wooden house. Mahalo.


Time to catch the blog up. Winter break ended and the kids with less fur went back to school. That gave the rest of us time to hang out and chill. Phineas and Ouiser are getting along like best friends. They play all the time. Ouiser’s walks are getting slightly less frequent because the head dog walker is otherwise engaged in the world of generative AI and non-generative video.

The kids and us had reason to find our formal clothes a few times. Vivian went to her school dance with her friends and a date. Evan went to his school dance and an all-day model UN session at Southwestern University. Jo and I dressed up for a couple of galas. Vivian and her friend were invited back as alums to speak at her school gala and they ended up doing a fantastic job and raising some serious money. And then we dressed up again in Florida for Praveen’s 60th bash where we met up with Alu and Michelle.

Vivian, our sweet first born, turned 16. Jo and I quietly celebrated keeping another human alive for sixteen years. Vivian got her friends together at a trampoline place and had a great time (we’d have to go to these places 10 years ago for her classmates’ birthday parties). If Vivian was a whiskey I’d say she is complex and layered with strong notes of creativity and hints of sarcasm. Pairs well with citrus and spice. The finish can be confident but sometimes drier than you may expect. Never straightforward but a warm and funny16 year old that should continue to mature very well. Also, learning to drive. So watch out, world. I couldn’t be prouder, child. I can’t wait to see you lead your life everyday. As I write this post many months after her birthday (it’s the middle of April), Vivian has been way for an arts fair in Fort Worth with her school for the last three days.

We were on our way back from Florid and at the airport. Vivian asked Evan to make the Zoolander face. This is what Evan did. I’m dying laughing.

Earlier this spring after a few minutes of coaxing, Evan decided to play a sport not called soccer. He and I went to Dick’s and bought his first ever basketball. A week later I watched him play for his school and make his first steal/basket. He was pumped.


I think we were in the car driving to Central Market when Jo and Nicolle were on the phone. Nicolle said that she had an opportunity to go to Alaska for a few weeks to teach at a school in a tiny village on the North Slope in the dead of winter. I volunteered to travel with her on her way in. Which resulted in us being together a couple of weeks later on a flight coming in to land in Anchorage (it was breathtaking).

That evening Nicolle bought a cooler and stocked it with a small slaughterhouse’s worth of fresh meat and a few other things to supplement what she would find the single general store at Point Hope. The next morning, on January 6th, I dropped her off to continue her journey to Point Hope that still involved multiple flights.

I spent the rest of the day screwing around Anchorage. I strolled along the coastal trail where the Alaska Railways track runs south to the Kenai peninsula. Beyond the train tracks and the short strip of snow-covered land there were blocks of sea ice the size of cars on the Anchorage side of the Knik Arm and warning signs that I shouldn’t wander out there. I turned a corner and came up on the Captain Cook monument. He had arrived here in 1776 looking for the famed northwest passage – a way to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific via northern Canada – worth 20,000 pounds in a law enacted by the British parliament in 1744. Cook sailed up what is called the Cook Inlet today and explored the Knik Arm and the Turnagain Arm, the later named by the infamous Bligh of Bounty fame who was a Master on Cook’s voyage. Once he realized these were dead ends, Cook returned to the Gulf of Alaska and headed north through the Bering Strait. In the Chukchi Sea he found impassable ice and headed back south. If only he had waiting for 150 years, global warming took care of that. In 2014, the Nunavik became the first cargo ship to travel the passage without an escorting ice breaker. Ironically it was delivering nickel from Canada to China. Today the northwest passage is a regular shipping lane. A disappointed Cook returned to Hawaii for repairs and to restock and was killed during a quarrel (see my post from 11 years ago – http://arunzadad.blogspot.com/2012/05/captain-cook.html).

All the walking in the cold made me very thirsty and I spent the afternoon visiting a couple of excellent brew pubs around Anchorage. Then I drove to the eastern edge of town and wandered around the surreal winter landscape of the Far North Bicentennial Park, past walkers, joggers, cross country skiers, and an occasional musher in dog sled with a small pack of 2-4 dogs.

The next day I went snowmobiling. I drove to the town of Girdwood an hour south east of Anchorage. I had traveled down this highway to Seward a few years ago during a hiking trip in summer and it was an amazing drive (http://arunzadad.blogspot.com/2015/08/school.html). I remember thinking – what would this look like in winter? Even more amazing. The body of water in the foreground is the Turnagain Arm. The mountains behind are the northern extensions of the Kenia mountains. The Turnagain Arm has the largest tidal variations in the US, with about 30 feet of change in level every twelve and a half hours. That is a lot of water flowing in and out. In fact, this body of water is one of very few that have a tidal bore – a wall of water than rushes in carrying the tide. It was low tide on my way to Girdwood and I asked if they could hold the high tide till I was on my way back. But Chaucer said that time and tide wait for no man. Boo.

Girdwood was a very successful gold mining town back in the day. It sunk eight feet in 1964 after a huge earthquake. Unfortunately, that Girdwood sits below the famous high tide mark of Turnagain Arm and had to be abandoned. I’m in the new Girdwood this morning to snowmobile. I like to hike. Motorized ways of doing the same are signs of poor moral character and sloth. 4-wheeling or ATV-ing across Big Bend State Park wouldn’t be my cup of tea. So this decision to snowmobile required some inner monologue-ing. Eventually the 4 degree F weather won. I get cold quickly in that kind of temperature. The man who outfitted my said that my jacket would be sufficient because “the handlebars are heated”. Hmm – OK.

Snowmobiling at the base of the Chugach mountains was spectacular. The heated handlebars did keep me warm. We stopped and had a fire in the snow and a picnic of reindeer sausage. We met some dogs that would be running in the Iditarod in a couple of months (they are skinnier and smaller than I expected). And I got to examine a sled that has been used in many past Iditarods.

I stopped by Alyeska, a ski resort in Girdwood. Alyeska comes from the Aleut word for “mainland” or “the object towards which the action of the sea is directed” and is the root of the name Alaska. The ski place is almost at sea level with 600 inches of base. How do you explain to them that in Colorado in December we’re excited about a 40 inch base at 10,000 feet? I was recovering from something happening to my big toe (gout?) and could not force my foot into a ski boot, so I got a nice cup of coffee and watched the skiers for a bit. Then I headed back to Anchorage with four hours to kill before my flight out. One of those were spent in a sensory-depravation float tank. I had never done this before. I suspect I may need to try it a few more times before I can quieten my mind which I find easier to do when I am walking. Then another hour at a pho joint. And two more watching M3GAN (the movie coincided with the world experiencing ChatGPT, making it all the more interesting). Then I stopped at a green light to let a moose cross, got myself to the airport, to LA for breakfast, and back to home for lunch with the family.

I am very excited about what I saw in Anchorage and Girdwood but then an old lady next to me on the flight back snorted “Anchorage isn’t even Alaska”. Nicolle of the North Slope, ye are in for a treat.

A new family member

On the afternoon of the third day of the new year after a couple of glitches with the fine people at the Austin Animal Center, this is what the back seat of Jo’s car looked like. There is a white cardboard box with breathing holes. It contains a kitten. The kitten has been officially named Phineas, after the champion of the 104 days of summer, a few minutes ago. But Evan wonders about cats in boxes. Is it both alive and dead? So he names the kitten Schrödinger. Please welcome Phineas Schrödinger to the family.

By the fourth day of the new year, in a world plagued with uncertainty – right down to the quantum level – one things is clear. Phineas (I’m dropping the Schrödinger – the umlaut is a bit much) is unambiguously the most loved member of the family already. He loves people. He slept on Jo’s boobs for the first few hours after he got home. Then he rode around on Evan’s shoulder, Vivian’s arms, Ouiser’s tail, and my lap. This kitten likes to be held like no animal or child I’ve known before.

Two and a half months have passed between Phineas arriving home and my writing this. We got Phineas because we thought Zeus needed a friend. Phineas is still working on Zeus. As for everyone else, Phineas has filled our hearts and my photo app from that first moment he stepped out of his box.

The end of 2022

We are almost at the Ides of March and I haven’t posted in 2023. Getting a new kitten and a job will do that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the very first day of the kids’ winter break we drove off towards Colorado. Next morning we woke up in a hotel room in Santa Fe and watched the finals of the World Cup. Ouiser and I cheered for France. They lost. It was a close game with six goals scored on the pitch but the winner was finally decided in penalty kicks. I wasn’t a fan of the corruption surrounding the World Cup and Qatar. I was horrified reading about the mistreatment of migrant labor. But large portions of the remittances paid to the laborers who built $300 billion of infrastructure and served during the World Cup reached their families in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other not-rich countries. Ironically, this would not have happened had the World Cup not been played in a country where locals don’t work (in Qatar there are more than 10 foreigner workers for every Qatari national).

I re-read that previous line a couple of time. Did I work three negatives in there, really? : – )

As the tournament progressed, I did come around to the idea of a non-top-32 country hosting the World Cup. The Arab and African teams and supporters were so much fun to watch. The cup itself unfolded pretty flawlessly. Qatar gave the world a tournament to remember. Just wish it didn’t require bribing FIFA officials and killing laborers from 3rd world countries.

Here is a photo of us watching the final closing minutes of the tournament in Santa Fe.

We literally drove out minutes after the final whistle to Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado. Nicolle and her family showed up later that night. For the next several days we hung out, cooked, ate, walked the kids and Ouiser, skied, and bathed in hot springs. About the last matter – Jo and the kids plunged into the freezing (literally) San Juan river multiple times. Once Evan’s face was frozen open. He said “I wanted to scream but my jaws were frozen”. I watched them from my tub, comfortably soaking in mineral water bubbling away at a 108 degrees F while sipping my kale cucumber cleanse. I don’t jump into freezing water. I often didn’t shower in Pilani for a couple of weeks at a time in winter because one semi-warm bucket of water that you carry from your dorm room to the bathroom doesn’t make for a hot shower.

Pagosa Springs was fun and very lazy. We did get a bit of skiing in and no one broke anything, thereby extending our streak to almost a full year. And the drive there and back went fast – probably because of all the people in the car – the four of us and Carol and two dogs. At any given time there was a good chance that someone was farting.

We got back to Austin and spent Christmas eve night and Christmas morning at the white wooden house.

Evan finally got a phone (my old one, and I upgraded). Vivian got a sewing machine. Carol got a huge big heavy blanket from Vivian that she crocheted over several months, instantly becoming her favorite grand child (it’s not the one in the picture up there). Evan got a chemistry set and he was really excited. Vivian gave Jo and me a lovely painting of us. Then we drove to Canyon Lake for Christmas dinner and I discovered cracks in the water softener area and the attic and spent the rest of the day sniffing plumbers glue. We returned to Austin and enjoyed the last few days of 2023 – walking the lovely foggy trails, and hanging out with friends.

Evan cracked open his chem kit and started on the first few experiments. We went to the Reilly’s for New Years and were home soon after midnight! 2023, let’s see what you got.

The Christmas Letter

The year “after” the pandemic is a wrap! We traveled again. We ate at restaurants again. We went to concerts again. We practically hugged and licked strangers. If I had to stop here, that was our 2022.

Wait, there’s more. The kids changed faster than Superman in a phone booth. I don’t remember what they were like a week ago. But I remember enough to brag a bit shamelessly. Vivian is somehow making honor role while binging on Brooklyn Nine-Nine the entire weekend before her exams. She travelled from school to two caving trips, her latest passion. And for a three-day conference on student leadership and diversity which she said was mind-blowing. She is a sport and doesn’t mind Jo and I pulling her leg about her dating situation at the family dinner table. She is having a lot of fun with visual art and did some good work, but fortunately she is also keen on science and math : – ). I enjoy most of my conversations with Vivian and I marvel at how she has a deeply nuanced feel for some of the hardest problems that her generation faces.

Evan grew and grew. He is a slightly mustachioed young man with a deep voice who needs longer pants every few months. He still plays center defender on his club soccer team with gusto and loves chasing down an opposing player who has the ball. He has fully nerded out on chemistry and physics and has a seemingly easy familiarity with Heisenberg and Planck. But he is diversifying. He has joined his school basketball team (first ever sport that is not called soccer!) and mock United Nations. He is mentoring a kindergarten kid at his school. He is contributing to the school newspaper (but predictably his first article was on the Bose-Einstein condensate). He is pretty chill and easy to hang out with unless you are trying to get him to do something. In that case he starts with “jez-a-minute” and it ends with me pulling out fist fulls of my sparse hair. Alas he is the refined product of generations of Chatterjee-Clark stubbornness distilled into one lovely human.

Jo is very much Jo. She celebrated the end of the pandemic by going to Jordan with a group of complete strangers. There she did things like pulling herself upriver in a slot canyon, and spending the night in a Bedouin encampment. I am learning to balance work (which has been extremely interesting) and family, and Jo is nice enough to rarely tell me that I am failing.

In 2022 we were fortunate to spend quality time with friends and family. And I was sadly reminded again that time is all we got.

Most mornings in 2022 I woke up and smelled the roses and marveled at this amazing life. Sure, there were ups and downs. But I got through Brazil losing on penalty kicks. I hope that 2023 is full of promise and hope for you.

Love and hugs from Pagosa Springs where the powder is light and the mountains are stunning.

December 22, 2022

Lake District

When I went to Hawaii for the first time, I didn’t want to believe there was anything to the place. I assumed it was a less ugly version of Florida, overrated by mainland natives who are reluctant to step over international borders. But by my second day in Maui I was looking about jobs for computer architects in the neighborhood (there were none). I did not assume that the Italian Lake District was overrated. I was still blown away by how pretty it is.

We checked into our hotel in Como and walked up to the lake front. Soon we were on the slow boat to Bellagio (these people shamelessly steal the best of Las Vegas – they even put gondolas in Venice!). The scenery is breathtaking. The little towns and villages on the shoreline and up on the mountains are divine. I understand why, if you have a couple of extra hundreds of millions, you would buy a little place up here. Our slow boat with a bunch of drunk Russian wanna-be oligarchs slowly crisscrossed the lake going from village to village, stopping at stone steps and piers to load or unload roller-suitcase toting couples on their honeymoon. Evan drifted off to sleep on my shoulder under the bluest sunny skies. I stared at the villages wondering where I’d like to walk around for the day.

As we approached the picturesque hamlet of Argegno, I opened the All Trails app on my phone and found a description of a trail that I liked: about seven miles round trip with two thousand feet of elevation gain and breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains. We hopped off the boat and walked up a long wide set of stairs through Argegno. Then we stopped at a soccer field where the kids got to be silly for a few minutes. We peeked into a church perched over the lake, and walked through the narrow steep alleyways of Muronico and Rovasco till we found the sign for the mulattiera (mule trail) to the village of Pigra.

Jaime and I huffed and puffed our way up the steep inclines while the boys chatted with each other, occasionally falling far behind and then running up the hills to pass us. We paused at what must have once been a chestnut orchard with huge trees and beautiful sweeping views of Lake Como far below us. The kids played baseball and golf with the spikey chestnuts that covered the grass below the trees. We passed a small family of boars, and Adrian almost crept up to a huge stag.

Eventually we arrived at Pigra, a small mountain village tucked under Mount Pasquella. There are two restaurants in town and both were closed. It was dusk and the boys decided to play in the park next to the cemetery. Jaime and I walked up the street towards what looked like a bar that was open. A car passed us going the other way with a lone old driver. Just as we arrived at the bar we heard the loud blast of a trumpet behind us. My first instinct was that the kids had tripped some sort of an alarm. It turned out to be the old guy. He goes to the cemetery after sunset to play taps for some long forgotten lover much to the annoyance of the rest of the village. The bar owner grilled us a couple of sandwiches and poured me some wine. Jaime and I struck up a conversation with him. He had travelled the world and then married and settled here. The village was quiet and there were several unoccupied houses. Many locals went to work in Switzerland everyday because the pay is substantially higher there (the Swiss border is only a few miles away). Jaime asked if outsiders were buying up the empty houses in Pigra. David, in no uncertain terms indicated that while this is paradise, foreigners weren’t super welcome. He has lived here for 15 years and was born only 17 miles away. His kids were born in Pigra. And they are still treated as outsiders!

It was well after dark that we started down the path back to Argegno. Evan and Adrian entertained themselves with mostly imagined sounds of wild animals in the woods around us.

The full moon rose over Lake Como and we walked back through the now shuttered villages back to the lake and boarded the very last bus back to Como. By the time we walked back to the hotel, Evan was half asleep.

The next morning Jaime drove us to the town on Biella about an hour away. We stayed at a lovely old home and went out to look around a bit. And that was it. The morning after we packed up early and drove to the airport. There was a long stopover in Newark which Evan navigated well almost right up to the end. Then he OD-ed on Doritos and KitKats and passed out just when it was time to wake him up for a three hour flight to Austin. Jo picked us up at Bergstrom and we walked into the white wooden house at midnight. A week well spent!

Cinque Terre

Evan and I overslept. We had gotten back to our hotel in Milan well after midnight after the football game. I didn’t set an alarm. I woke up with a start at noon.

Jaime and co had gotten downstairs for breakfast but then when we didn’t show they went back up to rest. It was drizzling and gray and Evan and I walked across the street to the Esselunga supermercati and bought ourselves some fresh croissants, fruits, and something that Evan picked up. After having eaten enrobed (chocolate dipped) Oreos in Iceland, Evan continued his experimentation with this niche haute cuisine. He bought branded Oreo donuts covered in crushed Oreo with a ring of white Oreo goop inside. They weren’t very good.

We eventually got underway and walked around the Duomo. We found a Venchi store where we loaded up on chocolates. Evan wanted to shop for suits in the Galleria (the original mother of all gallerias, built a 150 years ago), but I told him to look at the prices and he unhappily changed his mind. I do believe that if he gets his shit together, Evan will be back to Milan one day to buy himself a suit or two.

We got on the road and Jaime followed the autostrada south towards Genova on the coast. After crossing the flat agricultural and industrial heart of Lombardy we eventually entered the Ligurian alps about an hour outside Genova. We drove past many small mountain towns that looked mostly deserted. On a whim Jaime took an exit and we explored the beautiful tiny comune of Isola del Cantone nestled on both banks of the Scrivia river. A few lighted windows and an occasional tendril of smoke curling up from a chimney indicated the village had a small number of residents. The kids crossed an ancient pedestrian bridge and walked over to a church next to a cemetery with eerie glowing electronic candles while Jaime and I drove to the next motorable bridge and met them on the other side. We talked about Italy’s demographic shift and the problem with keeping small villages and towns going. Many places give homes away for a single Euro to try to lure young people to return and invest and raise a family in these places.

We got into Genova well after dark and left next morning – just long enough to give us a vague impression of a vibrant working city built on high hills and deep river valleys reaching down to a big port. The highways in and out of Genova are engineering marvels consisting almost entirely of tall bridges and tunnels. This is where the Morandi bridge collapsed in 2018 killing 43 people both on and below the bridge. A new sleek (and hopefully stronger) replacement bridge was designed by hometown architect Renzo Piano and was operational in record time. We left Genova under a light drizzle on E80, the Trans European highway that connects the Atlantic coast of Portugal with the Turkish-Iranian border. Jaime was driving and that gave me a lot of time to look around. The kids rested in the back. The city gave way to green tree covered mountains and small colorful villages shrouded in low clouds.

After about an hour we exited the very modern high bridges and tunnels of E80 into a different world. Except for cars and light poles and an occasional Piaggio three-wheeler, the Ligurian coast is frozen in time. We drove along the twisted narrow road hugging the jagged coastline past the beautiful villages of Bonassola and Lavento to eventually set our eyes on the village on Monterosso al Mare, the first of the Cinque Terre villages when you approach from the north. Our hotel asked us to park at the village center and presently a car from the hotel came by to get us. Soon I understood why. This guy deftly drove us up narrow pedestrian paths cantilevered out over the deep blue waters below with inches to spare on either side, and deposited us at the Hotel Porto Roca. This is the view from my balcony.

We quickly dropped off our luggage and got on the sentiero or walking path to Vernazza, the second of the Cinque Terre villages. The internet told us it would take 90 minutes, and the man collecting toll (cash only) looked us up and down and said “two hours”. We didn’t hurry. The boys horsed around and joked and stopped often and Jaime stopped even more often to take photos of everything, so we were surprised when we arrived in Vernazza less than 50 minutes later. It is only 2 miles from Monterosso, but there are a lot of steps and walking along narrow ancient rock retaining walls. In the photo below you can see Vernazza around the second corner, a bit of the village of Corniglia up on the cliffs above and past Vernazza, and eventually Manarola, the fourth of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore, the last village is tucked in a bay behind Manarola before the last point of the coastal hills slopping into the Ligurian sea. If I look back from here I can still see Monterosso. So there you have it, all five famous villages a little over 5 miles from each other as the crow flies.

We walked down into Vernazza. Evan got a gelato. I ordered some tuna crudo from a little place and the Russian proprietor explained that she had traveled all over India several times before settling in Vernazza years ago. The tonno had been fished out of the waters outside the marine protected area around Cinque Terre a few hours ago. It was fresh enough to slap. We parted ways with Jaime & co who continued on the sentiero to Corniglia. Evan and I were lazier and we hopped on a train to Riomaggiore and after walking around a bit we returned to Monterosso the fast way. We dipped our feet at the beach in the cool clear waters of the Mediterranean, drank a cold birra and a Sprite, and went back to our hotel to enjoy the view from the balcony and his iPad in bed respectively.

At an awesome sunset we met the rest of our party for dinner and turned in for the night with the balcony door open. The faint sounds of the sea from the cliffs below lulled me to sleep while I pondered about life, the universe, and how AI can be used to automatically create short-form video stories.

I recollected all this and put it in the blog the day after we returned to Austin. My jet lagged brain woke up at 2am. It turns out that I can write a lot of unfocused shit when there are five hours to kill before anyone else is up.

Fall Break

Evan has a week off for Fall break. Vivian does not. When Jo asks Evan what he wants to do for his Fall break, he predictably says “Nothing”. Which is code for “I want to play video games, lay in bed reading or watching YouTube all week long”. So we do the exact opposite. Jaime and I plan a week long trip for our two 12-year old boys. The boys skip school on Friday (Evan is recovering from a bout of flu, so he has already missed several days of school this week) and we hop on a flight from Austin to Newark. I get this lovely view of downtown Manhattan as we come in to land at EWR airport early in the afternoon. Later that evening we board a longer flight and we wake up in Milan on Saturday morning.

Jaime finds us a great lunch spot and we eat like locals for hours. Eventually we stop at our hotel for a quick checkin and then we are on our way to San Siro stadium, the home of AC Milan, to watch them play Juventus. The stadium is buzzing. We have fancy VIP tickets because they were the only tickets available online directly from the AC Milan website. The teams are warming up. The crowd is streaming in. Pretty soon every last seat is filled. We are a few rows from the field up from the corner mark. The press and TV crew is in the field below us. The home team fan section is behind the near goal, to our right. They are chanting and waving and doing their European soccer fan thing. The atmosphere is electrifying.

The home team wins 2-0 and everyone except for a few thousand fans on the Juventus side of the stadium are happy. We stop at the VIP lounge for some champaign because that’s how we roll and then we step out of San Siro. The surrounding areas have been transformed into a big party. Thousands of fans are chatting away in groups. The food trucks are selling sandwiches and pizzas as fast as they can. The trams are filled to capacity and we can see people pressed against the glass windows inside. We opt to walk the two miles to the hotel, more than half of which is in the company of people leaving the stadium. By the time we get into bed it is well past midnight. Not a bad first day.