Holiday Letter 2003

Happy New Year!

A lot has changed since last year when I wrote from Warsaw. We moved from Poland to New Hampshire via a trip across the U.S. I documented the trip on other parts of this webpage. This is what we are doing now.

We have been living in Londonderry, New Hampshire since September. Londonderry is an exurb, i.e. it has the population density of a rural area, but the demographic characteristics of a suburb. It is a good mix for us. I like the forests and fields, but we are fundamentally a city people. Our house overlooks a pond surrounded by a mixed white pine – maple forest. The water is dark because of geology and soils similar to northern Wisconsin’s. In the middle of the day the sun reflecting off the ripples turns the water into liquid sunshine and near the end of the day it reflects the trees like a mirror. It reflected the green leaves of summer and the crimson fall. Now all except the pine trees are bare and the pond is covered with snow. We got more than two feet of snow on December 7. It melted, but it snowed a couple of feet the next week. Now that has melted. I bought cross-country skis on December 6. I had to break my own trail, but it was good to get into the winter woods between melts.

These are some pictures from our back door showing the pond in some of its aspects.

Family Notes
Mariza is doing well at Mary Washington College. She got all As this year, except for one B. The teacher told her that he does not believe in grade inflation. I thought that was a good principle. I went over to McDonald’s and told them that I did not believe in inflation, but they still would not give me a hamburger for 15 cents. The class she got a B in was sociology, ironically the subject that invented grade inflation. I am proud that she is taking the hard classes. She got 93% in her calculus course. The school is very small and homogeneous. That is what we thought would be the good part, but the college and Fredericksburg are a little too small, so she is now considering moving to a bigger place. UVA is the leading option.

Alex is doing well at his new school in Londonderry. He evidently feels confident enough to argue academically with his history teacher, who seems to be a bit of an uninformed leftist. Alex is less enthusiastic about geometry and Spanish, but he is doing well in chemistry. A couple years back, at the American School in Warsaw, he had a tough science class. A lot of what he learned then is serving him now. He has been lifting weights regularly and is getting very beefy. I want him to start running, to get the other part of conditioning.

Espen is getting As and Bs. He seems to have the easiest time learning Spanish and the saxophone. I think the music and language skills are related and he is doing very well in both. The sweet music of the sax filters up from the basement. Often I can actually identify a melody in the cacophony and he is becoming noticeably better each day. The sax is actually a fairly complicated instrument, with lots of valves and holes. As a completely talent free individual, I am impressed by anyone who can make music in any way beyond whistling.

Chrissy has been working on the house and it is getting much better. She has been patching, fixing, painting and even some plumbing and electrical work. She is getting very good at these things. We still are not sure whether we will sell the house or try to rent it out. Either way, it is better to have a well-maintained house. One of Chrissy’s favorite TV show is “Trading Spaces” where neighbors change houses and renovate each other’s rooms. Professional designers, who generally inflict appalling designs on the unsuspecting homeowners, advise them. I worry sometimes that CJ likes some of them, but she has shown exemplary taste so far in our house. Below are house repairs. We put in a new tile floor. It was a lot of work tearing it up.

My assignment at Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts is great. I often wonder why the USG is paying me to do this. I have access to courses at Tufts, Harvard and MIT but don’t have to take the tests. I am learning a lot, some of which will be useful to the State Department but most of it is just – well – general education. In the last couple of days, for example, I attended a presentation on weapons of mass destruction, more or less related to my job, but I also attended a talk by a psychologist on how machines (and pets) can be programmed to mimic human emotion and spent a couple of hours at one of the Harvard museums learning about Rubens and his contemporaries. I will earn some of my salary spring semester, when I will teach a course on the U.S. image abroad. I have been reading and talking to people about the subject. I am recruiting a mix of students from various places in the world to make the discussion provocative. That picture of me is from the Fletcher webpage. They took a picturesque group, I think.

You can get a good education just living in the Boston area because of the free lectures and historical sites. I have been recruiting for the State Department. It is not too hard. We have many more applicants than places. I was a little surprised at the extent of the interest even at places like Harvard and Yale, where students have excellent job prospects. Students want to serve their country and they seem to like the fact that they have to pass a difficult test to get in the FS. (The only problem for the Department is that not enough “diversity candidates” pass the FS test.) Don’t believe the negative stories about today’s youth. Compared to my generation, they are smarter, harder working, healthier, and more tolerant. The drug and booze culture of my college days is considered old fashioned.

One of the most interesting things about living in NH is the primary election. All the candidates come up here and I have been going to see them. I am volunteering for the Edward’s campaign. I don’t think he will win the nomination and I intend to vote Republican, but there is no Republican race. Edwards is the best of the Democrats and it is good experience to participate in a campaign. Howard Dean will probably win. I really don’t like Howard Dean. We went to see him in Manchester. He is one of the few people who I like less after I got to see him in person. He is an angry little man. Literally a little man – he is about Espen’s size and build. People sitting next to me gave me dirty looks when I didn’t cheer for some of the stupid platitudes he repeated. When you get beyond his anger against George Bush, there is not much left. I don’t think it will be a good thing if he is nominated. The country needs both parties to be strong. Bush will beat Dean like Nixon beat McGovern. Such lopsided victories lead to arrogance. Edwards could appeal to a wider constituency, but it is not his year.

I got my next job lined up in Washington. I will be “Director for the Office of International Information Programs for Europe and Eurasia (IIP) – Eurasia just means the former Soviet Union. My group does speakers, digital videoconferences and Internet for the region. I also broadly oversee (in State Department jargon, I am the reviewing officer) regional information resource centers in Europe. I am hoping to get to do inspection tours – maybe Norway and Ireland in the summer and Italy, Portugal and Spain in the winter. That would be sweet. I am hoping to use some of what learned at Fletcher to improve the U.S. image.

I will get back to Washington on June 21. I will miss New Hampshire and Boston, but Northern Virginia is more like home. The kids are looking forward to seeing their old friends. Summers in Washington are hot and horrible, but spring and fall are really nice and winter is mild. We will probably move back into the townhouse in Vienna, VA.

Below are mixed photos. Top are Londonderry crossroads. CJ and Alex walking among the stone walls so common around here. Below are the kids at Christmas and Mariza taking her usual naps. Mariza has asked me to clarify. She was not merely taking a nap because she was lazy. She had her wisdom teeth pulled. Even with today’s modern dentistry, that is uncomfortable and tends to make you want to sleep off the pain.