Executive Summary

We are well. We took some trips. Merry Christmas.

The long version

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Dear Friends,

The warmest Christmas greetings to one and all. Life continues to be beautiful at the Casas Laxen. The best news of the season is that Nadine is healthy once again, and overcame a brain tumor that was diagnosed early this year. She went in for a routine blood test, and the results came back that her prolactin levels were over 200. Normal is under 20. This meant she probably had a growth in her pituitary gland, which was confirmed with an MRI (shown at left) a few days later. Her neurologist, Dr. Santana, put on on bromocriptine, a very nasty drug that attacks the pituitary tumor. We got the good news in July, that the tumor had disappeared, and we have been celebrating ever since.
So that's the really bad news, now lets move on to the bad news. We both turned 50 years old this year. We celebrated Nadine's birthday in January, by renting the Canucks restaurant in Mazatlan for the evening for her birthday party. Nadine invited her one-hundred closest friends, and a good time was had by all. We were especially pleased that our friends Alex, Mike and Barbara flew down for the USA for the event, as well as Nadine's mother, Mary, and her sister, Cindy, pictured at the right enjoying a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan.
This was also the time we began to enjoy our new puppy, Aphrodite. Our faithful companion of ten years, Gatita, had died just before Christmas of 2003, and we (especially Henry) were heartbroken to lose her. It felt like the grinch had indeed stolen Christmas that year. Fortunately, Nadine didn't exactly go behind my back, but kind of around my shoulder and arranged to buy a new Chihuahua puppy that we had seen at a local dog show. The new baby was still too young to be taken from her mother, so we had to wait until after Christmas to receive her. Since her color and markings were so similar to Venus, we decided to give the Greeks equal time and named her Aphrodite. She has been a joy since the day we got her. She is always happy, loves everybody, dogs, people, cats, stuffed tigers, it doesn't matter, and her job in life is to play and romp. What a pleasure to be around her.
As part of Nadine's birthday, we took our friends Jack and Valerie Moreau with us for a quickie 3 day shopping run to Phoenix. Half the fun was staying on the Concierge Level of the Ritz-Carleton in Phoenix, and experiencing the different phases. There were five phases during the day, starting with breakfast, then lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and finally cordials. Each phase was accompanied with the appropriate libation to go with the occasion. Jack learned that Campari should not be drunk straight up, and Nadine and I learned that we liked their Sterling Merlot wine a little too much. We had also been busy before arriving in Phoenix by letting Nadine loose on eBay. You can see Nadine, Valerie, and Jack posing with the loot in the photo.
A few months after the big fifty bash, we had a chance to take a trip that we've always wanted to make, namely a train ride through the copper canyon, supposedly four times large than the Grand Canyon (which we've also not seen yet) in the USA. The train ride was first class, and was one of the cleanest trains we had ever been on, including the wonderful Swiss trains of Europe. This isn't a total surprise, as the trains and the track were built by the Swiss during the 1950's and 60's.
Our first stop on this adventure was the little town of El Fuerte. This is after an 11 hour bus ride from Mazatlan to El Fuerte. The big thing in El Fuerte is the Spanish fort for which the town was named. Here we are on the top of the fort, overlooking the river and town below. We stayed overnight here, and caught the train early the next morning. While waiting at the train station, we managed to feed several bags of potato chips to some stray dogs that were hanging around.
After an all day train ride, we wound up in the town of Creel. The home of the Tarahumara Indians. The next day we toured the area. One of the stops was a small Tarahumara village where the locals like to hang out in the tavern, pictured here. It may look like an old beat up bus to you, but for the locals it is where they can relax with a cervesa or two.
Now for the shocking part. During our tour of the area, we came across this family, that in the 21st century still finds itself living in a cave. Here you have a view of the outside and the inside of their cave. Poor doesn't really begin to describe some of the people in this area. While we were there, it started snowing, and we watched as the Tarahumaras walked around in the snow wearing these sandals that were like beach flip-flops. When we got back to our hotel room, the heater in our room didn't really work. (Well, it worked for about 10 minutes and then turned itself off.) We were cold, and could just imagine how the family living in the cave were coping.
The next day it was time to head back towards El Fuerte, but we stopped at El Divisedero overnight. This is one of the most spectacular views of one of the canyons. The photo on the left is view from our room the evening we arrived. That night it snowed, and the photo on the right is the canyon the next morning after the snowfall.
All in all it was a great little trip. Our friend Carol McKrossin organized it all wonderfully, and we had a great time. It was really humbling to see how the other 90% lives though. If you have extra time in Mexico, you should consider taking this trip. Just the train ride itself is quite an experience, as the bridges you cross are amazing feats of engineering. We left Mazatlan early this year to return to Reno. Early May as a matter of fact, which meant we were back in time to celebrate our wedding anniversary in the USA this year. We decided to go out to a pretty fancy new restaurant to celebrate. It has been fourteen years since we met, and we have been married for thirteen years. It is easy to say these have been the happiest years of my life. Nadine and I are together 24/7 and every moment is a treasure. I don't know what I did right to wind up with such a beautiful person, both inside and out. After watch my parents marriage, I always thought that I would never marry anyone. I'm glad I gave it a chance with my sweet Nadine.
Henry celebrated his 50th birthday both in Mazatlan (in April) and in Reno this year. As you can see, we spared no champagne during our Reno party. I have to admit it is really hard to believe that I am this old. I can clearly remember, when I was in my twenties, thinking that the year 2000 was far, far away. Fifty seemed so old back then, yet here I am. It is a lot harder to keep my girlish figure, and I certainly don't remember things as well as I used to, though I can't say I ever prided myself on my memory. Time passed so slowly thirty years ago, and now it seems to be just racing by. At this point in my life, I would describe myself as very contented. There isn't really any great adventure that I feel I must do in order to exit without any regrets. Our quiet life at home with the cats and dogs, and hanging out with our friends in Mazatlan and Reno is more than I can really ask for.
So what have I learned so far in these first fifty years? Well, with few exceptions, what goes around comes around. This is not because of cosmic powers keeping a precarious balance in the universe, but just because (with few exceptions) people tend to treat you the way you treat them. I've also learned never to assume the worst about anyone. Every time I have fallen into that trap, I discovered that the truth was always less sinister than I imagined. One of my favorite sayings is: Never attribute to malice what can be easier explained by stupidity. Finally, I try to remember that a person's worth is not determined either by the best or the worst thing that he has done. Usually this comes down to you shouldn't judge someone by the worst thing they have done to you or anyone else. People are more complicated than that, and are rarely defined by a single action. This is more true the more you generalize. For example to judge a group or a country by the actions of a few individuals is the height of folly.
One of the great things about summers in Reno, is that being a tourist town, there are always lots of interesting things to do. At the left Nadine and I are with our friends Nancy and Bertha at the Reno Art Show, and on the right with our friends and next door neighbors, Mike and Barbara at the Reno Designer's Showcase home for the year.
Events worthy of note for the summer in Reno were the Cheetah races and the Lipizzan Horse Show. The Cheetah race is sponsored by the Animal Ark, which takes care of wild animals that can no longer care for themselves. A great organization that we try to support every year. The Lipizzan Horse Show has always been a special dream for Nadine, who grew up loving horses in the ranch lands of Simi Valley.
This summer we also made a grand auto tour back to California to visit a bunch of our old friends. While we were there we saw my friend Alex (at left) and his family, and my college roommate Steve and his wife Jane, out at their Morgan Hill estate. As a pastime Steve runs his bulldozer or digs out with a pick and shovel, miles of trails on his property. I had to sit down and rest after listening to him describe what he was doing.
We want to say a special hello to our dear friend Nancy, mother of Orlando, who is the boyfriend of our girls, Belle and Venus. Nancy, you are often in our thoughts, and we wish you nothing but the best in the new year. Please give Orly a kiss from his dear sweet Belle dog.
When we returned to Mazatlan in late October, we were delighted to be invited to attend the christening of our friends, Jorge and Luptia's darling daughter. This is an event they have waited for a very long time, and we were very happy to be able to share in their joy. Jorge, I hope that you know that life as you once knew it, is now over for the next twenty years.
we saved our big trip for another Geek Cruise. Geek Cruises is a great outfit that holds geeky seminars aboard cruise ships. For a nerd like me, this is great as there is something to do while the ship is at sea. The best part of the cruise was getting together with our friends, Bernie and Marge, whom we met on a previous Geek cruise to the Caribbean. At the left you can see them with Nadine enjoying a glass of Grapa, at a little bar in Venice. Grapa is a local drink, quite reminiscent of mint flavored unleaded gasoline. At the right is the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, which we had the opportunity to go inside. Istanbul was the best stop on the cruise, very interesting, and the food was great.
Ahhh, Venice. Some call it the most romantic city in the world, others a national treasure, and some one of the wonders of the world. I would describe it as an overpriced tourist trap whose motto is: We don't care, we don't have to! We came during the off season, yet there were still so many people walking around that if you picked up your feet, you would be carried along by the crowds. Venice itself has become one giant mall, with street after street having shop after shop trying to suck those tourist dollars out of your pocket. I should tell you about the great experience we had at our hotel in Venice, the Ambassador. You can see our wonderful view in the photo at the bottom right. Also, when Nadine opened the door to the bathroom, the door handle came off in her hand. The next morning, while I was trying to take a shower, the water stopped flowing. I ask Nadine to go down to the front desk and inquire as to what was going on. Their first response was, "Just wait, the water will be back on soon." Nadine said, "Not acceptable." Then they said, "We'll send someone up to your room to check it out." Nadine said, "Not acceptable." Finally, they said, "Okay, here is a key to another room, try it." You see, we were on the fifth floor, and the other room was on the third floor. There wasn't sufficient water pressure to get all the way up to the fifth floor, but when I got down to the third floor, I was able to complete my shower. After all, you shouldn't really expect to be able to take a shower in your own room for only $250 USD per night, should you?
Now, I can't conclude without mentioning how much we enjoyed the cruise line we were on, name Costa. Here are some excerpts from the letter we wrote in appreciation:

We were really looking forward to this cruise, especially after our last experience with you and Holland America in the Caribbean. Our cabin on that cruise wonderful, and we felt like Holland went out of their way to try to give the suite residents "little extras," like our own private dining area and free laundry service. Also the willingness, if not eagerness to cater a private party in our suite.

Just after walking into our suite on Costa, we knew things weren't looking too good. It was not much larger than a regular cabin, and nowhere near as grand as the Holland suite. Other than a basket if inedible fruit, and a bottle of champagne, which wasn't bad, there weren't any "extras." That night and every night thereafter, we discovered another down side of the suites, namely that being over the propellers, our entire cabin rattled like the a freight train with square wheels. Also, the large deck on the rear of the boat is completely useless, since it was always wet from the spray generated by the propellers.

Next let's get to the food. How can a cruise line with Italian chefs consistently ruin pasta and pizza? I don't know, but they managed to do it on every meal. Their beef wellington was also awful. The worst item on their menu though was their vegetarian taco. I made the mistake of ordering it, and besides the taco shell being cold to the touch, the beans and cheese on the inside were still frozen. How can a chef let something like this out of his kitchen. If I served something like that to one of my guests, I would not blame them for spitting it out. I was kinder, and simply ask the waiter to tell the chef that was the worst taco I ever saw in my life. I rather doubt he passed on the message.

Another indication of how "cheap" Costa was towards their passengers was the ice cream desserts in the cafeterias. There were only two flavors, vanilla and strawberry, and no -- count them 0 -- toppings. This in the land of gelato, where delicious ice cream and toppings could be had on every street corner. Shame on them, really.

There was one good thing I have to say about Costa, however. We both started on the cruise a little on the heavy side, and were worried that our clothes would no longer fit us after the cruise. I'm happy to report that we both actually lost weight during the cruise, thanks to the quality of the food that was served.

Nadine added: One trick they pulled on us the first night is they put bottled water on the table and told us nothing about it being an extra cost until the meal was over. Then they tried to collect one per couple when only four bottles were served at the meal. I mention this because this was the feeling the entire trip, that they tried to get every dollar out of you that they could with the least amount of quality! I don't mind paying or we wouldn't have gotten a suite but we want to feel that Costa is "trying" to give us something in return. A good time, a nice cabin, and good food. I usually shop on cruises, but due to the feeling I got on this cruise I spent only what I had to. I usually gamble on cruises again I didn't want to give Costa an extra dollar! On closing I did not fill out an form to grade the cruise for "FEAR" of winning another trip on a Costa cruise line!!!! Well, that about does it for another year. If you've made it this far, you are either a very good friend, or someone with too much time on their hands. Nadine and I wish and hope you are and will continue to be the former. So have a wonderful 2005, live long and prosper, and try to be as good of a person as your dog thinks you already are!

Quote of the day:
A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.
Robert Benchley

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