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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!