Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays 2010 !

Greetings from Redmond, WA, and a heartfelt Happy Holidays from Sidd, Paul, Molly and myself. We pray this note finds you safe, sound, healthy and happy.

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I am always in awe of and humbled by the hundreds of layers of blessings surrounding us. It is life’s version of Teflon coating. As example, waking up in one’s own apartment, condo or home is an obvious and wonderful one. No longer is this an assumed outcome in the US; just between July - September, 930,000 homeowners lost their homes – that is around 4 million whose lives are derailed in this Holiday Season. The fact I am say my prayers from inside a house is the 1st blessing of each day.

And while the economy is still worrisome, our little troupe has been exploring and stretching ourselves in various ways…

  • The boys (Paul is 8 ½ years old, and Sidd is 7 yrs.) are leaner, tougher, but just as curious of their surroundings as ever.  A toddler is svelte compared to the pudgy geometry of a baby, but a 7 year old replaces the toddler physique with a sinewy network of muscles on top of muscles.  They are still immersed in Legos, but new facets are in motion, like piano, bicycling, Kinect, Harry Potter, increasingly ferocious soccer, and technology in general.
  • Molly has ventured into that one area most of us fear greatly – public speaking!  In a mere 12 months at Toastmasters, she has paced thru the intro set of speeches, increased her involvement and landed as the club president.  It has and continues to be an unexpected journey, like any true journey. 
  • I continue to learn all manner of new things in my current role as the US cloud computing lead, driving “evangelism and adoption” among legions of developers (aka, computer programmers).  For you sci fi buffs, HAL 9000 is not far away.

As for 2010’s lessons, here’s a few (potentially obvious) ones.  (I always love how this garners replies with the insights you have gained.)

  • Technology connects us – video chats, email, Facebook. None of this is news; I am simply pondering how profoundly they can change our lives. Video chats have effortlessly retooled how-to discussions, be it a baby tooth Paul lost, or a Lego concoction the boys created by gutting pieces from 2 different kits. The trick with any tool is to stay in the driver’s seat. Facebook can derail our future opportunities, and necessity will teach us how to be mindful – as example, many employers and the military will peruse your FB pages 1st thing after a job interview.
  • The learning resources on the Web will change how we learn – KhanAcademy.org, TED.org, iTunes U and puzzle games from sites like kongregate.com…. they expand your mind & leave you in awe. I feel transported out of my current environment via a thought provoking (and usually free) session other media cannot deliver.
  • Few treasures are as sublime as a sibling you can explore life with. Ah this is a daily observation. The boys are 16 months apart and well within the “Four Year Rule” – so they experience life in a collaborative, complementary, simply remarkable manner. They play off their differences: one is introverted, the other extroverted; ready/aim/fire vs. ready/fire/aim. Long philosophical or design-related debates result: whether 2 velociraptors are more dangerous than one T-rex; some pushy kid at school; how to proceed with an undersea Lego city being constructed given the creatures on the fictitious planet Lexecon they dreamt up. My hope is they find the balance of independence and collaboration, so the path outlined in Dr. Suess’ “Oh the Places You Will Go” is that much overflowing in its experiences and lessons for them.
  • How do you measure the value of a crackerjack teacher? One never forgets a teacher who opens new vistas, inspires you and gives the courage to reshape your very self. I watched this happen thru Paul’s 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Ellis, who deftly navigates a whole roomful of kids, can keep them in line and yet draw them out into unexpected places. The students walk away loving to learn, perhaps the most important outcome of all. When a sales guy has a big year, we have well-oiled mechanisms (sales contests, accelerators, kickers, etc.) for measuring success and rewarding them. Someday, we will know net present-value of a gifted teacher’s work and put it in her or his bank account.
  • It is never too early (nor too late) to try something new – Paul and Sidd had their 1st sales gig this year, and sold a relatively modest $800 of popcorn for their Cub Scouts troop. But the learning was remarkable, such as getting across a message in 12 seconds to people coming out of the Safeway grocery store. “Hello, would you care to support our scouts by sending popcorn to our troops in Afghanistan?” More valuable was the tough optimism and broad minded advice of one of the Scout moms, “don’t worry that most people will not buy something, the Cub Scout way is to say thanks and wish them well.” So rejection of any kind resulted in Paul or Sidd calling out “Thaaannnks, have a nice daaaayyy…” This usually returned a sheepish smile from the person as they turned around and said, “yes you too”… We can all do start new things today. Molly was resoundingly placed as the president of her Toastmaster’s club – not expected by her when she originally joined. My mom built her first Web site using actual HTML code, simply to show off her artwork. Molly’s dad secured a faculty post at Emery University. What should you try today, to “educate yourself toward your interests”?
  • “Time boxing” our adventures is never a bad thing – I attended my cousin Reshma’s medical school graduation. It struck me that after our last stage of schooling, we often don’t frame our ensuing endeavors within pre-defined start / stop dates, and hard core “conditions of success,” but both can be a good thing. Such a practice is certainly healthy, as it makes it easier to assess what worked, failed and was missing, and course correct the path ahead.
  • We may be in the eye of the parenting “storm.”  (By no means is the intent to suggest any bad connotations of a hurricane…)  As a family, I hear it is an unfettered place when children reach the 7 – 8 year old age. Gone is the physical maintenance (diapers, late nights, etc.), not yet started are the socially confounding teenage years. The boys like to cook with Molly, I have the sublime pleasure of long bike rides as they ponder some trivia point (next summer’s goal is a 50 miler), and we can actually find a Netflix movie interesting to all four of us.
  • Going home, to your childhood - During my 2nd to 10th grades we lived in the Mennonite prairie town of Winkler, Manitoba. I had a chance to go back in September for the first time in 20 years and the divine providence of growing up there was again clear to me. As just one example, the neighbors made a colossal impact – funny how you buy a house or a plot of land based on lots of things but usually not the people around the location; that part is left to chance. My dad’s med school classmate Dr. Jacob & family were always part of the experience. And we had the luck of the Sudermans next door with their youthful exuberance (even now); and Mrs. Buhler who was hard-wired to be productive at all times (only now has time slowed her down at a surreal age of 111).
  • Simple fun abounds right under our nose. Not a new takeaway but still remarkable to me: I fear we too easily gravitate away from unstructured, meandering play into packaged, franchised, time bound, monetized activities. Nowadays 4 people going to a theatre to see a 2 hour movie can set you back $50, not including any popcorn, etc. But sledding down a miniscule hill after a fresh snow is as free as sunshine. And results in hours of high-octane, goofy, genuine humor. It does require a different way to look at what’s around you.
  • Adventuring out of the US seems like a prudent thing, no? Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the term “BRIC” for Brazil, Russia, India and China, whose economies are expected to surpass the G7 by 2050. So why not spend some time in one of these soon, expose yourself and your children to a land or lands where they you and they may retire to?
  • Never stop asking questions. We all need to ponder like a 7 or 8 year old. What does a senator do? Which is faster, a meteor or a comet? What is the color inside your heart? Why do some people get so wound up? What is “the government?” Are scientists still arguing about what happened to the dinosaurs, if it was a meteor or a volcano? How does an ear ache happen? How exactly does Santa keep his clothes clean? Is Mrs. Claus real name Mary Christmas?

With this, Molly, the "2 chuttumbees" and I wish you and your loved ones a 2011 that is simply breathtaking.  May you explore, discover, develop and appreciate the treasures, talents and time that is right under your nose, and find remarkable ways to bring them to life. 
 
Take care and God Bless You! 
Sidd, Paul, Molly and Abe…

PS: If the above is too heavy, here’s lighter fare - us (sort of) singing Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Four Year Rule

When I was in my mid 20s I noticed I was suddenly interacting much more with my sister Cindy who is 6 years younger, but it was unclear as to why.  Did she suddenly become smarter or was there more to it?  After a lot of thought, I arrived at the “4 year rule” – that every 4 years our personas go thru a metamorphosis. As example, 3 and 7 year olds have nothing in common, nor 7 vs. 11, 11 vs. 15, even 15 vs. 19. The pace of personal development is so earth-shattering frankly. But then we get to our 20s and the pace eases up, a lot. Hence why I only discovered my sisters so late. 

The implication is that an age gap of greater than 4 years means you will not materially “share the ride” with your older or younger sibling.  Each child has what is essentially an “only child” and “oldest child” experience, working from zero insitutionalized knowledge regarding what to expect.

Now when I see young parents with say, a 2 year old, I wonder if they have in mind to have another baby, and if so, when.  Wait too long, and the younger one will only have an older sibling they know of, rather then know innately.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Diamonds in the Rough

It was bed time but Paul had one of those reflective questions, “Dad, why do we do so many things?”

I figured I knew what Paul was referring to, but played dumb. Like what?

“Well, we have to read, and play piano, and kick the soccer ball and other things. I don’t think we get enough time to relax, and you know, goof around like boys do” Once again his 8 year old introspective side had kicked in. Sidd concurred with ruffled eyebrows.

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I left them, got Molly’s wedding ring, ran outside, got a rock, and came back. They love superlatives currently so I asked, Do you know what is the hardest rock in the world? It’s the diamond, like in mommy’s ring. See how shiny it is?

What followed was a fierce, concentrated inspection; one that only a youngster can do.

Did you know that a diamond starts out as dull as this rock? But if you rub it and polish it over and over, boy, after doing this for a long time, it starts to shine. Then we give it edges so it captures the light and throws it back at you with all those sparkles.

Sometimes people call an unpolished diamond a “diamond in the rough”. That is what you 2 are – our diamonds in the rough. And all that math, and music, and soccer and other things are polishing you into these amazing boys. We need to make it fun along the way and if it isn’t you tell me.

Paul looked off into he distance as he digested this analogy. “I think I get it now, Dad,” He clambered into bed; it was a start at outlining why he was in the various things he is. But there would be more to discuss, undoubtedly.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hand of God – Guiding My Detroit Rolling Iron

I can look back and see explicit examples where nothing other than the hand of God ensured my well being.  Here’s one.

I had just finished grad school and had capped off my college days with a late night at the Chicago Blues Festival with my good friend Gunter Frank, who was a med student on a visiting rotation from Heidelberg.  I absolutely needed to drive the 350 miles down to Southern Illinois in the morning, as the next day I had a flight out of St. Louis to Hong Kong and then India for 3 months of vacation.  So on less than 5 hours of sleep, I happily loaded my capacious 1978 Olds 98 with my most precious grad student belongings and sundries, (photos, camera, stereo, albums, clothes) and an antique full-sized bed frame and headboard (that literally fit in the back seat, such was the volume of this ship I drove).  I then pointed pointed my Detroit rolling iron homeward down Interstate 57.  In front of me, both good and bad, was flat, boring, straight lengths of highway.

100 miles into the trip, I could feel the waves of sleep suddenly coming on.  My friends used to call me “narc” as we all thought I had some manner of narcolepsy, so quickly could I fall asleep.  (In truth, it was probably a simple case of sleep deprivation.)  The next exit was about 10 miles away where a coffee would “fix” this issue with a vengeance.  Time for some defensive maneuvers: dial up the radio; light up the rare cigarette; partially roll down the windows on the right so that a cool wind hits the back of my head.  I continued to barrel along at 75 miles an hour, familiar with the conflict underway.

But I lost this one.

As I approached the intersection in mind, I slipped off to sleep.  The car, being essentially a living room on wheels, ever so slowly drifted to the right and into what should have been the shoulder of the highway.  But that very exit I was looking for was upon me.  So the car was lined up with the now widening road.  I awoke just as the exit rose upward, and curved dramatically rightward.  Now things got surreal.  The car shot off the road, down a long embankment, and like a curling rock, slowly rotated right ward in the soft muddy dirt below  The tall wild grass was madly slapping the window to my left as the 98 slid sideways.  I was creating a 25 foot wide swath in the foliage.  Inside the car, I witnessed a slow swirl of clothes, record albums, photos, books.  My material life was being stirred like a martini.

As quickly as this all started it was over.  Silence in the car. A quiet rustling of the wild grass.  The hiss of cars zipping by on the highway.  I had narrowly and completed averted a catastrophe.  To my left was the overpass for this exit – with unforgiving concrete walls and pillars that had been avoided.  In front of me, literally 200 feet away, a diner with a large “Fresh Coffee” sign.  I sheepishly walked trudged thru the soft mud from a recent rain and into the diner.

“Uh, can you get me a tow truck?”  Your car break down or run out of gas?  “Well no, i just drove it into that field by your exit ramp,” I said, feeling phenomenally idiotic.  A friend of the guy behind the counter leaned forward, You fall asleep?  The guy behind the counter jumped in, Don’t ask that! Why are you pokin’ around for?  With a big grin, the buddy said, Shit I did that last year, just wanted to know.

The rest of the journey was uneventful.  I caught my flight from St. Louis to Asia the next day.  But only due to the divine providence that helped keep me in this current life.  Hard to believe my good fortunes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Polishing Diamonds: Never Order From the Kid’s Menu

How often have you seen the following:  You are at a capable restaurant, with a menu renowned far and wide.  But you notice the younger ones at the party next to you are eating chicken nuggets.  From the kitchen freezer! Prepared in a microwave!  Not the salmon cooked to a delectable nuance.  Nor beef from some remote grassy pasture, or mushrooms good enough for a sitting president.

Funny part is that we are at our most malleable when we are young.  Yet we all too often pass on the chance to create a transcontinental palette in our children due to some queasy look they had at some misty point in the past.  Rather than keeping a firm hand on the tiller, we retreat for frozen lunch food.  Had Tiger Woods dad asked Tiger at the age of 2 what he thought of golf (remarkably, Earl started Tiger down this avenue before Tiger was two) the mystified look of the baby would have killed the whole venture before it has started.

So nudge them into the culinary unknown. Talk of what they will see in Kyoto and have them try Tempura.  Discuss Gaudi’s grand architecture and order up the Tortilla Espanola.  Before you know it, they will be perusing the menu, calling out combinations they like and what to try next.  And you will have broadened their world well before their first excursion across the ocean

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One of Joni Mitchell’s Finest

Watching the 2010 Winter Olympics stirred up a few tangential memories…

When I as in the 8th grade my parents sent me to the “International Music Camp” at International Falls, MN.  I asked them to sign me up for the guitar sessions as I had been taking classical guitar for years. 

Those next 2 weeks were remarkable and unexpected in two ways. 

Remember I was a boy growing up in a Mennonite prairie town: truly pure, straightforward; no school dances; no liquor store.  No one was dating someone else in the 8th grade, unlike today.  My friendships we akin to those in Stephen King’s breathtaking novel Stand By Me.  Clean sublime experiences, not exposed yet to so many of life’s ways.

The camp held 2 surprises.  The 1st: my first crush, to another camper, Brenda Bonogofsky from Carson, North Dakota, and this on its own was enough to make an indelible mark upon me.  I mean, that’s what such initial experiences do, no?  (That is a story for another day.)

The 2nd surprise was discovering such greats as Joni Mitchell, to whom I was introduced thru the pot smoking, laid back but hard rocking teachers of our guitar session.  Classical guitar, this was NOT.  And to my delight.   Boy was I glad my dad didn’t know what he was signing me up for!

I learned that guitars were like fine wines, such as the 12 string Ovation one classmate carried.  We journeyed thru the lyrics of such American poets as Neil Young, Crosby / Stills / Nash, and Joni.   The words were like nothing I had come across before and it’s taken years for their meaning to come into view, starting with long meandering discussions with the instructors, with classmates and Brenda.

Here’s one I just heard at the Olympics’ opening ceremony that I always loved, by the inimitable Ms. Mitchell (video below too):

Both Sides Now
(Joni Mitchell)

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons ev'rywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on ev'ryone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living ev'ry day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Thank you, Joni, my goodness, what words these are.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Happy Holidays 2009

Happy Holidays from Sidd, Paul, Molly and myself!

This note comes to you from the lush, coastal, southwestern state of Kerala in India, where we have the good fortune of visiting with family and friends on our first long vacation since 2005. I took this shot as we rode an auto-ricksha back to Molly’s Uncle Immanuel’s place. I LOVE autorickshas: on the one hand their itty bitty 2 cycle engines create a disastrous amount of pollution; on the other other hand, you smell, hear, taste, feel and see your excursions in relative comfort like no other vehicle I know of ; and a good driver will patiently snake thru the most remarkably congested traffic - - “seeing” openings created by the moving geometry of buses, cars, lorries, and motorcycles. More abstractly, this particular scene made me think of how we hurtle thru time and life with friends and family in some manner of capsule - - that is, nested in the trappings of our belongings, with our talents, time and more intangible treasures.

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The Journey Forward into 2010, Copyright 2009, Abe Pachikara

No ordinary year blustered by – in the US alone tens of millions of people lost their jobs and even worse, millions lost their homes. The personal disruption to the fabric of an individual or family from the need to “move out” (massive uncertainty for the adults, potentially new schools for children, derailed college plans for teens) makes me recall a quote by Napoleon which my dad shared many years ago, “ ‘Tis but a moment from the sublime to the ridiculous.” So we are especially grateful that our joys and frustrations in 2009 have been pretty similar to those in 2008.

With that, here are a few observations from 2009:

  • Wisdom Comes Early. Michael Jackson was only introduced to our boys (at that time 6 and 7 years old) via news of his death. They saw an anthology of his videos on news shows and immediately were amazed by his dancing ways. A few days of pondering by Paul were summed up in a question after our daily evening prayers, “Dad, why do we ONLY pray for family? You see dad, there is life and there is death. Michael Jackson died and we did not pray for him.” So since then, (taking last night as example) in our prayers we say, “Help people go to heaven, like Joe Uncle, Thomas Uncle and Michael Jackson” where the latter represents all those who have died recently outside the family.
  • Same Origins, Different Product. Ostensibly 2 or more siblings come from the same ingredients, yet the mix of those inputs can be so dramatically different. Paul is reflective, introspective, and has 1 close friend. Sidd rushes thru his work, enjoys enjoying things, and cannot remember the number of kids with whom he has played each day.
  • Keep Reinventing One’s Self. All of us need to evolve what we do, even if it means experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of being the “newby”. I took a head spinning new role driving cloud computing adoption within Microsoft after 3+ years in the prior assignment; Molly, who right now has what I prefer to characterize as a full-time “product management role” shaping our boys is similarly stepping out of her comfort zone thru the Toastmasters group she has joined.
  • Face Down Your Fears, Chase Your Goals. How many of us have persisted thru a job we truly disliked due to such confounding sweeteners as good benefits, good pay, and a well regarded company name? Well my sister Susan decided “now was the time to move on,” and as the economy was slumping, left her GAO job to find something more engaging. The upshot: an amazing adventure, exploration into avenues otherwise ignored and a new role in organization focused on areas of geniune importance to her. None of this would have happened had she not shaken off her former constraints.
  • Be Young to Stay Young. Elizabeth Buhler was our next door neighbor when I was in elementary and high school in the Canadian Prairies. She turned 110 (that is correct, one hundred ten years old) back in February 2009. That makes her a "supercentenarian" and one of fewer than 100 verified people alive in the world today to reach or surpass 110 years of age. The town of Winkler, Manitoba celebrated. She is so healthy she was only admitted into the gov’t run retirement home a few years ago! Part of her secret: being young in action. Back in the ‘70s, my dad had to treat her for a sprained wrist. The cause – she was exercising so vigorously stepping on and off a chair (read: step aerobics at age 74) she got dizzy and fell down.

We wish you and your loved ones a 2010 that is simply breathtaking. May we all continue to discover, develop, apply and deeply appreciate the many sublime talents, treasures and time afforded to all of us.

Sidd, Paul, Molly and Abe…

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The 4 of Us 09-12-25, Copyright 2009, Abe Pachikara