Merry Christmas!!

Our first family Christmas in the U.S. (of course we’ve visited for the holidays before) was a terrific success.  We had a fantastic relaxed day, enjoying the games and food we got for presents. We chatted with family online and just had a nice day. I got some Calvin & Hobbes books, a couple great cooking books, and a new LEGO Mindstorms set. I’ve been wanting one of those for YEARS, ever since the first one was released. We made a remote controlled contraption with spinning blades that the Eminent Child delighted in chasing the Eminent Companions around the house with.  Good laughs!

Happy Christmas Eve!

We just spent a fabulous evening with some friends of ours, enjoying delicious temaki-zushi, excellent whisky, and exotic teramisu all evening.  Since we punched into Dec 24th and we’re spending the evening tomorrow with friends, we decided to exploit a loophole in the Christmas Eve gift opening option. The Eminent Child got the tie-die T-shirt set she’s been wanting, the Eminent Spouse got a food chopper (not quite the food processor she wanted but not a bad second gift after a new mixer), and I got a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon. Clearly, I’m winning.

Because we’re having dinner with some friends tomorrow our traditional waffles and sausage dinner will be postponed till Dec 25th proper, but it makes a fitting final meal for us as they depart to Japan and I to the home grounds the day thereafter.

‘Twas a real tree after all!

I recently wrote about our family visit to the National Christmas Tree and mentioned that the tree looked just like a teepee of lights.  Apparently this was just a visual effect from all the lights on it when in fact I’ve been told itt was cut in northeast Washington, loaded on a special enclosed truck with windows in the sides so you could see the tree, and toured back to DC.  John Boehner and a young boy from Colville, flipped the switch to light it.  I thought the President was planning to light it but apparently not.

3D Flower Power

Here are some pics of the 3D poster the Eminent Child made. The poster itself has all the parts labeled but the 3D section pulls off for close examination.

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A visit to the National Christmas Tree 12.13.2013

Friday night the Eminent Team picked me up after studies and we headed downtown to check out the National Tree.  We hadn’t been downtown during normal hours and had a fun time experiencing the joys of DC traffic at night. We muddled around looking for parking and lucked out to find a pay-to-park spot right near the White House and wandered over to the south lawn to check it out. I don’t think it’s an actual tree anymore, more of a teepee of lights, but it was pretty. It had large scale model trains running all over and over 50 smaller trees representing each state and territory (and commonwealth. Apparently Kentucky is a commonwealth, not a state??) around the periphery.  There was a small stage and bleachers set up that had musical performances by visiting choirs and bands. We listened to a great set of arranged Christmas Carols sung by an out of state high school choir.

I tried to take some pictures but its quite difficult to get good images of the low light environment with a bright shining tree (and it was the spot lights on the periphery that really made it hard.  I’ve included a few but wasn’t really satisfied with any of them.  Ideally I’d use a tripod and take a few different shots, then blend them for the best result.  No tripod at the moment though.

There was also a Santa’s workshop that thankfully wasn’t crowded. We got pic of the Eminent Child (and an almost decent pic of the cute elves!). We found the Idaho tree too!

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Hard working kid 12.12.2013

The Eminent Child missed ballet yesterday as the Eminent Spouse was under the weather. It wasn’t such a bad thing, though, as it gave her a chance to work on her plant project that all three of us had conveniently completely forgotten about over the snow days in spite of buying all the materials at the craft shop on Sunday.  She made a magnificent poster of a flower with all the parts labeled and a neat 3D element that you can pull off of the poster and examine in your hand.  It’s really well done and as far as I know, she did most of it herself. I helped her brainstorm but was careful to let her have executive decision making. I snapped one pic tonight but the glitter glue (yeah!) was still drying so we have to wait until tomorrow morning for the final shots.

Tomorrow the Eminent Spouse hopes to learn that her background check has finished and she’s cleared to start teaching next week.

And oh yeah, we’ve been married 15 years now. Huzzah!

Put your money where your mouth is

Yesterday was a decent Korean day and I’m getting better at putting the sentences I want together. The whole struggle has been about finding a way to cognitively distinguish Korean and Japanese in production.  They are so similar it has always felt like I could do more in Korean than I really could, which tripped me up and slowed me down. I’m not having any trouble with the new grammar on a comprehension level, so it’s just a matter of learning the vocab and getting use to producing it accurately.

Last evening I went to a financial planning seminar offered by the department.  I’ve always been maxing out my TSP contributions and have done some reading on different investment strategies but I wanted to get some feedback on whether or not the approaches I’ve settled on are reasonable. I’ve kind of hedged on all of my strategies: I put half of the money in managed L funds and then manually arranged the other half across an array of funds ranging from the conservative government bond G fund to the risky small business fund. I put most of it in the C fund which is basically an S&P 500 index fund. My understanding of the preferability of no-load mutual funds and index funds was confirmed, which was reassuring.

We’ve got a “Roth IRA” option in our TSP now too that I’m not entirely clear on. It appears that we’ve just got two options for investing in our TSP (which is our acronym for 401(k)): pre-tax standard deposits that are taxed on withdrawal and these new “Roth” deposits that are deposited after taxes but then tax free on withdrawal.  The advice that I got when the program was announced was essentially to bet on future taxes. If you think future taxes will be higher, pay them now and then get your money tax free later on. But it was also pointed out that $10 invested after paying taxes is the equivalent of $13 invested before taxes which provides greater principle for the magic of compound interest to work on over the life of the investment. This means that even if you’re paying higher taxes on it later on, you’ll have so much more money that you’ll come out ahead.

Considering that no one knows what’s going to happen to our tax rates in 26 years (I hope I can last that long!), I just split the difference and maxed out my contributions with half from standard deposits and half from Roth.  I know that retrospect will permit me to say I should have done one or the other but at least I don’t have all my eggs in one basket.

The big thing we messed up on was not establishing a 529 educational fund for the Eminent Child early on. If we’d started it when we got married (15 years ago today!), we’d be sitting pretty. Instead, we’re way behind the 8-ball and there’s no way we’re going to be able to pay for her education unless we basically save our entire income from here until she graduates high school (which is a long-winded way of saying there’s no way we’re going to be able to pay for her education). Some friends of mine were talking about trying to convince their parents to give gifts as 529 contributions and how that just doesn’t have the same effect as giving actual presents and gifts.  Something to think about when if I become a grandparent.

It was overall a good session. I had to leave before the discussion on insurance but I did get the presentation powerpoint and will look through it. Right now I’m paying for the best options and think I’ll stick with that. With my family history of heart disease and the state of my health (I’m fine, but plenty of warning lights in weight, blood pressure, triglicerides, pre-diabetic, pre-metabolic syndrome, cholesterol, etc), there’s reasonable odds we’ll need good health and even life insurance. Maybe I’ll be able to pay for the EC’s education in the end after all!

Snow Days for All! (or I’m embarrassed for us all)

Today was a snow day for locals schools and the federal government, apparently out of fear of the “2-4″ of precipitation” forecast for the day. It ended up being a wet slushy day with roads that weren’t much different than a heavy rain, but for better or worse, I got another day with the family. We bundled up and trekked out for some better inclement weather gear for the Eminent Child who later shed tears when all the other kids were too cold to play with her. I guess not knowing how to drive in the snow is correlated with not knowing how to dress your progeny for playing in it either.

I was able to get a little bit of studying done but it’s just so hard with the family around. I don’t want to complain about family time as its extra precious to me but Korean study is proving so difficult for me, I almost wish I was alone here. I really underestimated how much free time I had in Abuja when contemplating language learning.

Snow! (The Horror!)

So it snowed a little bit yesterday, not much more than a dusting, really.  It was enough for the local school district to cancel all school related activities which meant that the second ballet show had to be cancelled (it was hosted in a local school auditorium). It was disappointing for the Eminent Child as she’d arrived early in case she was needed as an understudy (she wasn’t) but most of all, she’d finally gotten some fantastic sausage curls in her hair.

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The weather did get a bit uglier at night when the temperatures dropped and freezing rain coated all the trees. The Eminent Canine woke me up around 2:30 and we went out for a constitutional break where I was impressed with the austere beauty of the iced up trees. I could hear branches breaking in the distance. If I had a tripod I would have set it up but had to settle for some high ISO handheld shots.

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This ice was enough to cancel classes for the local school district on Monday. Apparently they are still without power late into the day so I’m expecting Tuesday to be a snow day too.  There’s also forecasts of up to 4 inches of fluffy too. Considering how ill-prepared people around here are for snow (it’s almost as if I’m in Seattle!), I wouldn’t be surprised if I get the day off tomorrow.

The Nutcracker

I'm currently sitting in an empty theater watching the dancers warm up for the show. We found what seemed to be a decent ballet studio for the Emminent Child when we arrived and she was excited to qualify for an advanced class. She has rehearsal thrice weekly and was able to get a spot in The Nutcracker even though she joined in September. It's been a lot of fun for us.

They have 6 shows: Thursday, Friday, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. The EC opened on Thursday and performs early today and late tomorrow. Between when I started writing and just now I was informed the house wasn't open and I had to leave, so now I'm sitting outside enjoying the 50 degree sunshine.

This morning I made pancakes, muffins, eggs, bacon and coffee but didn't have time to drink my coffee. Sure wish I had it here now but we were rushing out of the house late (predictably).