Christmas Letter 2015

This is the letter that went out with our Christmas cards this year (usually just to family), but it’s been such a year that I thought I’d share it here as well.

2015 christmas cardApologies for this Holiday card arriving late this year – December got away from us, and truth be told, looking back, the whole year was a bit of a jumble!

You’ll notice this year there are no bunnies on the card, that’s because this year we lost our two furkids Gus and Betsy. Gus left us in January after a bout of illness and Betsy did not wake up from the anesthesia after a routine procedure in August. They had been with us for over 10 years and despite the often-costly path of destruction they left on both our belongings and bank account (chewed-through power cords? Check. Hole dug in the carpet? Check. Penchant for expensive organic salad mix? Check. Disappearing into some random spot in the house causing a panic. Check.), we miss them to bits. It’s highly unlikely we will be bunny-less forever, so 2016 may see 2 more bunnies fall into the lap of bunny-luxury at 18 Erskine, stay tuned!

Early 2015 we escaped some of the epically cold NJ winter weather by heading back to Australia in February to celebrate our niece Penelope’s first birthday.  As only Amanda’s sister Kate could pull-off, it was a jungle-themed party complete with handmade animal tails, masks, a treasure hunt, tee-pee and balloons!  It was an exhausting but super-fun day and Penny had a ball. Turns out February is a great time to visit Adelaide as the Fringe festival is on – we caught a few shows and even took the kids through a maze in Victoria Square (OK so the kids were terrified, but the adults had fun!). There were some lovely dinners out with family, strawberry picking at Beerenberg with the kids and trips to the beach. The end result of the trip was that Dexter, now 4 years old, is completely enamored with Uncle ‘Keef’ (much to Auntie’s dismay – she wanted to be the favorite!). Though Auntie was the one who bought all the toys, it was Uncle Keef who would sit for hours tirelessly playing trucks in the sandpit or sit and fixing Dexter’s LEGO toys.

After returning to New Jersey and seeing out the long, cold Winter we embraced Springtime as quickly as we could, with Amanda pretty much camping out at the garden store buying plants. Like carful’s of plants. Pretty much every weekend. By June all the employees at the store knew her by name.  Her war cry became “but there is a sale!” On sale or otherwise, while lots of lovely plants sound like a great thing, Keith often was left to dig the holes needed to put said-plants in the ground, which was a massive undertaking, and as Amanda would time it, was often done in oppressive humidity.  We added some larger plants (skip laurel’s, crepe myrtles, and magnolias) as well as smaller perennials that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and dragonflies. The resulting display this Summer was fantastic and we have 2 hummingbirds that now visit the front garden, and butterflies throughout the Summer.

During late Spring and early Summer we decided to execute Amanda’s Dad’s suggestion that we finish the garage with insulation and drywall/gyprock. This was the biggest project we had ever undertaken and it nearly got the better of us. Six months’ post-project we can look back and be proud of the end-result but it was a tough, tough frustration-inducing slog (and for a long time we wouldn’t even talk about it). Amanda will never forget Keith in the garage at 8pm one Sunday night after working 5 days nonstop, the plasterwork had been sanded and despite extensive use of the broom there was such fine plaster dust everywhere that we needed to get out so we could start to prep for paint. “Why don’t we just use the leaf blower?” Amanda suggested. What a nightmare! Within minutes of firing up the leaf blower the dust curled out from the garage looking like a plume of smoke and debris you would typically see from a building demolition or disaster movie. You couldn’t even see Keith in the garage it was just dust. Everywhere. All over the driveway, the cars, the plants in the front garden!

Late this Summer we were fortunate to have David and Ana (Amanda’s Uncle and Auntie) over for a visit, we spent a lovely day looking at the sculptures at the Grounds for Sculpture here in NJ, we also had some lovely dinners in NYC and even toured Princeton University which was really interesting and not something we would have thought do even do.

Obviously forgetting the fatigue and frustration of the garage project, we decided to build a shed in the backyard (we call it our tiny house). This project took up most of the autumn and quickly became another “this is a lot harder than we thought” experience. We ended up having to hire help with raising one of the walls – at over 9 feet (3 meters) tall and VERY top-heavy we just couldn’t lift it up ourselves. But with help from paid random strangers Amanda found online (that’s a whole other story…) at 9pm we did get the wall up, and now we have a lovely shed that matches the style of the house – and can also act as an emergency shelter if needed.

Amanda has this great habit of injuring herself at the beginning of any large project and rendering herself less than 50% operational usefulness.  So let’s be honest, Keith pretty much built the shed… To Amanda’s specifications of course.

With the shed watertight with a roof, and a promise to each other to take a break from projects around the house, the end of 2015 wrapped up with a lovely Thanksgiving spent with Keith’s Mum and then in early December a 5-night stay on the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos (Turks and Caicos is a 3.5 hour flight from Newark New Jersey). While we usually like to get our and explore on our Holidays, this trip we did absolutely nothing but read, swim in the ocean and relax. It was wonderful.

It’s been a bumper year and activity on the house is slowly winding down – Keith’s excited at the thought of less projects in 2016 but Amanda’s parents are visiting and there is that patio paving that needs to be done … so stay tuned!

Happy Holidays! We send you and your family our best wishes for the Holiday break and wish you a wonderful, prosperous and fulfilling 2016.

Desktop Madness Vol. 89

A Christmas Desktop Madness installment, featuring characters from “Lucky Star.”

Well, it’s that time of year again. Have yourself a… …lucky Christmas?

Merry Christmas, Earth

Well, tomorrow’s Christmas – and tonight is Christmas Eve. To everyone out there (whether you celebrate Christmas or not), I hope you have a happy one.

And speaking of “peace on Earth” and all that, today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day really choked me up – as it always does.


I know it’s just a picture, but… remember, we all – THAT’S ALL OF US, EACH AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US – share that little blue marble you see there. So, y’know, be good to one another, don’t be afraid of strangers, and try to keep the joy of this season with you all year ’round.

Merry Christmas, Earth!

Desktop Madness Vol. 64

I wanted the 64th installment of Desktop Madness to be something computer-related (64 being a nice binary number – 2^6 – and of course the latest CPUs are all 64-bit). But, since it’s Christmas time, I decided to go with a holiday-themed wallpaper instead (I’ll hold of for the 128th installment for that particular geeky joke).


As always, click the image for the full-sized version. Enjoy!

A Christmas Countdown Timer

Yes, that’s right. A silly little program, really, hey, you might find it amusing.

Yes, that’s right. A silly little program, really, but one I’ve released (for free) before – and now I’ve re-done it, using .NET.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • The program runs in your system tray (sorry… taskbar notification area)
  • Double-clicking on it shows you how many days are left until Christmas
  • Right-clicking brings up a menu where you can choose to display a different screen with the countdown on it, get “about” information, or exit the program.
  • I’m a nice programmer, so I did not make this program add itself to your start-up group. You have to start it on your own.
  • The program does check for updates each time you open it – you can’t turn this off, but you don’t have to install updates if you don’t want to. It won’t install them without your permission.
  • The source code is available for anyone who wants to see how it’s done.

The requirements are simple:

  • Windows 98 or higher
  • .NET Framework 2.0 or greater

Some screenshots:

Christmas Countdown icon

That’s the icon there, the yellow and green balls. Yeah, I’m not good with icons, I know.

Christmas Countdown menu

Right-click on the icon and this is what you get. Simple, eh?

Christmas Countdown window

Clicking “Show Countdown” gets you this fun screen. The rest you can figure out on your own.

Click here to download the Christmas Countdown Timer. Enjoy!