Lehman Family Christmas letter

Originally written December 8.
Yesterday was a good day. Woke up when I felt like it; opened Christmas presents with my fiancĂ©e Ellen; lounged around all day munching candy, listening to Christmas carols and doing a puzzle; had the traditional Christmas dinner of spaghetti carbonara; made and ate an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies; and fell asleep watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“But it’s not yet December 25!” you exclaim. “This is madness!”
As you may have realized, I’ve been re-watching the movie “300” and enjoying the story of the ragtag band of Spartans taking on the hordes of Persians trying to conquer them. Though they ultimately lost the battle, it is the struggle against a seemingly insurmountable force that makes the combat so entertaining. That, and the seething badassedness of King Leonidas and his warriors. For the Lehmans, 2008 proved a similarly difficult task, but you’ll be happy to know we emerged victorious.

You may be wondering why I’m celebrating Christmas before Christmas. I could tell you it’s because I’ve been living in Germany from October until December 20, but then you’d just ask why I’m living in Germany, so let me explain by telling you about my year. I spent as much of ’08 as possible staying out of Los Angeles, my disdain for the traffic, the people, and even the constant sunshine getting the better of me. Through my job as a supervisor with SkyWest Airlines, it cost literally nothing to fly, so February I went to Orlando, March I went to Thailand, April was Phoenix, May I saw Vegas, July I outdid myself with Salt Lake City then Dallas then Des Moines, and August found me in Colorado for our family vacation (more on that later). So when October came, I decided it was time for a break, quit my job, and moved to Germany.

Okay, so it wasn’t that simple. Ellen got a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in a little town near the Swiss border called Meersburg, so I took the opportunity to live out here until the end of the year with almost no expenses and even fewer commitments. We’ve taken a couple short trips to Vienna and Slovakia, as well as day trips throughout southern Germany, but for the most part I’ve been working on independent writing and projects. For more on that, check out misusingecards.blogspot.com. But right before Germany, I flew up to Portland and asked Ellen to marry me, to which she of course said “Hell yes.” To victory!
To save up for my life abroad, Daniel let me crash on his couch for the summer, effectively cutting my cost of living by about a grand. Plus, it gave me the chance to see how the other half lives. He still works at WaMu, he’s still going to school for his Master in Psychology, and he’s still surfing, despite a small mishap where his board attacked him and gashed open his face. But he just shouted, “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” and got back on it. Some new things he’s doing: worrying about whether or not he’ll still be working at WaMu tomorrow; preparing to do his practicum for school, meaning actual psychology stuff like “it’s obvious you’re subconsciously in love with your dog and this love is manifesting itself in the brightly-colored ties you wear”; and accompanying me to the great state of Iowa for a visit with our old friend Becky, where we drank beer out of Das Boot and saw a Moose on the Loose (it’s exactly what you think it is, as long as you think it’s a store full of Midwestern doodads).
It wouldn’t be a year in the life of Daniel without some risky behavior, so in September, he and I drove up north to Whitney Portal, where we met up with Dave (dad), Roger (uncle) and Dennis Reibold (friend) and hiked all the way up to the 14,505 ft summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48. It was breathtaking, truly. We could barely breathe. Then just a week later, Daniel took me hang gliding for my 24th birthday at Dockweiler Beach in LA, and we ran up and down hills with wings attached, trying desperately to fly. Each time Daniel gripped the glider, and each time something went slightly awry. Finally, the last attempt: his hands were steady, his aim—perfect! And by the end, we each caught at least 10 feet of air for at least 5 seconds.

By now you must be wondering: did Dave make it down off the mountain alive? Surprisingly, yes, and so did Roger and Dennis. For a few old fogies, they really held their own as mountain men, especially considering that only 1 out of every 3 people who attempt to climb to the top of Whitney don’t make it. (Don’t make it as in can’t get to the top, not as in die.) We each just put one foot in front of the other, trudging every step of the way, even when darkness came and we were still on the mountain. But it wasn’t fear that gripped us, only a heightened sense of things. And yes, I may have dropped in that statistic just to brag, but can you blame me?
Aside from several practice hikes, Dad spent the rest of ’08 in the usual manner: deaconing, real estate brokering, and music group singing with Michelle (mom). He took a few trips, including one with Michelle and I to Orlando for the annual Century 21 convention, and we enjoyed an air boat ride through an alligator infested swamp and a day at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT, for you philistines out there). He also celebrated being cancer free for two years, and he took on a post as spiritual advisor for St. Vincent De Paul Council of Northern California. In his position, he is sure to usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
With their traveling buddies, the Reibolds, Dave and Michelle went to Arizona in April to see our good friend Corry, and I tagged along for a couple days. We all went to see feathered dinosaurs at the Mesa Natural History museum, then I flew back for work and the rest of them did all the stuff I didn’t care about like botanical gardens and Sedona. A couple months later, Michelle met up with me in Salt Lake City because I had a free hotel room for a work conference, so she spent a couple days exploring and we enjoyed some good old fashioned Mormon culture. And because they have a million timeshares and had to use one up, Dave and Michelle just spent a week in San Francisco pretending they haven’t been there a bunch of times by riding cable cars, taking a Bay Cruise, and visiting Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, Pier 39, the Aquarium, China Town, Union Square, and St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Other than excessive travel, mom kept herself busy trying to stay afloat in the midst of real estate craziness, but with her “never retreat, never surrender” attitude and the help of His Holiness the Deacon Dave, she managed to close enough deals to keep putting food on the table. Since real estate wasn’t so busy, she also took the opportunity to get elected to the Board of Directors for the Sacramento Association of Realtors, as well as be reappointed to the Deacon Advisory Council for a second 3 year term. Who really knows what either of those do, but it’s important to note that she, too, is sure to usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
Of course, what would a year be without a Lehman family vacation? Worthless, that’s what. Last December, just before Christmas, we all flew down to Cancun for a week full of ancient Mayan ruins and deadly ball games, aquatic zoos with pooping pumas (pictures available online), and a tour guide named Jesus that constantly reminded us to “trust in Jesus.”

But that was last year’s vacation that just didn’t make it into the newsletter before deadline. This year, we stayed closer to home by getting Rocky Mountain high in Breckenridge, Colorado. We drank some brews at the Coors factory in Golden and did a lot of hiking. Dave, Daniel and I drove out to Quandary Peak, where we did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do. Three hours and several meetings with mountain goats later, we reached the top, and enjoyed the view that only 14,265 ft can afford. I couldn’t get an entire week off, so I had to fly back early and missed the second hike of 12000 ft up to Black Powder Pass. I can’t imagine anything being fun that doesn’t involve the possibility of blacking out from lack of oxygen and falling thousands of feet to one’s death, but the pictures made it seem like Dave, Michelle and Daniel had a good time. So all in all, Colorado was good to us.

And that’s our story for 2008. We faced some challenges, but only the hard, only the strong may call themselves Lehmans, and we triumphed in the end. As for me, I’ll be headed home December 21 just in time to enjoy my second Christmas of the month, then the 25th I get to have a third. With three days of gifts and celebration, I feel like I’m three-eighths of the way to becoming a Jew. However many days of festivities you and your family have, we Lehmans hope they’re everything you wish for this season. And if there’s one piece of advice I can leave you with, it’s this: Prepare for glory!
Dave, Michelle, Daniel and Mark (me)
P.S. For Michelle’s website, visit www.fairoakshomes.net. Dave and Daniel can be reached via e-mail at deaconlehman@gmail.com and ddlehman@gmail.com, respectively. And we are such a high-tech family we can all be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Adios, Deutschland.

Oops, I mean "Auf wiedersehen." I guess I learned nothing here.

Just kidding, I picked up a bit here and there.

I leave tomorrow morning early to take the bus to the train to the plane to Dublin, Ireland, where I stay until Sunday morning and fly out to San Francisco and get in just in time for Christmas with the Lehman extended family.

If I make it through this weekend alive and in one piece, I'll write observations on my final days in Germany.

A nice farewell from Europe

My time here is almost up, as I leave on Saturday to head back home in time for Christmas, and it seems Europe has decided to say "good riddance" by making my money worth so much less. When I arrived three months ago, the exchange rate was around $1.25 = 1 euro, and it stayed pretty steadily there until last week, when it started rising. Since then, it's been going up by about 3 cents per day, and today it's at $1.44 = 1 euro.

Okay Europe, I get it, I'm not wanted here anymore. Geez.

For more on how much the dollar sucks right now, read Bloomberg.

Merry Christmas eCards!

Okay, so maybe not so "merry," but funny, I think. Here's a sample from my other site, Misusing eCards:

And my personal favorite:

It hurts so good

I just finished doing 51 straight pushups, and I’m only halfway to my goal.

When I arrived in Germany a couple months back, I was determined to improve on some areas of my life that had been lacking, one of which was exercise. So I started doing some pushups, doing my own routine and feeling good. Then I heard from my friend Mindy about this thing called the Hundred Pushups Challenge, and I knew it was my destiny.

I’ve just finished Week 5 of a 6-week program, and at the end of this week, I’m supposed to be able to do 100 pushups in a row. Somehow, I don’t see that happening, since it’s taken me 5 weeks to go from 25 pushups to 50. But if it takes another 5 or even 10 weeks, I’m going to hit that 100 goal.

My pushups goal might be easier now that I’ve stopped doing my other exercise: the stairs workout.

Picture 044 Picture 048

There are about 100 stairs total, right around the corner from our apartment here, and at one point I was going up and down those bad boys about 16 times in a 30-minute session. It was quite a workout, plus I got the added bonus of having all the German people using them to get from the bottom to the top or vice versa give me weird looks. Three months into my stay, though, I’m used to weird looks from Germans.

I took this little video the other day to further illustrate the magnitude of this task:

Sadly, since it’s been snowing and raining, the steps have iced over and are basically a death trap, so I’ve discontinued that part of my workout.

To sum up, when I get out of bed in the morning, something new hurts every time.

(The music in the video, if you're wondering, is a friend from high school, Eric, playing the theme song from the old Nintendo game "Mike Tyson's Punch Out." Download it at http://ericslittleshack.tripod.com/.)

A VERY lazy Sunday

So much so that I pulled out my old Apple //e emulator and played some Oregon Trail. I decided to be a carpenter; being a banker afford way too much money and not enough difficulty, but the life of a farmer is harsh and often unsanitary. Me being an impatient man, I bought the maximum oxen I could (18) and was plugging along at 30 miles a day.

Just after crossing the first two rivers, a thief came in the night and stole 16  oxen. 16! How could all five of us in my party have missed the sounds of 16 oxen leaving camp?! Well, our pace slowed considerably and a few of us came Ellen has cholera on the Oregon Traildown with some nasty diseases (Buddha got typhoid, Jesus got the measles). Then Ellen caused all kinds of problems when she broke her arm, then got lost for 4 days, then broke her leg, then got cholera, then got lost for another 5 days. You'll be happy to know, though, that we all made it alive and in fair health to the beautiful Willamette Valley.


Since I was in a nostalgic mood, I did a quick Google search and found another classic: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. I had a few missteps when first I caught up to the thief and had forgotten to issue a warrant, but got my groove back and was busting heads quick. However, something I noticed disturbed me. The detective (me, I guess) sleeps from 11pm until 9am. It seems the game makers were trying to teach CARMEN09kids that 10 hours of sleep is very important, even when on the hunt for a major criminal who just stole the elevator out of the Eiffel Tower (I’m not making this up).

Lesson learned. I, however, would rather put in the extra effort and guard the safety of all other famous monuments’ elevators.

It's like a drug.

I don't even remember how I found this game, but every time I use the internet now I find myself on their site, playing it.

It's called Flood-It. Instructions from the site:
The object of the game is to flood the whole board with one color in less than 25 steps. You start from the top left corner and progress by selecting one of the colored balls on the left. When you change your current area color, every adjacent square with the same color also changes, that way you can flood other areas on the board.
Give it a try, see how addicting it is.

Frozen knees and the best Christmas present ever

The snow continued to fall overnight, covering the landscape in another couple inches of fresh powder, and Ellen and I took advantage. But before I detail our adventures, let me relay a short story to you of a budding architect and a horrible (but also maybe brilliant) Christmas present.

When I was about 10 years old, I decided it was time that I started giving my extended family Christmas presents. Having no stable source of income other than a meager $3 a week allowance, I found the most economical place to shop would the the old 98 Cent Clearance Center, where everything was 98 cents. (I believe they’ve since been bought out by the dollar tree, where everything costs $1. Inflation is tough.)

The woman in the family all got lovely 98 cent earrings, and the men got anything from mugs to cassette tapes of awful music, and everyone feigned gratefulness. However, my two cousins I idolized, so I wanted to make something special for them.

One cousin, Todd, had been attending the US Military Academy at West Point, so I took a pioneer wagon that I had made out of popsicle sticks in cub scouts, painted it camouflage, and then led him on a treasure hunt to find it. When he finally did, he certainly had little idea of what to say, but acted like it was the best gift in the world and was able to fool me.

I felt bad, though, because I only had one popsicle stick creation and two cousins. So, for my cousin Jeff, I took the remaining popsicle sticks and made the best possible structure: a wall. Of course, even my 10-year-old mind knew a popsicle stick wall wasn’t much of a Christmas present unless it was marketed correctly, so I painted in large red letters on it “The Wall 2000.”

You can probably guess that he loved it; so much so, in fact, that he still talks about it as the best present he’s ever gotten. (A close second is another of my masterpieces: a beer can wrapped with a home-printed label saying “can of whupass.”)

So without further ado, I present “The Wall 3000.”

The Wall 3000

Sadly, because there were only about 5 inches of snow, we had to resort to trick photography. Here’s how high “The Wall 3000” is.


* * *

We also had another baby. Looks like our snowman has a new baby sister.

Our new baby

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

A few weeks ago, Ellen and I had a baby.

Baby snowman!

A baby snowman, that is. Then the sun came out and our little tyke took off and headed someplace where it was colder so he could survive. Naturally, we were a bit sad.

Today, however, was a splendid day, because our little guy came back to us, full grown!

No longer a snow boy... he's become a fine young snow man.

We only got to spend a short time with him, as he is heading off to France to strike out on his own and pursue the arts. Here he is dressed up in his French beret with proud dad:

Proud dad and son

When mom went to give him a hug goodbye, he actually got so choked up that he vomited on himself. Poor fella.

A tender moment with mom

We wish him the best of luck, and next time we see him, he might even have a wife!

Camels and wieners - the real deal.

A short trip to Neuschwanstein & Nurnberg wielded unexpected but delightful results:

My nickname in college was "the llama."

Guess who won this fight?

Joe Camel's cousin, Steve.

Mrs. Claus looks smaller than I remember. And harrier. And much more dog-like.

It's a half a meter long. And if you're wondering: yeah, it's real.

Better than Neil Diamond? Is that even possible?

Last year's Christmas letter contained over 20 individual references to Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits, so trying to top that will be a tall order. Of course, in years past I've talked about Captain Planet, scrotal support, and forcefully-imposed fasts. Anyone following along should easily be able to realize that at this point, I'm mostly just trying to amuse myself with these.

With that in mind, I get to work. Hopefully I'll have it finished before Christmas. It would be so much easier just to send ecards to everyone.

PS If you'd like me to send you a paper copy of the Christmas letter, shoot me your address.

Chocolate in Germany, but (thank God) not German chocolate

For Thanksgiving, despite my thinking it's a terrible holiday, Ellen and I did the whole turkey and mashed potatoes thing. Then I went a little crazy with the chocolate mousse, so we had delicious dessert that lasted up until Thursday.

Unfortunately, the mousse is no longer on the loose. Fortunately, Germany offers several other options.

Chocolate croissants
They are available at nearly every corner backery, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

  • The classic croissant often comes filled with Nutella, a delicious chocolate hazelnut cream filling.

  • Of course, sometimes the classic is drizzled with chocolate syrup, or sprinkled with carmelized sugar on top. In other words, Nutella filled awesome, drizzled with drops of liquid and/or sprinkled awesomeness.

  • There's the bar croissant, a plain jane pastry filled with delicious chocolate chunks. My personal favorite.

  • And lastly, the football-shaped croissant. Very similar to the classic, this one usually comes packaged and sold in grocery stores. Not amazing, but a solid dessert.

Not into French pastries? That's okay, I saved the best for last. I always thought Rice Krispie Treats Cereal were the most amazing cereal ever in the world. (Breaking News: I was searching for a picture of Rice Krispie Treats Cereal to put on here, and found that they are sold on Amazon.com. I know what I want for Christmas.)

I thought wrong.

Nougat Kissen
These are small chocolate squares filled with a Nutella-like hazelnut/chocolate filling. I get a small stomach ache every time I eat them, and then I black out from happiness overload.

I never expected I would like chocolate in Germany so much. When I was a kid, every time I was in the cake mix aisle, I would look at the German chocolate cake mix and be supremely disgusted because it looked like vomit. To this day, I still think it does. I'll spare you by not posting a picture, but click here to see one if you're curious.

* * *
And thus ends my dessert manifesto. Now you can see why 8:30-9:00 pm has become my favorite time of day.

Real estate in Germany

Since markets all over the world are tanking, now is a great time to buy a home. With this in mind, Ellen and I are on a little trip right now looking at some real estate in Germany.

What do you think... $200k, 10% down, 30-year fixed?

It was very clear today

So here are the Swiss Alps.

"Of Human Bondage": Round two

I'm trying again. Before getting on the plane to come to Germany, I started reading W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" on the recommendation of a friend from work, a spunky English lady who raved on and on about it. After reading about 50 pages and still not having any notion of who any of the characters were or why I should care, I tossed it aside and picked up "Twilight" instead. And then I grabbed "How Animals Have Sex" from a British bookshop in Vienna. Finally, I'm trying again. No more animal sex or vampires, it's time for some real, adult fiction.

And not "adult fiction" as in erotica, either, because I'm sure after 50 pages of erotica I would know exactly what was happening in almost-medical detail. Although with a title containing the word "Bondage," I don't blame you for thinking that way. Incidentally, I'd advise against Googling that book; putting "bondage" in a Google search doesn't return the most wholesome results.
Turns out this year added another reason to spurn the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: a deadly Black Friday.

I can assure you, Ellen and I didn't see anything of that sort around here. Christmas markets start in towns all over Germany on Thanksgiving weekend, and we visited three different ones in three different towns. Instead of clamoring over neighbors for the last copy of "WALL-E" or throwing a few elbows to try to grab a cheap digital camera, Germans suffered through the cold to graze through outdoor craft fairs, sipping alcoholic gluhwein and eating pizzas and bratwursts and kebabs, singing and dancing traditional German carols. And while I didn't actually find anything good to buy at any of those markets, they were still a good old time and I was able to do some present shopping on Amazon to snag some decent deals without risking my life or my health.

We'll be heading to Nuremberg this coming weekend to check out their market, which is supposed to one of the best in the country, so hopefully I can snag some cool stuff there

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Christmastime just keeps getting better

A couple years ago, doing a search for Christmas music on KaZaA (who remembers that?) when I came across this gem:
Christmastime in the LBC

Who wouldn't love a song with a lyric like "You like this package, ho? I wrapped it nice with a bow." BONUS: Just found out you can download it free from Jimmy Kimmel's website: http://www.jimmykimmel.net/sounds/christmaslbc.zip (I know it's a zip file but I downloaded and checked it, it's legit.)

Last year, one of my favorite bands, The Dan Band, put out the best video featuring Florence Henderson I've seen since the Brady Bunch came out on DVD:

I've seen them live in LA a few times, so if anyone has a chance, you should definitely check them out. Then just today I got an e-mail update from them with another glorious Christmas video, this time featuring a whole cast of stars like Doogie Howser / Barney Stinson / Neil Patrick Harris, Meg Ryan, Faizon Love (Dr. Turk from "Scrubs"), etc.

Please Don't Bomb Nobody This Holiday. (Sorry, I couldn't get it to embed.)

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
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