2016 in Review: Happy New Year!

We started 2016 while on a Caribbean cruise with Leo's extended family. After the cruise returned to Orlando, we had the chance to spend January 2nd as a fun day at the Kennedy Space Center, where we saw the space shuttle Atlantis and met an astronaut.

Ringing in the new year on the cruise, and Zelevinsky astronauts at Kennedy Space Center!

We enjoyed skiing in Utah for February school vacation with the usual crowd of Karen's parents, Barb, Grace, and Katya, and also the addition of Kevin, Allison, and Jack Dill, who are rapidly becoming part of the tradition! A funny story from Utah this year is the tale of the lost boys. One day Jack Dill (aged 7) accidentally followed the wrong person and got lost, ending up at Wilbere lift at Snowbird. He got to the bottom and waited, until we adults came and found him and all was good. Another day Gregory Zelevinsky (aged 14) accidentally followed the wrong person and got lost in the same area. The rest of the family wasn't too worried, given his age, but they couldn't imagine what happened to him. They searched the whole mountain. They asked lift operators if they'd seen him. They radioed Oma who reported no Gregory in sight. At lunch we came in and finally found him, happily playing video games in his room for the past few hours, having never even told Oma that he was back! He had apparently waited a few minutes, decided that the line was too long anyway, and decided to give up and go into the unit without telling anyone. A lecture from Mom and subsequent teenage eye rolling ensued.

Utah fun

The winter was mercifully mild this year after the ordeal of last year, although we did get a few nice snow falls. Julia and Karen made a nice snow cat, and there were some pretty snow blossoms in the Spring.

Julia with our snow cat, and the tree in our front yard with "snow blossoms"

In the Spring, we followed our traditions of making hamentashen with the Sitkoffs and spending a fun Easter in Connecticut with Karen's Aunt and Uncle along with her cousin Jimmy and his husband Thomas.

Making hamentashen and celebrating Easter

For April school vacation, we joined Barb and Grace for a trip to San Jose, California to visit Karen's parents. We spent a fun day at Great America, site of many adventures for Karen in middle school. We also celebrated Julia's 13th birthday! Karen made this video with pictures of Julia growing up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYGv7Cy1UXk. We spent three days in Yosemite, where Grandpa and the kids once again proved their superior fitness. The first full day we went on an 8 mile hike from Glacier point down to the valley. The next day poor Barb, Karen, and Leo were hobbling around from their sore muscles and wanted to take it easy so Grandpa promised a "short walk" in the valley. Never trust my Dad about "short walks"!!! It turned into a 7 mile hike, and everyone else bounded ahead leaving Barb and Karen in their dust. But they made it back eventually. On the drive home we stopped by Calaveras Big Tree Park to see the Giant Sequoias. It was very exciting, and not at all crowded, due to the accompanying hail and rain! See the full photo album of the California trip here.

Our Yosemite adventure

Karen and family also had a chance to see some old and dear friends. They visited Quicksilver park with the extended Infeld clan, including Sam and Liza and their parents, husbands, and kids, as well as Ryan Koga and his little daughter Violet. They saw Stephanie (Brock) Vulpius and her husband and adorable toddler twins in the Santa Cruz mountains. They stopped by the Dills house to see Rick and Mandy. And they went to Alcatraz with Kimberly and Peter and their four kids, including Karen's god-daughter Sydney.

Picnic at Quicksilver and visiting Alcatraz

Next, birthday season was on in earnest. For Julia's birthday party, we took three of her best friends with us on a day trip to Six Flags. Gregory went on a sleepover for another friend's birthday, and then we continued the party by taking everyone out for laser tag. Karen celebrated the big 4-0 with a cookie extravaganza (over 40 kinds of cookies!!!) with her family. And finally, we celebrated the kittens' first birthday on June 16th with little tuna cakes and lots of love.

A portion of Karen's birthday cookies and the kittens' birthday treats

Mother's Day was also around this time, and Leo and Julia surprised Karen with this AMAZING Mother's Day Photo montage.

Karen's mother's day present

Around this time Julia and Karen were getting more involved with the humanist schools in Uganda that we started supporting last year. Julia and Karen held a bake sale to raise money, and Karen was quoted in an article.

Our bake sale to help orphans in Uganda

In June we had a great Italian dinner with the Dills before they headed up to New Hampshire. Karen was especially glad to see her childhood buddies Janet and Stephen.

Visiting with the Dills!

Finally, summer was upon us and the kids embarked on some great adventures. Both kids started the summer with biking adventures. Gregory did a TeenTrek bike trip from Boston to Acadia while Julia did an Apogee bike trip from Vermont to Montreal. Both trips sounded fantastic and Leo and Karen spent a portion of every day eagerly awaiting the daily blog updates from the trip leaders.

Pictures from Gregory and Julia's summer bike trips

Next, Julia went to Panama for several weeks on a middle school photography camp (check out some of her pictures here), while Gregory was a Program Assistant for 4 weeks at Emagination Computer Camp, the same camp he's attended as a student for the last two years. As their final camp, both kids attended a week-long teen cooking day camp, commuting into Cambridge by train with Karen.

While the kids were away, Karen and Leo also took several trips. The first was somewhat somber, going to Wisconsin / Minnesota with Karen's sister, Dad, and Aunt Linda for the memorial services for two of Karen's uncles who had died a few months earlier. It was sad, but it was also a rare and beautiful time to spend with Karen's Dad's family. Karen was glad to get to get acquainted and reacquainted with many relatives. In August, Karen and Leo also spent a relaxing weekend at a bed and breakfast in Vermont.

Meeting up with Karen's Dad and Aunt and their relatives

Here's the whole family enjoying watching the Summer Olympics. Our feet, anyway. We actually have a pretty big couch, so it's sweet that we all cuddle up together as a family, at least on occasion. It's possible that Gregory was already sitting on that side and was too stubborn to move after we all piled on.

Watching the Olympics

The last hurrah for the summer was a fantastic family trip to Yellowstone. Leo's Mom found a great house in West Yellowstone to rent through Airbnb. There were 10 of staying there: the four of us, Leo's Mom and Sister, Karen's Aunt Linda, and Barb, Jarrod, and Grace. We had a great time exploring the park and seeing the wildlife. There were some major wildfires burning while we were there, but luckily the only major impact they had was that we had to take a detour when driving down to Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, where we spent a few days rafting and hiking. Karen made the mistake of reading "Death in Yellowstone" shortly before the trip, so she had a healthy respect of the possible dangers to watch out for. She's also read "Death in Yosemite" and "Death in the Grand Canyon". They're the kind of books you probably shouldn't read, but have a certain morbid fascination. And the good news is that we didn't get boiled in any hot springs or gored by bison so it all worked out. Our Yellowstone Photo Album does a much better job of capturing everything we did.

Our Yellowstone adventure

One other funny note is that there is an ongoing family joke where Gregory always stubbornly calls chipmunks squirrels. So of course he called this little guy a squirrel: and we all made fun of him as usual, and then when we went to the visitor center it turned out it WAS a squirrel, some kind of ground squirrel. Curses! Julia also took this neat picture of our sunset rafting trip in Grand Teton National Park.

Rafting in the Tetons

We had just gotten back from Yellowstone when it was time to head out again, this time on our annual cousin camping trip. This year we went to Schodack Island State Park, in upstate New York. The usual hilarity and drama ensued that generally happens when you get the cousins together. We found a nice disc golf course to enjoy, played board games, ate s'mores, and had a rousing round of mini golf.

The camping crew at mini golf

For our usual Rosh Hashanah getaway, we spent a few nights at Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park in Massachusetts. This was our first visit there and it was a lot of fun, although Karen couldn't help but feel like it was just in the nick of time, as our kids are starting to get too old for such adventures and it just wouldn't be the same without kids.

For Halloween, we don't have any good pictures of the kids in costume, so here is a picture of Bliss in a lion costume to amuse you. Karen had fun trick-or-treating with Heather and her kids.

Bliss looks amused, right? Not as though she's plotting our demise?

Thanksgiving found us in Connecticut with Karen's Aunt and Uncle, having a great family time feasting and gaming. We had an epic Guesstures game, played bridge, opened Thanksmas gifts, and helped put up Uncle Jim's spectacular Christmas lights display. Thanksgiving is also the site where Karen finally had to concede that Gregory is taller than her. We selected a panel of 3 judges who put a straight edge on the tops of their heads while they stood up as straight as possible without any heel rise (Grace was inspecting our feet positions). All three judges agreed Gregory was taller. Karen claims this must be because the measurement was done at the end of the day - surely she's a bit taller in the morning??

Playing bridge and goofing around at Thanksgiving

As an 8th grader, Julia was a "Santa Lucia" at church at our annual December Revels celebration. Our church adopted this Swedish tradition many years ago. Read more about it here. Julia got to wear real candles on her head!

Julia is the Santa Lucia on the right

And now as we write this, we are in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Because of the very late Hanukkah this year, we had to do our traditional Latke party with Sitkoffs early, and bring a mini menorah with us here on vacation. We've enjoyed the beautiful beaches, snorkeling, swimming with stingrays, a high speed boat ride around the entire island, the mind-bending task of driving on the left side (Karen kept turning on the windshield wiper when trying to put on the turn signal, and desperately wanted a bumper sticker that said, "Sorry, I'm not rude, I'm just incompetent"), and befriending the local cats, who we've dubbed Yomo, Moyo, Edward II, Bathsheba, and Bathsheba II. Katya was just saying today how it feels almost like an idyllic Disney-like existence of peace and love among all species, with flowers and birds and cats all around. Just now that feeling was rudely interrupted when an affectionate cat sitting next to us reached up, and, in one swift move almost too fast to see, killed the adorable, small, friendly bird that had been sitting on the back of the same chair. A cloud of feathers fluttered down, and the bird was no more. It reminds one of one's mortality. See the full Antigua album here.

Antigua vacation

Leo continues to greatly enjoy his work at Turbine. Last year, he transitioned from working on Lord of the Rings Online to working on an upcoming mobile game set in the Game of Thrones world. He is having a great time with it. He learned to program in a new language, called Go, and went to the GothamGo conference in New York. He continues to enjoy bridge, MTG, disc golf, and a bit of yoga. He really enjoys playing Clash Royale and Town of Salem and talking about them with Gregory. Finally, Leo, Karen, and Heather tried out some contra dancing this year, since Heather and Karen's fiddle teacher is part of the music group that plays for the dances. For some reason the kids never seem to want to come. Isn't contra dancing with your parents every teenagers dream?

Leo and our friends Alison and Tom's son Hunter enjoying their Christmas tree, and Leo and Heather contra dancing

Karen's biggest news is that she changed jobs within Pega in April. She now runs customer support for the Americas, which she's really enjoying. She has seven support teams reporting through her, one of which is in Santa Clara, CA, so she's hoping she'll be able to visit her parents while on a business trip next year. In other work news, she participated in her 6th Pega Hackathon and her team won a prize worth $1,000! Outside work, she's still quite involved with Brighter Brains, which is an organization that helps support humanist schools and women's collectives in Uganda. This year she helped edit a few ebooks by the founders of the organization. She was also very involved in developing some world religion curriculum for the 7th and 8th graders at the UU Sharon Church, and she is serving as the Clerk for the church. She finally bit the bullet and watched the entire "Game of Thrones" series over a few months with Leo, when he said that he needed to watch as part of his work preparation for his new job. As expected, Karen both loves and hates the show. Leo and Karen watched season six with friends Tom and Alison, and Karen frequently had to cover her eyes and squeal as she is apparently not yet old enough for the violent GoT content. But at the same time she loves the show. Go figure.

Karen's triumphant Hackathon team, and Karen and Leo before her holiday party

Gregory is a sophomore in high school and started his first real job this year, tutoring math for the Russian School of Math. He's also tutoring an elementary schooler at a Brockton on Tuesday nights (along with Karen), and is a part-time Sunday School teacher for the 3rd/4th grade class at church. He enjoys math team, marimba, and playing games on his laptop and phone (we finally got the kids real phones this year instead of just iPods). He's mostly a really great kid, but he does suffer just a TAD from teenage-induced snarkiness, obstinance, and contrariness. Also it's possible he thinks he will implode if he takes too many showers or hugs his mother so he generally tends to avoid those activities, just in case. But overall we feel very lucky and proud of him.

Gregory and Bliss are especially bonded

Julia is an 8th grader who REALLY loves cats. She loves all cats in general, and especially ours. She has really loved the fact that during many of the vacations this year she has met many wonderful and adorable cats. Every cat she meets she names if the name is unknown, and then announces them as 'honorary' members of the family. She even allows them to sit at the table in her place so they get the proper respect. As Karen keeps telling the kids, the way that they feel about our kittens is the same way that she feels about them. They find it impossible to believe she loves them as much as they love our cats. Julia's big dream in life is to become a crazy cat lady. Ha ha, just kidding! Actually, that might not be a joke, that really might be her dream, but she does always emphasize being able to give each cat proper love and attention. Another highlight of Julia's past year was the many Bar, Bat, B'not and B'nai Mitzvahs that Julia attended. She had three in one week in June!

A cat Happy Birthday card that Julia drew (with inspiration from the internet) and the front of her school laptop, both of which capture her personality pretty well

The cats need their own section now just in case anyone was thinking, oh wait, I desperately want to hear more about the cats! I am especially thinking of you, Grandpa.

More cat pictures: Momo and Rosie

We're very grateful to have had such an amazing 2016. Happy holidays from our family to yours, and wishing you a wonderful 2017!

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