Christmas Letter 2014

A year ago, December 2013, I asked Mark if we wanted to write a Christmas letter. He shrugged his shoulders and with a heavy sigh said, “What is there to say? ‘My dad died’?”
George Nichols had died in September 2013, shortly after his 88th birthday, completely unexpectedly and not long after he had been told at his annual physical that he was “good to go for at least another five years”. We were in shock. It seems this sudden death overshadowed everything for several weeks or months. Mark spent the following months making many trips to his childhood home, organizing, packing, and ultimately helping his brother Christopher to get the house ready to be sold in May of this year.

Music continues to play a major role in our life and brings much happiness: Mark is continuing his cello studies with David Littrell, attending weekly lessons, summer cello camp, Gold Orchestra, including the Rock Springs retreat at the end of October; and I continue to enjoy helping the students in my studio figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to playing the piano. One of the joys for Mark and me is making music together: cello and piano, cello and viola, we cherish that we are able to share our love of music.

Naturally then, the happy highlights of 2014 are musical in nature: in March, we took a trip to Chicago for the MTNA Conference. We arrived a few days early, did some shopping and wandering around the city, and were able to meet with old friends. While I was attending the conference, Mark went to the Adler Planetarium and visited WH Lee Luthiers where he played different cellos. His hope had been that in a big city like Chicago there would be at least one store that sold electric cellos – something he had been interested in for a while – but no such luck. In preparation for our trip he had contacted several string stores in Chicago ahead of time but none offered what he was looking for. He ended up buying a NS Design NXT 5-string electric cello online in May. He says it’s “Darth Vader black” :)  At June’s cello camp he took both cellos, and the other students got a chance to play the electric one.

In April we went to Emporia for Jonathan’s Emporia Symphony concert and two days later for the premiere performance of his new composition, NEBULAE.

Mark already had both CD’s by cellist Zoe Keating so when the opportunity arose to see her live in Omaha we jumped at the chance. Mark got to meet her after the concert May 2 and she signed the new CD we had bought.

At the end of July, we decided to trade in one of the grand pianos and invest in a new Yamaha C7, quite an upgrade but so worth it. The new piano has a bit of an attitude, lots of personality, very different from the other grand, a very smooth Kawai. The studio now has two excellent instruments with which I am thrilled and happy.

Finally, at the beginning of December we went to see Yo-Yo Ma perform three Bach Suites in McCain Auditorium here in Manhattan. Not only was the concert – predictably – exquisite, we also got to meet Mr. Ma after the concert: Mark’s cello teacher David Littrell had tried to arrange for his cello students to meet Mr. Ma after the concert for a minute or two but until the moment the door opened for the students we didn’t know whether they would be allowed to see him. Mr. Ma was gracious, enthusiastic and seemed to enjoy himself among the students as much as the students enjoyed having a chance to be in the presence of this great artist and teacher.

Two conferences for Mark this year: in April, he attended the Chef Conference in San Francisco, and in October, he went to Chicago for DevOps Days.

At the end of May I finally managed to not just smash and bruise (as usual) but actually break a little toe. But despite the impressive x-ray with a jagged broken bone the whole thing was a non-event, beyond the first few days fairly painless – although that could have been because I was on painkillers for the aftermath of a crown prep … It took seven weeks for the jaw pain to subside to the point where I didn’t need drugs anymore. A second opinion with another dentist confirmed my suspicion that there was nothing wrong with the actual dental work, but during the procedure joints and muscles had been stretched and stressed too much and the healing took a long time.

In July we started the process of having some landscaping work done – something we had talked and dreamed about for a very long time: we wanted to add a 7-8′ retaining wall to make the backyard level, add some flower beds (just the beds, outlined with steel edging, as I wanted to do the planting myself), plus another retaining wall to incorporate an existing (and very ugly) concrete retaining wall more organically into the landscape, adding stairs to get down to the lower level. The project manager of one the local landscaping firms estimated “seven to nine business days” but it was the end of October before everything was finally finished. We are very much looking forward to next spring when the flowers and bushes I planted will bloom and add color and structure to the new backyard. The new lawn will take several years to become established but we hope that the newly installed irrigation system will help keep it healthy and thriving.

Mark had been having an unexplained pain in his left foot, unlike any pain he had experienced before – it didn’t seem related to a muscle or tendon or joint. Dr Palmgren diagnosed a ganglion cyst and offered treatment options. Since this is not an emergency we haven’t quite taken the time yet to decide what to do about it.

At work, Mark recently invested in a walking desk. He is looking forward to being able to move a bit while he works, instead of sitting still all day.

For next year, we are dreaming about maybe creating a family room in the basement and turning the current TV room into an office for Mark (making good use of the woodworking tools he brought back from his father’s woodworking shop), and maybe a trip to Europe.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our friends and family far and near,
and a joyous, prosperous and healthy New Year 2015!

Sibylle and Mark

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