Huffman Coding

… with a bunch of Family Stuff too

2009 Holiday Letter

13 December 2009

Testing the theory that it is harder to hit a moving target, our family took a handful of vacations this year.

In a more naïve time, Chris and I had always planned on taking a month-long, whirlwind tour of Asia with the entire family before the girls became all teenagery. But after our semi-harried Disneyworld trip last December, we decided it would be best to split the trips in two. This year we made a homeland trip with just Marissa.

While Grandma Chandler watched Katie and Claire in Hilliard, Chris, Marissa and I to flew to Vietnam in the spring. We toured Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and in between we visited Da Nang where Hoi, Marissa’s birth mother, lives. Although we had written a letter over the winter notifying her of our arrival, it apparently was never received so she was understandably quite surprised when our tourist van drove up to her rice paddy. She lives in a modest cement block home that is adjacent to the home of her 85-year-old mother. We called Marissa’s older brother, Ri, who took a twelve hour bus ride to join us. With our tour guide serving as translator, we spent several days together getting acquainted. On the last day of our visit, we washed and dried peanuts from Hoi’s garden patch out front and drank coconut juice from one of her trees. Ri is a fine, young gentleman in mid-twenties who got along wonderfully with his biological sister. He was proud to show us the picture of a 4-year-old Marissa that he has been keeping in his wallet all these years.

We visited the local elementary school and the city orphanage and were lucky enough to meet Marissa’s caregiver from eleven years ago. Marissa was fitted for a custom Áo Dài, the traditional, form-fitting Vietnamese ladies outfit by a local dressmaker. As she is now 5′ tall I’m sure it is too small for her now, but we were sure to take portraits of her in it as soon as we got home. It was an emotional and fulfilling trip, one we were very glad to have undertaken. I resurrected my blog just long enough to post daily pictures from overseas. And Chris, for the first time since I started the blog in 2003, actually read my posts and wanted to share them with others. If you have a free moment in front of your computer, you might want to visit and click on the “Vietnam” category on the right hand side of the page. The posts are in reverse chronological order so start at the bottom of the page. There are dozens of additional pictures from Vietnam on my Facebook page but, of course, you’ll have to publicly acknowledge me as a cyber-friend to see those.

We haven’t determined when we’ll visit China with the other two. Sometime after Claire is old enough to grasp the gravity of the trip, but before Katie reaches the age where she doesn’t want to be seen in public with her parents. We fully realize that those may be non-overlapping windows of opportunity.

I did take Katie and Claire on the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure in June, the flattest one in years. Not that I minded with Claire’s little legs on the back of the tandem for the first time. The night before her first ride she was dancing outside the tent past 10pm; the next day she fell asleep at the restaurant after the ride. She has taken to recording video when we ride together, mostly of my jersey’s back pockets and my posterior as it balances on the narrow seat in front of her. The downside is that Claire, when she’s on her own bike, is not used to looking out for traffic. Both girls had a blast, even if they had to take turns with me during the week.

As you could probably guess, I enjoy road cycling and reading the blogs of other cyclists. One of those bloggers is Elden Nelson of, a gentleman I’ve never met personally but whose wife, after years of fighting cancer, passed away this fall. To help in the fight against cancer, he has been raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation charity, occasionally through raffles. Without the prior approval of my wife, I entered a raffle for an Italian cycling vacation for two and, by chance, I was the lucky recipient. My wife, although not the avid cyclist, indicated her interest in joining me for the tour once she found out where it was going; this was much to Katie’s chagrin.

The renaissance hill towns of Tuscany in October are breathtakingly beautiful. It was peak wine season and the sky was cloudless for every one of the ten days we were over there. All the hotels we stayed at were charming centuries-old cloisters that had been converted to hotels. But it was, however, quite a cycling challenge. The scenic 10-15% uphill grades went on for miles. The first day Chris rode, she decided to “cross-train” on the route: she coasted down the hills and walked her bike up them. Reluctantly she realized one very long day was more than enough for her, so the other days I cycled between sangiovese vineyards by myself in the mornings followed by sightseeing as a couple in the afternoons. We ended up in Florence for a few extra, non-biking days where we took in Michelangelo’s “David,” many duomos, and all the glorious art that is at the Uffizi. A sufficient number of my Twitter updates mentioned gelato. Like our spring trip, you can view photos of the scenery of Val d’Orcia and the towns of Siena on my Facebook page.

While we were over in Italy we received word, via email, that Ri and his wife had given birth in Vietnam which made Marissa an aunt at the age of eleven. Marissa and Katie are now in one of Hilliard’s sixth-grade-only schools. Their backpacks are now heavier than microwaves and almost as big. We gave into peer pressure this year and they now have cell phones with text plans. Katie’s fingers fly on her little keyboard. In a conversation with her just last week, she spoke the abbreviation “IDK” instead of saying the words “I don’t know.” I suddenly feel old.

This year Claire has Marissa’s old second grade teacher. Last year she had Katie’s. After a brief hiatus, Claire has re-enrolled in gymnastics for winter. The trampoline in the side yard over the summer sparked her interest again. The older two continue in their competitive league this year. I now nerd out during their meets by entering their scores on my iPhone. Perhaps my daughters aren’t the only ones in the family spoiled with new cell phones.

Katie is keeping up her flute and is doing great, but Marissa dropped the clarinet within hours of us deciding to buy the instrument outright instead of continuing to rent it. At least I know what instrument we will be foisting on Claire three years from now.

In the continuing skirmishes with her stomach, Chris had her second and third endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography operations in April. She seems much better now, although we thought the very same thing after the previous one two years ago. At least she was healthy enough for this year’s trips abroad. She still works for Grant Medical Center and I still work at Kentrox. My company had its tenth layoff this summer, but I continue to put my nose to the grindstone and do the same job I was hired to do originally. The gas grill I received for fifteen years of loyal service now sits in my garage—yet to be unboxed. Perhaps I will put a bow on it and put it under the tree.

That gift pales in comparison to the gift of time our family has had together building memories this year during vacations and at home. This holiday I wish for you the gift of quality time with your friends and loved ones. And pleasant downhills, if you bike.

Ken, Chris, Marissa, Katie, Claire and Cooper (the cat)