Zev Family 2015 Year-end newsletter

2015 was a very busy year for the Zev family, and consequently this newsletter is embarrassingly long.  If you want just the highlights, read the lines in bold and skip the rest!

Around the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015, Jackie made a commitment to the Sisterhood at our Temple that she would become co-President (with Sue Sculler) in July 2015.  Sisterhood rewarded this commitment by sending her to Austin in January for a Leadership Conference.  Four Sisterhood members went and shared a room, and really had a blast.  The conference was well run, with excellent workshops, and we finished off the weekend with a fun Duck tour. 

In February, Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Milt came in for a visit that is fast becoming an annual tradition. This year their son Stuart and his family came into town too.  Jackie joined Stuart and Marci, et.al., for a lovely hike to the M*A*S*H site in Malibu Creek State Park.  It was lots of fun to see everyone.  We hope Stuart and Marci make visiting us an annual tradition too!

Against her better judgment, Jackie joined the San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council.  The San Fernando Valley Branch of AAUW had asked them to donate a scholarship for a girl to attend Tech Trek (a science camp for middle school girls) and they agreed *if* AAUW would send someone to be on their council.  As the only Engineer on AAUW-SFV’s Board, she was nominated.  She doesn’t mind though, because the President of the Council has a young son and she gets to play with him at meetings.

Benjamin and Jackie went to the Bakersfield Fiesta (square dancing) again in March.  Benjamin’s friend Danielle joined us.  Marc didn’t go, because he was having pain in his right leg that was preventing him from dancing.

Three days after Bakersfield, Jackie and her mom drove up to Mountainview, to attend the press conference AAUW was giving to announce their newest report, Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing.  It was a quick trip - up on Wednesday and back on Thursday.  Both Jackie and her mom had contributed to making the report a reality, and the topic of the report was, of course, of special interest to Jackie, so being there for the release was very nice.  As a bonus, she got to visit with her friends Dan and Jeff while she was in their neighborhood.

Three days later, Benjamin and Jackie flew to St. Louis to check out Washington University.  He had been accepted there, and wanted to see the place before making a final decision on where to go to college.  Benjamin was clearly happy with what he found there, because a month later, he chose Wash U over the other colleges that accepted him.

Marc’s problems with his leg had started months earlier.  He was having pain when he exercised.  Sitting was fine, but walking, even for a block, caused excruciating pain.  He saw doctor after doctor, and no one could figure out what was wrong.  He searched the internet for possible causes and found an article that seemed to describe his symptoms perfectly.  The article described cystic adventitial disease – basically, having a cyst compressing the artery.  Marc contacted the author of the article and asked what to do to find out if this situation applied to him.  He was told to do an ankle brachia index test with exercise.  He went to his doctor and asked for the test.  The doctor told him that there was no way that Marc had cystic adventitial disease – the disease is so rare, less than 100 people are diagnosed with it each year in the world.  But since the ankle brachia index test is easy and cheap, he agreed to do it.  The test showed that there was definitely something going on with the artery, so the doctor scheduled an angiogram – for the day before Passover.

During the angiogram, the doctor discovered that Marc did indeed have a cyst on his artery.  He popped the cyst and put a stent in to keep the artery open in the event that the cyst grew back (which is apparently pretty likely.)  Not only did this happen the day before Passover, but it was only 2 ½ weeks before our planned Italy cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary.  If popping the cyst didn’t work at eliminating Marc’s pain, we were going to have to cancel our trip.

It was also only two weeks after Marc had started a new job.  Headhunters had continued to barrage Marc with job opportunities, and he wasn’t happy with some of the management decisions made by Intercon.  When VS Media made him an offer which included a nice raise, he decided to take it.

Recovery from the angiogram was distinctly unpleasant, but popping the cyst did do the trick.  Hurray!  The cruise was on!  We call this trip our Italy trip, but it comprised 16 cities in 7 countries and 11 different stops.  We flew to Barcelona (Spain), wandered around the city, spent the night there and boarded the ship the next morning.  We then visited St. Tropez (France), Monaco and Nice (France), Livorno & Florence (Italy), Civitavecchia & Rome (Italy), Naples & Herculaneum (Italy), Sicily & Taormina (Italy), Corfu (Greece), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro), and Venice (Italy).  It was a whirlwind of sites – we loved it!  Best of all, Marc’s leg gave him no trouble at all – thankfully, because we did a LOT of walking! 

Benjamin got a taste of living on his own while we were gone.  But he was so busy with Robotics, Academic Decathalon, Speech and Debate, Theater, Hebrew High, Chorus and Piano/Clarinet lessons, he didn’t have much time to miss us!  The worst thing about our Italy trip was that we missed Benjamin’s music recital and seeing him off to Senior Prom.

We returned from our cruise, and less than two weeks later, we were on a plane again, this time to Houston for Jonathan’s graduation from Rice University.  Jackie’s mom joined us.  There was a reception at Jonathan’s residential college on Friday, followed by undergraduate convocation which had to be moved indoors due to rain.  Jonathan’s name was called and he walked across the stage during this ceremony.  Marc’s mom (at home) got to watch it all live on the internet. On Saturday, there was commencement and Colin Powell was the main speaker.  Degrees were conferred en mass.  We visited with cousin Mali and her baby Max that the afternoon and had a delightful dinner with cousins Mark and Nancy that night.  On Sunday, we flew home with all of Jonathan’s stuff – seven suitcases full – thank goodness for Southwest!

The next few weeks were filled with Benjamin.  We attended his last chorus performance.   We had a great time at awards night at Reseda, where he took home over a dozen awards and certificates.  He went to grad night.  We attended his Reseda graduation (where he gave a terrific valedictorian speech) and Hebrew High graduation.  He gave a piano and clarinet concert for family and friends.

The dust had barely settled from all this, when Jackie went to San Diego with her mom for an AAUW convention.  She came back early on Sunday so she could join the rest of the family for brunch with niece Jordan, who was in town visiting with her boyfriend.  The next day, Benjamin flew to Boston because he was spending the summer as a camp counselor at Six Points SciTech Academy.  The day after that, Jonathan and Jackie left for Springfield, Massachusetts for the National Square Dancing convention.  Marc didn’t come, having already taken off 2 ½ weeks unpaid from his new job!

Square Dancing was a blast, and Benjamin took the bus from camp on Saturday and joined us for the last night.  Jonathan and Jackie had a 6am flight back on Sunday because Sunday was Marc’s birthday and they wanted to be able to spend the day with him.  As Jonathan said, “we weren’t going to sleep anyway; we might as well catch an early flight back.”  And indeed, when we left the Rowdy Crew the party was still going on!  Benjamin caught a bus back to camp a few hours later.

You would think that with school over and Benjamin at camp, Jackie’s life would slow down, but no, now Sisterhood got very busy.  Summer is planning and training time for Sisterhood, and as co-President, Jackie was VERY actively involved.  She attended at least two meetings a week in July, and helped plan the Leadership retreat in August.  And there were budget meetings and training for AAUW too. 

In mid-August, Benjamin returned from camp.  We threw a “house concert” with Amy Engelhardt and Gary Stockdale performing their songs.  That was a lot of fun, but somewhat tough on Benjamin, who flew out to St. Louis early the next day for pre-orientation at Washington University.  Benjamin’s pre-orientation was specifically for Engineers, and we got great stories of the things they were doing, which included building a working hovercraft.  No kidding, we saw the video!

Benjamin’s pre-orientation segued smoothly into orientation and then college started.  Benjamin had such a good time his senior year in high school, that he decided to join lots of stuff in college too.  He joined an orchestra, a choir, the Hillel, a knitting group called “String Theory”, the Society of Women Engineers and a swing dancing group.  He also asked if he could buy season tickets to the St. Louis theater and he has been attending many of the campus plays as well.  Plus, cousin Rachel bought him a season pass to the St. Louis science center.  Whew!  We’re not sure when he has time to study, but he assures us that he isn’t going to flunk out – then he wouldn’t be able to participate in all these groups!

Around the tail end of September, when things actually started to settle down to a dull roar, off we flew to New York for cousin Jessie’s Bat Mitzvah.  What a blast that was!  It was so much fun to see all our New York cousins, and Jessie did such a great job leading services.  While we were in New York, we went to the 9-11 museum and were very impressed with it.  We also had dinner with friends Paula and Neil and they introduced us to the game Dixit.

Jackie was not done with traveling, though.  In November, she went to Orlando for the Women of Reform Judaism Assembly/Union of Reform Judaism Biennial (a joint convention.)  She had been to this conference two years earlier when it was held in San Diego.  Like the previous convention, it had great workshops, fabulous speakers, lots of singing and music and Shabbat with 5000 Reform Jews all in one room - it is a very fun convention.

Thanksgiving was a blast.  All the younger generation came home for the holiday and we had 34 people at Jackie’s brother’s house! It was lovely to catch up with everyone.

Mostly this year has been a lot of fun, but we have had some not so good news, too.  In May, Marc’s mom Blanche started having problems with swelling in her legs. This made it difficult for her to walk and she had to attend Benjamin’s graduation in a wheelchair. She saw her usual plethora of doctors and after a variety of diagnoses, none of which identified the real problem, they concluded that she was in congestive heart failure. Eventually she ended up in the hospital.

She was not getting better in the hospital and a bunch of other doctors were consulted and concluded that the swelling in Blanche’s legs was not from congestive heart failure, but from swollen lymph nodes caused by Mantle Cell Lymphoma. On the one hand, hearing she had cancer was not great, but on the other hand, they now started to treat the real problem. She got chemo and her lymph nodes started shrinking and she lost all the extra fluid that was trapped. The bottom line is that all her chemo should be done by the end of 2015, and we expect she will start 2016 cancer-free. 

In July, Marc started having pain in his leg again and was convinced the cyst had grown back.  But an MRI showed only scar tissue around the stent, no cyst.  But it still hurts!  And Jackie’s bone density scan showed that her osteopenia has progressed to osteoporosis, despite daily calcium.  In October, Marc’s work decided to eliminate his department, which was somewhat redundant with another department, and he was laid off.  At first we were not concerned, because he had actually been in contact with another company and we thought they were going to hire him.  However, that company decided to move to Orange County instead.  But we are optimistic that one of his recent interviews will turn into an offer.  Jonathan has also been looking for a job since he graduated, so far without success.  He’s had a number of interviews, but nothing that has turned into an offer.  Times are tough for new grads!  But something will come his way soon.

Fortunately, Jackie’s job has been very stable.  Not only that, but the tasks she has been working on this year have been a lot of fun, and she feels like she made a solid contribution to the team – always a good feeling.  She just finished a fun project involving tracking cars in video images of Pasadena streets taken from a helicopter.

And that’s not all.  In mid-December, a car swerved to avoid another car and took out a parkway tree, the streetlight control box, the back gate to our backyard and sheared off a fire hydrant.  The fire hydrant shot a stream of water 50-100 feet into the air, much of which came down in our backyard, creating a flood which undermined a portion of the block wall that had already been weakened by tree roots.  The wall along the side of our house came down in two places.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt and we expect that replacing the wall will be covered by the driver’s insurance.  Ironically, three years ago (almost to the day) a different car crashed into a different section of the block wall.  Between the two accidents, about 75% of our block wall will be renewed.

What a whirlwind 2016 has been!  We had something like a dozen trips, school changes, job changes and volunteering changes.   Oh and did we mention that we put solar on our roof?  Our busy life did mean that Jackie’s blogging (www.ityfaq.com) took a hit, and while some of the trips got posted, many did not.  At present, she only has three trips planned for next year, so she hopes to blog more.  On the other hand, with fewer trips planned, she will have less to blog about – one of life’s little ironies!

We hope 2016 is good to you!

Jackie, Marc, Jonathan and Benjamin