Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Family News

Keith, Jessica, Carla, Alex, and Kate (photo by Dee Rietveld)
Dear Friends,

Alex and Carla on day of the wedding
The next day, their "Just Married"
 sign was on the back of the tandem
We have had an eventful 2014. Perhaps most significant came on August 22, when son Alex and girlfriend Carla Cevasco married in a small civil ceremony at Boston City Hall. Eschewing the pressures and consumerism of a large-scale wedding, they had no guests other than a photographer. 

We are delighted to have Carla as our daughter-in-law. We hosted an informal open house for them here in Arlington in late December, one of several low-key celebrations they are having with friends and family.

Another significant, but much less positive development, came in the fall, when Keith learned that he had a rare, often-fatal fungal infection. [Spoiler alert; he survived.] Since the previous winter, he had been suffering a chronic “runny nose”, thinking it no big thing and hoping it would go away on its own. Then, once he finally decided to do something about it, it took nearly two months for the right appointment. Tests revealed it to be mucor, a fungus that is usually invasive with a high mortality rate.  At this point, the surgeon moved quickly. Fortunately, it was not invasive—Keith joins only three other cases in the medical literature --and the surgery appeared to have removed everything.

Just to be safe, he was also started on a powerful anti-fungal medication. Unfortunately, Keith and the chemo-like drug did not get along. Not only did he have nausea (a common side effect), but after five days on treatment he received an alarming call to immediately come in to the hospital emergency room (and stop taking the medication), after lab tests revealed kidney damage. He ended up four days in the hospital on an IV, until his kidneys began a slow recovery. 

Keith loading the 100,000th bike with staff and a representative of
the recipient non-profit
Even at home, however, Keith continued to struggle with digestive discomfort from a replacement medication, unstable blood sugar from his diabetes (common when under stress), and low potassium.  He lost 10 percent of his original body weight in about six weeks.  Thankfully, he has now regained his appetite, is happily on a diet of “good fat” (nuts, avocado, some meat, etc.) and slowly regaining weight, strength, and full kidney function.  And in mid-November, although still fragile, Keith was well enough to participate in the long-planned celebration of Bikes for the World's shipment of its 100,000th bike.

Keith and Jessica in front of new French doors and bay window
While Keith was seeing medical specialists (eight different at last count), Jessica was dealing with house repair contractors – ten so far. By stroke of luck, the house work bracketed rather than coincided with the worst of Keith’s health crisis. Beginning in September, to address the rotten wood, leaky air flow, and crumbling chimney of this 78-year-old house, we added a bay window and wider French doors to the “sun room” (an enclosed back porch), replaced siding and gutters, repaired the chimney with masonry and a new liner, and ameliorated radon. We tightened the building envelope, replacing most windows, the dryer duct, and attic pull-down stairs, putting in new HVAC registers, and re-insulating and sealing our AC ducts. In early December we completed an unnecessarily long and expensive bureaucratic process to secure approval of a zoning variance, to move the HVAC compressor from the sunny back yard to the shady but narrow side yard. We still have a few more replacement windows, shutters, and back steps on order, but the house is now much more energy-efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and functional.

A happy beneficiary
Earlier, in the spring and summer, Keith had immersed himself in transformations at Bikes for the World, adding two new staff (for a total of five), managing a record influx of donations, and leasing a first-time office, just in time to keep the auditors out of our dining room (and pleasing Jessica no end). With staff, Keith is beginning finally to focus on management, strategy and longer-term planning, and less on physical labor. The office move also proved to be a good incentive for him to sort through and dispose of the piles of paper that had accumulated in his home office – a process now thankfully nearly completed.

Our August vacation delivered not only an important break from the stress of Keith’s office changes, but in retrospect provided a humorous anecdote that preceded Alex and Carla’s marriage.  It was during this holiday that the couple planned to tell us of their plans to marry. Finding the right time to make the announcement during our time together proved more difficult than expected.

On top of Camel's Hump in VT
After initially rendezvousing and lunching at a restaurant in Greenfield MA, we caravanned to our guesthouse destination north of Montpelier VT. Upon arrival, we discovered that Keith (still under stress from work?) had left his backpack at the lunch stop--with insulin supplies and passport. Rather than relax and enjoy a home-cooked meal where, we were to understand only later, the couple planned to break the news, Keith, accompanied by Kate, immediately had to drive the five-hour round trip to reclaim these critical items.  So much for day #1. The following evening, after a vigorous hike, saw us spontaneously join a friendly community supper, enjoyable but with little conversational privacy. So much for day #2. Only one evening remained together before we were to part, with Jessica and Keith to head north to a planned rail-trail excursion in Canada, and Alex, Carla, and Kate to return south. That Saturday, we enjoyed another hike, this time up Vermont’s Camel’s Hump, with glorious weather and views, only to descend and discover that the front passenger window of our vehicle had been smashed (in a very crowded weekend parking lot) and several items (fortunately of little value) stolen.

Here the story took two tracks. The first, of course, was that this represented one more interruption to sharing the news. We picked up the worst of the shattered glass, headed down the mountain, attempted to report the crime (not easy on a late Saturday afternoon in northern VT), vacuumed the remainder of the glass, and purchased some high-quality plastic sheeting and duct tape at a local hardware store.  Still emotionally on edge from the car break-in, we finally reached a local restaurant and began to relax…whereupon Alex shared the news of their marital intentions.  A welcome distraction!  

Bikes getting loaded on the shuttle
We still had a second challenge. It was Saturday night, we (i.e., Keith and Jessica) were departing the following day for the long drive northwest of Montreal. Early Monday morning, we were scheduled to park our car in an open lot, shuttle ourselves, bikes and gear to the north end of the rail-trail, and begin a four-day return by bike. Without a secure car, how could we store our excess baggage? We had to get our window fixed…
Keith along the Le Petit
Tren du Nord rail trail
how, given the location, limited availability of Prius window glass, weekend timing, and tight schedule? Fortunately, the small family firm providing the shuttle service generously offered to store our extra bags in their small office (housed in a picturesque caboose at the end of the rail trail) and arrange to have someone repair our window during our trip. As a result, we were able to enjoy an uninterrupted, worry-free, romantic excursion, biking 200 kilometers through beautiful scenery, and including gourmet breakfasts and dinners at each of our overnight stops.    

On Milford Sound
Lest we forget, we did go to New Zealand back in January, sandwiching a tour of the more rural, glacier-dotted South Island, with visits to a former colleague of Jessica’s in Christchurch and ending in the capital, Wellington, with a relaxing and enjoyable reunion with Keith’s high school exchange student “brother”, Stuart Macdonald. The combination of personal reconnections and breathtaking scenery made for a delightful three weeks. 

Along the Routeburn Track
Another view of the Routeburn Track
Highlights of our independent trip by car, bus, boat and foot included a leisurely overnight cruise on the Milford Sound (thousand-foot vertical cliffs and waterfalls!), a three-day supported (with first class lodging!) trek across the Southern Alps on the Routeburn Track, and two days at the base of Mt Cook. In general, we were fortunate with the weather, blessed with the summer’s first consecutive string of sunny days for the alpine Routeburn as well as for Mt Cook. 

Back home, when not dealing with medical and contractor appointments, Jessica continues to enjoy biking, hiking, exercise classes at a county recreation facility, and to participate in the Finance and Nominating Committees of Langley Hill Friends Meeting. In coordination with sisters Margy and Bethany, and daughter Kate, she is regularly visiting her mother Kay Mott, who turns 94 in January. Jessica also continues to read – her favorite book this year was Betty Medsger’s The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI.

We see Kate regularly despite her rich professional and social life. At work, the library has increased her supervisory responsibilities. She was a primary mover behind an extremely successful library program, Late Night Recess, where over 200 twenty- and thirty-somethings blew off steam by playing four square, tug-of-war, capture the flag, nerf and other games after hours. She has increased her participation in Young Adult Friends, and continues with her book club, seeing friends and dating.

Despite the personal distractions of this year, we remain concerned about issues such as global warming, inequality, and violence in all of their many contexts, keep trying to do our bit, and have deep appreciation and gratitude for the efforts of others.

Margy, Kay, Kate, Carla, Alex, and Jessica
We have hosted Alex and Carla as well as Kay and Margy over the holidays. We hope to hear from you and would welcome the opportunity to provide hospitality should your travel plans ever include the nation’s capital.

Wishing you well for 2015,

Keith & Jessica

John and Kay Mott on
top of Mt. Washington
in late July 1944
Alex and Carla on top
of Mt. Washington
in late August 2014