Sunday, December 06, 2015

Book - Eastern Odyssey

Well, Black Friday is over, Cyber Monday has come and gone, but if you still are looking for the last few gifts, I'm now going to give shameless plug for our book, Eastern Odyssey!!

Click for Amazon

It's a true story about a family (mine) who took a trip around the world in 1973. The book is a compilation of diaries of four family members, all at different ages and stages of life, and their perspective of our three-month stay in Japan and 2 months traveling cross Soviet Union on the trans-siberian railway during the cold war.. Our trip culminates with 6 months in Switzerland, but now 46 years later we want to share the experiences with you of the first 146 days.

Those who have previewed the book have found it interesting and amusing (and these are not just friends and family members!)... I suspect you will find it interesting too, as well as anyone on your gift list who enjoys a good story of a family adventure.  Don (my father) is a world renowned physicist, and although his professional expertise made this venture possible, it is just the backdrop for the real story of a family traveling together and the perspectives of 4 different ages, each telling the same story in a different way.

We, of course are very excited to see the book in print and on Amazon.  For us the book began 12 years ago when we typed up the diaries for our own use, only after that (because of the response) did we think that there was broader appeal.  It's so good this many years later to see it actually available to everyone.

The book is available at Amazon for $14.95, and there is still time to order before Christmas!  If Amazon reports that the book is out of stock (which is happening frequently), you can order a signed copy directly from me for $14.95 and I'll send it priority if you need it fast for $6.00.

Please also follow our link to our facebook page and "like" our page if you haven't done so.

If you have read it, please write a review for us on Amazon or leave comments on the facebook page. We'd LOVE to hear what you think!

Until next time.... MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Herndon VA Again

Well, on the plane again.  Although this time it feels like I'm going home for the holidays, which I guess technically I am!  I am flying home after spending the last 3 weeks in Herndon, VA.  I was teaching the class that I took in Vegas in September.

Due to comments from the class in Vegas we rearranged the curriculum of the class and put in a "deep dive" week at the front, where we demonstrate the software and all that it does.   This turned out to be very challenging for Eric and I the 2 newbies on the team, and I'm not sure we did the class justice.  Week one turned into a total fiasco and unfortunately set the tone for the entire 3 weeks, although we seemed to pull it back together for the last two weeks.  In the end I think the students got their money's worth, but we will be adjusting the curriculum again before doing it in January.

Of course I took advantage of the location though and went visiting on the weekends.   The first weekend happened to be my birthday.   The only regret I had that weekend was that in typical style I didn't plan any sleep-in time.  Up and out early Saturday I headed up to my cousin Heidi's house in Maryland for breakfast.

After a nice visit with Heidi and Larry I moved on to Theresa Marinelli's house in Cinnaminson, New Jersey for dinner.  I worked with Theresa at Gilbane for the last few years until the IBM job.  I had never met her husband or 8-year-old triplets  (nor her 13-year-old son, but he wasn't there that day).  It was a lot of fun getting to know them and catch up with Theresa, but WOW is there a lot of energy in that house!  We played bingo on boards that the kids made and played a game called "time" that I think was a game invented by the grandpa.  Of course games being a favorite activity of mine, this could not have made for a better birthday activity.

 They had a band concert to head out to,  which was just fine because I was heading to Bethlehem,  PA for the night. (Sorry, Don.... didn't realize I was so close until too late.)  The next morning I headed on to some square dancing (Rowdy Crew) friends, and we went out for breakfast in PA.  They showed me a few local sights and we went for a short hike, snagging a geocache on the way.

I made it back to the hotel with my dinner in hand just as the Broncos were kicking off.   So I had dinner in VA.  There was a fair amount of driving on the weekend but I talked on the phone to Mike and Mahnoor on the drive to MD, to Nancy on the drive to NJ, to Keith, Monica, and Kelsey on the drive to PA and to Mom and Sara on the drive back to VA.  So when Monica said "oh, I  didn't realize you had to spend your birthday weekend alone."  I said, "I wasn't alone for one minute!"

The night in PA worked out nicely because I needed a night in a Marriott due to a rewards issues, so that is where I stayed.  It was SO nice, it made me realize the place I was at in Herndon was really sub-standard.  In the course of the two weeks I was there,  my TV was broken, my heater didn't work and they had to move me.  There were a number of people complaining about the lukewarm water for showers, and one morning I couldn't turn it off and had to leave the shower running when I went to work.  One of my students (at the same hotel) had their shower head fall off the wall,  and another had them re-book her room when she had requested a change, but they did it so fast that when she got back to her room to collect her bags, the new guest was already in the room, physically!  That is too many problems in two weeks and so I was glad I moved.  Spending as many nights in hotel rooms as I do, I really deserve not to cut corners!

The next weekend I went South.  This time I visited another cousin,  Beth and her husband, Kevin, in Lynchburg, VA.  I arrived around noon and after lunch we went to Jefferson Poplar Forest, a retreat for Thomas Jefferson.   It was fascinating.   Our guide was engaging.   The estate is being restored. ... very nice.

We picked up a geocache on the way home and after dinner played a couple games (again... yay!).  In the morning I headed back and drove through Shenandoah National Park, and Skyline Road (a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway).  Beautiful,  even if slow.

I did manage to get square dancing twice while in the area, but otherwise, I spent most of my evenings making sure I was prepared for the class the next day.  I feel a bit sleep deprived but I plan to take time off in the next week, and we will be spending Thanksgiving at Monica's house.  My parents will be joining us from Albuquerque so looking forward to that.

Mike got hired on at Breckenridge as a ski instructor and is in the middle of his training right now.   He is shocked at what he DIDN'T know about skiing and is very excited about it now.   It's fun to see him excited for a change.   His schedule may make it difficult for him to be with us at Monica's for the whole time we are there,  but we have managed to hit Thanksgiving dinner with him.

While I was gone, Nai started on the basketball team. . And of course he is anxious to get out on skis himself.  He has a bunch of friends who ski,  so my experience is that will encourage him to pick it up fast.

I am planning on staying home in December and enjoying the holidays!  We do have plans to join Mike's son Josh and his growing family over Christmas.  So, you are not likely to hear from me again this year.  We wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a prosperous new year!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015



What a great week.  This trip, while it was the first of what I expected from this job, it was also my first time to Australia, in fact, my first time to the southern hemisphere, so I was rather excited.  I was able to tack on 3 free days among the work, and in typical Swenson "Kamikaze travel" fashion, I fit a lot in.  If every trip is like this it will kill me!

I left Denver at 8pm on Friday, changing in Los Angeles, and leaving there at 11:45pm my body time.  I was nervous about feeling good after an all night flight in a middle seat so I was focusing on that.. But since it was so late, I had no difficulty falling asleep.  And since I sleep so well, I slept most of the trip, and awoke for breakfast.  In the middle somewhere I turned on a movie, but couldn't stay awake... so slept.  Got into Sydney at 7:30am and had the whole day ahead of me.  I didn't fight any jet lag at all during the trip.

After checking into the hotel, I walked downtown.  Number one on my list was the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and The Rocks section of town (a shopping district pretty much between the opera house and bridge) that has a street market every Saturday and Sunday.  So I hit the shopping first, fun stuff, street music, street food, then walked over to get a good look at the bridge.  I considered walking across it, but decided my #1 priority should be the opera house so I walked that direction.

On the way, I passed a cruise ship in port.  I saw a free contortionist show where "bendy Wendy" crawled into a 16"x16"x16" glass box.  I also saw a couple Aborigines showing and selling their native wares.

Entertainment in line

I walked around Circle Quay to the Opera house, and naturally "fell" in line with the crowd... When the crowd stopped, I realized this was actually a line (or queue as I should be calling it), so I asked someone what was going on.  It was "open day" at the Opera House, a rare day when they let the public tour the building, backstage, costumes, everything... Cool. I stayed in line.  Long line, an hour, but worth it.  Turns out there are 5 theaters.  Beautiful inside and out.
I was amused at this

Beautiful geometries inside as you might expect!

And Outside!


Another Theater
The Main Theater

And Another


And every good tour ends in the gift shop!!

A lego Opera House Replica
Barbie in a Sydney Opera House Dress

When I got out of there, I headed off to grab a Sydney Geocache then stopped to sit on the ground for a few minutes touching my toes to the grass.  Touching the earth is supposed to help with jetlag as your body can identify with your location in the world... Hokey, I know, but feels good and doesn't hurt.. In fact it felt GREAT after walking all day.  Then I hightailed it back to the hotel to get cleaned up to go out with the team leader who invited me to Sydney this week.  We walked to a popular destination close to my hotel, Darling Harbor.
The view from the IBM office, unfortunately no very clear days.  And the glass interferes with the photo.
I had been invited to help an Australian IBM team prepare and interview with a university to provide a facilities system that includes TRIRIGA.  We met long days Mon-Wed, two days in Sydney and a day in Melbourne before interviewing at Monash University in Melbourne on Thursday.  I felt lucky to be able to experience two places in Australia in my week long trip.  (And of course I was able to geocache in both).  I also felt lucky to work with and get to know some Australians.  The IBM building in Melbourne is right on the vibrant river walk, and my hotel was across the river about 1/2 mile away so the walk to the building and back alone was full of adventure, and beautiful.

Look closely (click on the photo)
The URS building (who I used to work for).
The IBM Building (who I now work for)... Good move?

Thursday evening after the interview, my colleagues left town, but I decided to spend another day in Melbourne.  I started off by meeting up with a friend, Julie, that I met on the Send Out Cards Cruise 4 years ago (to the day apparently).  Julie used to work in an area just south of town on the bay near Port Melbourne, the ritzy port community.

We had dinner at a restaurant she used to work at that overlooked the beach.  Obviously, I don't know her very well, but since we met, she and I have kept touch on Facebook.  I was so glad to have a local Australian friend to show me around and learn a bit about the area, plus it was really nice to catch up.  On the way to dinner we stopped at the beach at the famous Brighton Bathing Boxes. (

All week long I had been asking and planning what to do with my free Friday and Saturday.  I was very tempted to go to "Philip Island" where people watch the colony of penguins that come in from the sea to roost every night... BUT all the Australians I asked about it indicated that it was a tourist trap, it cost a lot of money to ride on a huge bus for half the day and meet up with 1000 other tourists and stand on the edge of pier with a chance to glimpse a penguin.  The final deciding factor was the review that said they "loved it, and the tour gives you binoculars so you can see them.".. hummm!  I agreed there was better things to to with my time.
One fatality of the trip... my curling iron which melted into two pieces!

I did however want to see animals.  It seemed animals are one thing that sets Australia apart.  So  in the end I rented a car and drove 80 kilometers (on the wrong side of the road) to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary, which was really just a small zoo that specializes in Australian animals in natural environments.  But the treat was the drive, through the lovely Yarra valley, wine country, and alpaca country.  I was keeping my eyes out for alpacas and saw a bunch of kangaroos... then a few miles later a bunch more lying in someones field, and when I stepped closed to get a closer look they scattered,  hopping away and over the fence into the adjoining farm... Very cool!

I also loved the birds in Australia.  I'm not a huge bird watcher but they have beautiful and interesting birds there.  These Ibis with the long curved beak are like geese, messy, no one likes them and they are obnoxious, having been known to peck at children.  In the zoo they were shooing them away from the school kids because they were trying to steal their sandwiches.  Then Cockatoos were everywhere!  They were like pigeons or sea gulls here.  Lots of other parrot type birds around too, flying right in front of the car.

After the zoo I went to a nature park with hiking trails and such and took a picnic lunch I had bought at the grocery store.  There was a girl feeding the birds there.  Cockatoos, parrots and even a wild kookaburra.  Cool!

On the way home I passed an Alpaca ranch (coincidentally "Santa Fe Alpacas"), so I decided to stop in and see how alpaca life was different in Australia and US.  It was very interesting and brought back lots of memories.  I got spit on by his girls.  Many things the same, a few different.  Like us, their show industry is somewhat corrupt and doesn't reflect the fleece industry.  Their major customer are the Chinese, so a lot of their marketing focuses on that.  I think the biggest difference is that realizing the labor is too high to process their fleece, they combine the fleece in their country and ship it by shipping container to Peru and have it processed there, then they stock their store with products made from Australian grown, but Peruvian processed fleece products.  We would be ahead if we did that here, as our Alpaca industry is strong but out product industry is weak.

I also happened by a "little league" Cricket practice going on.  Surrounded by the "gum tree" (Eucalyptus) forest.
The next morning I drove out to the "Queen Victoria Market"  a football field sized farmers market/shopping market.  I paid for 1 hour of parking and saw only a small fraction of the shops.  I could have been there all day.  Big variety of quality of things, but lots of life there.  They I drove by the Botanical Gardens and around that section of town, lovely views of Melbourne there, before returning the car and flying back to Sydney.

Queen Victoria Market

The Royal Arcade

I only had a couple adventures due to driving in Australia.  The biggest was the one time I did pull out on the road on the wrong side.  Looking up there were cars coming right at me in my lane, so I pulled off to the right to let the traffic pass.  They did, SLOWLY, as they were not sure what i was doing.  The fourth one was a cop who stopped to ask what I was doing. "Well," I explained, "I missed my turn and so turned around and saw the traffic and decided to pull over until they passed."  So the cop asked, "Uh, ok, but why did you pull over to the right?"  And honestly I had no answer except that I am an American (Doesn't that explain it all?).  He said "OK, just so long as you don't have a head-on." (Say that in your best Australian accent and you'll get it!).  Other than that the troubles were only that about half the time I got into the car and was half way in before I realized that I was getting in on the passenger side, and I think EVERY TIME I turned the corner I turned on my windshield wipers, trying to be very conscientious about using my turn signals.

Sydney again and Manly
In Sydney I did a little more shopping, had my last "Pie Face Pie" and decided to take the Ferry to Manly Peninsula as my last Australian adventure.  First Pie Face.... I love Pie Face and want to open a franchise here.  I spent the week asking everyone I met what was "Australian food".  Apparently there is none.  The only suggestion was a government promoted diet of "meat and 3 veg".  Sydney and Melbourne are pretty cosmopolitan and the Asian influence is obvious there, so we ate a number of Thai meals.  Nothing else stood out... except Pie Face.  Pie Face has small street stores that sell meat pies.  I loved the idea, they were different than something you find here, and although not gluten free they were darn good.  Only had a couple but I'm ready to make my gluten free version here.

The ferry to Manly was pleasant.  It's still early spring in Australia so somewhat nippy (since of course I sat outside!) but nice.  it took about 1/2 hour.  Then on Manly I walked the mile long strip of obviously tourist focused stores to the main Manly beach.  I walked up the beach a bit looking at the kite surfers (popular in Australia) then thought about grabbing dinner.  But I wasn't really hungry (Pie Face having just been consumed) and no restaurants struck me, so I headed back to the wharf thinking I might just catch the sunset going back to Sydney.

But as I approached the wharf I was walking along the beach and there were signs blocking off that end of the beach from the public because there were 2 pair of nesting penguins that come in every night about sunset.  they come up the surf, pop out and run up the beach and under the pier.  Wow.  Cool!  And I didn't even have to pay.  So I sat my butt down and waited for about an hour and a half.  The National Parks folks there were not sure if a boat that had been parked on the beach would deter the little guys from coming up, so maybe they were late, but I saw one come out of the ocean.  I jumped up to tell the Parks people, and they said yeah, they were watching this one penguin that had come up to them and was trying to get out on the street!  Wow, he was RIGHT THERE, stepping on their feet.  Pictures were difficult because by this time it was dark and they did not allow flash photography.  But we watched him for about 30 minutes and he ended up running up the other walkway and under a light... so I got a couple decent shots.  These are called Fairy Penguins (or "little" penguins).  They grow to about 13 inches high at maturity, so this was an adult male.  Totally made my day.

Took the ferry back to Sydney, walked back to my hotel (got to see at the Australian folks out on a Saturday night.. My the skirts are short, or am I just old!).  Next morning flew back to the states, my plane landed in Los Angeles about 3 hours before I took off!

Meanwhile at home it's Halloween and Nai has carved his first Jack-o-lantern.  We made Masks from Very cool!  Thanks for the suggestion Sara Grubb.  And I am getting ready to travel again tomorrow.  I'll save that post for next time.