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Merry Christmas, 1997 from Kevin Rice!


Hey! This is my Christmas Letter!  Amazed?  I am.  I haven’t written one for lots-o-years, but here goes.  By the way, this is in response to a couple of people who say I never write, so I am now.  En masse, everyone!

Some of this may be familiar, so I’ll try to move quickly.

Hmm.  To get you all caught up on where I am:  Ann Arbor, Michigan, on an extended business trip.  The history:  I graduated from KU in ‘92, then went to work traveling widely for the U.S. Army (based at Ft. Leavenworth KS) until Summer 93 when I moved to Des Moines, Iowa.  The move was for a job writing software for industrial turbocompressor machinery (fans-in-pipes, i.e., pumps for natural gas pipelines).  No, I didn’t know thing one about it, but I learned since I worked there for 2 years.  I bought a house in spring 94 (more about that later).

In April 95 I switched to a small software company that did predictive outbound dialing and call answering, but they went bankrupt owing me a month’s salary on Nov. 6th, 1995.  Three days later I was in Romania, visiting my dad initially then over the next 3 months backpacking through 14 countries in Eastern and Central Europe (more later).  I came back started in April 96 with Computer Task Group (still in Des Moines) as a consultant contract programmer.  After 6 placements over 18 months, I told ‘em I was most interested in C work and please find it for me or I’ll find another company.  They have, but I’ve just started (2 months ago) traveling for them, and am now working for Borders Bookstore Corp. HQ in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The big major huge event in the past year, of course, was that Dad died July 31, 1997 of a sudden heart attack.  Everything else is shaded by that event, but somehow life is going on.

My real-current status is that in the months before Dad died, I’d been thinking seriously about getting out of Des Moines.  Last month I listed the house for sale, packed everything in boxes, and moved myself completely into a storage locker.  I now have an empty house (nearly: it has my bed, TV, and some dishes), a full storage locker, and am living in another city entirely.  I fly back for a weekend at home at 3-week intervals.

If you sent me a Christmas / Chanukah card, please don’t be offended if I don’t answer it immediately.  I haven’t picked up my mail since Dec. 14th.  Being ‘out of town’ is weird because Ann Arbor is becoming ‘in town’.  I’ll be back for a weekend in January sometime.

My general plan is to sell the house and then decide where to move, and get a job there.  My specialty is programming in ‘C’ language, and I want to be doing Java creating Web-related products by next year this time.  The reasons for moving are manifold, mostly being work related, but also because I’m just ready to move and am really tired of Des Moines.

When I first moved to Des Moines (as you might know), I joined the Des Moines Jaycees.  They have frequent fun stuff along with the organization itself being interesting to be a part of.  Jaycees, I’ve found, are consistently just the most interesting people to hang around with that I know of.  Last year I had a problem with ‘em though in that I was cheated out of about $750 by the Iowa Jaycees state president as part of a position I volunteered for.  But, I consider that dues paid for learning to not trust people just because they’re in important positions.  You live and learn.  I still love the organization, but my sense of justice has had a hard time dealing with people who are deliberately deceitful.  Fun Jaycees events have included going to 3 national conventions, running for a local officer position (and losing, but that’s part of the game)(grin), and in general hanging out with friends.  Every group has some bad apples.

Over the past couple of years, I've been involved in church stuff via a couple of groups, including CAST, a Catholic singles group that’s a pretty fun bunch o’ folk.  I’ve also been in Toastmasters for about 3 years, and it’s helped my public speaking a lot.  I get to show off and entertain people, which satisfies my extrovert side, but my professional appearance-of-competence level has benefited, too.

When I bought my house, a 5 bedroom, 1900 ft3 place in an established but trendy neighborhood, I knew it was a fixer-upper.  I anticipated that.  I had a salaried job and working on the house was a second job, available any time I had the time.  I’m now in a consulting job, though, where I get paid every hour I work so it makes no financial sense to work on the house anymore.

I did learn plumbing, though.  I replaced the hot water heater, and then decided that was so easy I replace the entire house’s water supply piping.  Wow!  Big job! (about 10 days start-finish).  More recently, I ripped the furnace and all the ductwork out so they could be replaced by pros.

The house is still a fixer upper, and it needs a lot of work.  My mom and sister get a lot of joy teasing me that my bathroom doesn’t have any walls.  It doesn’t (they were old plaster and fell in when I replaced the pipes).  That’s okay though, since I hung up garbage bags the shower water doesn’t go everywhere.  Whoever buys my house is going to have a big job ahead of them, and you can see why I want to move.  For a while, it’s an adventure.  Then, it gets to be an inconvenience, and finally it turns into a hulking mammoth cloud of anvils over my head.

I could describe my trip through Europe, but I guess the short highlight list is: spending 3 weeks in Bucharest with Dad ‘batching it’; Christmas Eve midnight mass and communion at St. Peter’s in Rome with Pope John Paul II; and a week on Crete (a Greek Island) mountain climbing and hiking.  I have a much more complete travelogue with the cool stuff, the interesting stuff, that happened - it’s on my website (see below).

Okay, that’s the news up to February of 1996.  I’ll skip a year ‘cuz it wasn’t too interesting and it’s now it’s old news, up to Feb. 1997.

In February, a 3-car highway-ice crash crunched the driver’s side rear door of my hulking behemoth 1982 Olds 98 Diesel (I was totally unhurt).  It was almost 2 months before I could replace the door, though, and it was quite frigid in the car with no window in the winter and snow inside.  Ug.  That was really just the beginning of the end for that car, though, as first the power steering pump, then the water pump, then alternator went out, then the new power steering pump went again, etc.  I was about to buy a new Chrysler Concorde, and had planned it out, but I didn’t like the $18,000 price tag.  Instead I was lucky to inherit Dad’s ‘86 Olds Delta 88.  It’s not great, but it gets me there.  Since I still had my old ‘79 Chevy Caprice station wagon from college, I gave both it and the 98 Diesel to the Lutherans; I wasn’t confident of getting a lot of money for them anyway.  My driveway is empty now!  Hooray!

As I said above, my dad died on July 31st.  The timing was weird; my Mom and my sister Donna and I were headed for Kansas for a mini-family-reunion.  Dad put Mom on the plane, then after swimming at the YMCA, collapsed of a massive heart attack in their locker room.  Immediate CPR didn’t help.  We had the funeral in Kansas.  Mom and Donna stayed there, and I drove out in a rented car (the 98 was sick) the next day, a day earlier than planned and without stopping.

I’ve got to say something here.  To everyone who called, who I called, and who sent letters and/or flowers: THANK YOU.  I didn’t realize, as no one can until something like this happens, the importance of having good friends to talk with and be around.  I can’t imagine going through it without that support.  I was very close to my dad, and feeling I had other emotional bonds of friendship to fall back on was a big easing of the burden. Thanks.

Rich (a best friend and practically a brother) drove to Kansas from Phoenix to be a pallbearer at the funeral.  Having him there, a friend from 2nd grade, truly helped.

Mom and Donna and I have discussed that some of our friends had no idea what to say to us.  If you ever wonder what to say to a grieving person, that’s okay.  Don’t wonder.  Just talk with ‘em.  It’s not going to be the only thing on their minds, either, and you can change the subject, depending on what you’re comfortable with.  Otherwise, just let them express what they need to, when they need to, and listen.  That’s all.  There is no wrong thing to say.  Don’t worry about it.  You don’t have to have a common experience of loss to fit in or be worthwhile.  Say what’s on your mind, ask all the questions you want, or don’t.  Whatever.  It’s okay to talk about the person who died, just as if they were there.  After a while it feels normal to do that.  Anyway, just a thought.

On to other news.  In August, a guy who’s one of my best friends (Steve) in the world and another almost-brother to me got married in Madison, WI to a bright, beautiful, fun gal, Nancy.  The bachelor party was golf at Galena Illinois’ Eagle Ridge Resort, a $95 round on a stunningly beautiful course that really was worth it.  After the golf, we all ganged up on Steve and threw him in a muck-filled lake.  Other highlights included the traditional strip club visit, a shot of “Old Smuggler” Whiskey, and some Majorly Very Delicious cookies made by Steve’s brother Mark’s, girlfriend, Gail.

Steve and Nancy’s wedding was really interesting, a fairly Jewish affair, but I performed my secular duties (along with Rich) decorating the car.  Rich and I inspire each other:  We used Pancake syrup, 2 lbs. of flour, bananas, kitty litter, honey, cookies, peanuts, toilet paper, cans of green beans and peas, and Oleo shortening.  The problem was the car sat in the hot sun and bees landed all over it, making a buzzing hive and getting stuck in the syrup.  No one was hurt, though, including the car, but it was quite the conversation piece around the hotel.  People asked why.  I said, “Why do the mundane when you can create the stuff of legends?”  I think we did.

After a month of work being very boring, I got a new placement in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It’s very nice, the home of University of Michigan, which lends all sorts of benefits in terms of diverse eating establishments.

The second night after I got here to Michigan, I took a trip to Canada.  Windsor, Ontario is about an hour away.  After driving around (in a foreign country!!!), I parked the car near a busy street to get out and get some food.  As soon as I stopped, a girl walked up to the car and was about to get in!  I figured out, it was a business call!  AHHHAAH!!! Flee for your Lives!  I waved her off and punched the door lock button, then floored it out of that area.  All I wanted was a Vietnamese dinner, but I drove another 20 minutes to find a restaurant in a better neighborhood!

I’ve since gone back to Windsor as the guest of the Windsor Jaycees, a great group who’ve introduced me to things Canadian: good beer, politics just as weird as ours, and a distinctly different culture.  Most of Windsor, it turns out, is pretty economically depressed, but it’s 200,000 very nice, polite people just next door.  I like ‘em.  I think swearing is a felony, though I’m not quite sure.  They’re Fun, but polite.

In November I got the treat of going to a Michigan Football game.  Steve, his father John, and his brother Mark all flew into Ann Arbor for the day to watch the Ohio State vs. Michigan game.  I was converted into a Michigan football fan, which really wasn’t difficult because Kansas doesn’t really have a football team (!), so why not?  They’ll never turn me from Jayhawks basketball, but the people here really know how to celebrate Football.  I even stormed the field after the game!  Steve had to catch a plane, so I got him some home field turf (okay, a meager clump of grass with paint on it, but it’s ‘Michigan turf’!).

About a month ago, I put up a website ( be careful with spelling and capitalization).  It’s getting a lot of visitors, since it has some cool links I’ve found and I advertised a bit.  Basically, it’s fun to have and I get to practice my web skills.  I’ve made some email friends, and actually met several Ann Arbor folk that way, too.

On the social front, things have been kind of on hold since I’m in a transition period between homes.  I had a long-distance relationship this summer that didn’t work out for the obvious reason - distance.  She’s great, and I know she’s up to good things.  I’m not settled in a city, and living with that kind of insecurity means living in a kind of limbo.

Otherwise, when you hear from me again it’ll probably be with news of where I’m going to be living next.  I don’t know where that is, but I know it’ll be fun wherever I end up.  After all, I’ve got to get settled a bit before 1999, and the medium-sized recession starting in September of ‘99, ending about June of 2000.  I’m predicting this because I’ve seen all the companies that aren’t going to have working computer systems come the year 2000 and figure that’ll depress our economy at least a little.  Fair warning: keep 2 months cash in hand.

It probably (I hope!) won’t affect me, though, since I’ll be programming, working a lot of hours by then fixing things as fast as I can for as much as I can get.  It’s the standard routine most everyone follows, only a little more hectic.

If you have any ideas about which party you’re going to go to on Dec. 31st, 1999, let me know.  I’ve been toying around with the idea of going to Fiji !!!  It’s on the international date line, so it’ll be the first place on earth where it’s 2000 and the next night (slightly to the west of the line), it’ll be the last place on earth where it’ll be 1999.  The airlines won’t book something this early, but if there are 150 people wanting to go it’d be a pretty cheap rate of probably less than $1000 round trip.  What a way to bring it in!  Celebrate the (New Year / New Century / New Millennium) twice!  Let me know if you’re interested.  It’s less than 2 years away!

Enough for one letter.  Thank you again, everyone, for the condolence cards and calls, Christmas or Chanukah cards, etc.  Please accept this meager note in place of a handwritten one, and know that even if I don’t write that often, I still think about y’all.

Take care,
Your Friend,

This page is copyright (c) 1998 by Kevin J. Rice, all rights reserved.  Permission to copy freely is granted subject to (1) the contents are unchanged (2) my name, Kevin J. Rice, my email address of, and web page address of http://www.JustAnyone.Com are attached; and  (3) this copyright notice is attached.