30 November 1997

Dear Friends and Family,

Welcome to Julie and Brent’s first joint Christmas letter! This year was so busy for us that we felt like the dressing room at Nordstrom’s during a 70% off sale.

Overachievers that we are, we went for two wedding celebrations which, of course, meant twice the planning (compared to the other balls we juggled, it was not much extra), and twice the fun (much needed). Getting married is a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who helped us party late into the night in Saratoga and Fort Collins. For those who could not come, please stop by (we have pictures). Everything went off without a hitch except the pianist who cancelled the day before the ceremony (the replacement was even better), and the bridal headpiece that somehow ended up in the toilet (it dried out). The leader of the band "The Cool Jerks" told us he’d never before seen so many engineers on the dance floor. The Colorado party was bittersweet. There was much love and affection in the stories of Julie as engineer and dancer, and not a few damp eyes. With so many reasons to visit, we plan to return often.

People told us that they only remembered fleeting moments of their wedding. We remember most of ours, but it seems like a full-length movie sped up and played in five minutes. Things slowed down after a 20-hour series of plane rides that included a 2am to 4am serenade of Hawaiian Muzak in Honolulu. Before long, we opened our eyes to find ourselves planted on lounge chairs on our own private stretch of pristine white sand beach. Up a short path into the jungle was our secluded burre (hut). We learned later that management of the Vatulele, Fiji resort makes a point to locate Honeymooners on the far side of the island.

After (quite) a while, we decided that there might be more to life than the burre and the lounge chairs, and we discovered snorkeling, glass-bottomed kayaks, and even entered into a spirited game of Frisbee on the beach with our gourmet cook. We enjoyed a Fijian wedding, candlelight dinners on the beach, and a picnic on the very private nooki nooki island, inhabitants: at most 2 (plus hermit crabs). More adventuresome still was our visit to Namenalala a Fijian dive resort with the best snorkeling we’d ever seen. We swam in schools of large blue and yellow fish, visited an octopus in his home in the coral, and chased a large menacing moray eel. There were times when the fish were larger than we were, so we appreciated their understanding that humans belong on the top of the food chain. This was especially true when our buddy the five-foot reef shark circled us on several of our swims.

The remainder of our honeymoon was spent in Far North Queensland, Australia home of the world’s oldest rainforest at Daintree National Park. We saw trees that have been around since the dinosaurs, petted "wild" rock wallabies (mini kangaroos), and used up over twelve rolls of film capturing the local crocodiles, kookaburras, and a cassowary (like an ostrich). We concluded with a drive through the outback to the Undara Lava Tubes. We were glad to have spare water on one stretch where we drove on unsigned dirt roads for several hours where the only sign of life was a six-foot kangaroo that hopped across the road in front of us. We nicknamed our car the "lawnmower/road grader" for it lack of horsepower and tendency to smooth out the sand piled between the tire tracks on roads we promised the rental agency we wouldn’t drive on.

Our life-threatening outback adventures left us well prepared for the challenges of home ownership back in California (see envelope for our new address). These began one evening when returning from a night of tango (more on this later) to find the newly formed van Gregory creek flowing down the street with headwaters at our stuck-on sprinkler system. Next, the frigid north visited our living room when the furnace failed. Well, okay, the truth is that winter in California is so tame that we went several days before we started asking each other "does it seem cold in here to you"? What an excuse, however, to warm up the kitchen with a batch of fresh baked gingersnaps, or should it be chocolate crinkles? Hmmm. Let’s do both. We are learning to compromise! We still don’t agree on which end of the utensils should point up in the dishwasher, but we’re working on that one.

We’re doing a lot more cooking at home than either of us are used to. This culminated in the great dinner party where we fed sixteen relatives without a single casualty (not counting the salad and rolls left forgotten in the kitchen). After we’re done being domestic, we’ve found a wonderful melding of Julie’s ballet and Brent’s piano proclivities: Tango. The music is passionate, and the embrace is scandalous, but heck: we’re married now.

Even with the planning which began in late ’96, the path to "we’re married now" has been like "Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride" for most of ’97. For Julie, especially, the amount of change has been more than enough to peg the ‘stress indicator score’ of the stress tests that you hear about. You’d expect that making change for the better is a good thing and that you should make as many good changes as possible. After selling your house, changing jobs, moving to another state, getting married, buying a new house and moving in, you get a little dizzy from all those good changes and wish at the ride would stop long enough for you to figure out which way was up. Eventually the world stops spinning and you settle down to a better life. We’re just sharing a bit of wisdom with you all, don’t take on a year like this without a good supply of airsickness bags. So what does ‘a better life’ look like? Well, marriage is better. Being a manager of computer designers is better (or at least different and therefore better for now). Unfortunately, things can’t all be better, so dance has taken a bit of a back seat. Julie only managed to perform in two ballets in ’97. One in May (‘Cinderella’, her final performance with CCB, her old ballet company) and one in December (a short version of the ‘Nutcracker’ with the Stanford Ballet).

Brent’s been making some adjustments too. He’s been heard mumbling bewilderedly "where’d all the free time go?" only to have those with more experience helpfully suggest "just wait ‘till you have kids"! Julie’s ballet rehearsals have created blanks slots in his calendar that have been filled recently with even more Ultimate Frisbee. All the extra practice has paid off with stares of disbelief from his teammates when his forehand throw occasionally hits the intended receiver. Brent’s continuing goal of replacing Elton John as the most popular Piano Icon took steps forward this year as he has begun to learn to arrange music on the fly while playing from lead sheets (sometimes called "fake books"). This requires deciding how to express the chords of a song while playing the melody, all on the fly. The tour schedule has yet to be announced.

We hope you enjoyed catching up with the van Gregory’s. Please let us know how your year went. We’re dying to test our new guestroom, so call to book a slot: (408) 863-1252(voice), (408) 973-9697(fax).