Thursday, December 22, 2005

2005 Christmas letter

Our 2005 Christmas letter. Links to previous letters are at the end. Pictures from the letter are in previous posts.

Merry Christmas!

We have been blessed in many ways this past year. I have been a full time house-husband most of this year. I appreciate the opportunities I have had to be involved in the kids life on a day-to-day basis. Helping the kids with homework, volunteering in Tim's kindergarten class, driving on field trip driving, score keeping for Kristin's basketball team etc. has really gotten me in touch with their lives. Still, I am ready to return to a career working outside the home and I am confident that will happen in 2006.

Michele has been working since March for ADP. She implements Payroll systems for new customers. People like to start new payroll systems at the start of a new year, so the Holiday Season is Michele's busiest season in this position. Busy season is actually barely controlled mayhem that keeps her working weekends as well as very early mornings. Other than that drawback, her job is going well. Michele is really well qualified for the position and is already considered a senior and valued member of her team.

Tim started Kindergarten this year and is one of the most popular kids in the class. As for his ability to pay attention and stay on task....
did I mentioned he is well liked? Tim played T-ball this summer and looked really cute in the uniform.

Grace has really blossomed academically this year. Her third grade teacher is thrilled with her work and her interest in reading has exploded. Grace had a flare up with her arthritis (JRA) that required treatment and physical therapy. We are thankful that it has all calmed down now and she doesn't have any remaining limitations because of it. Grace also had her tonsils out in November. Grace and I spent a lot of quality time with Doctors etc. this year. We are hopeful there will be fewer medical issues next year.

Kristin had another great year in soccer and just started basketball for the year. Sixth grade keeps her very busy since along with her regular homework she has major projects: a country project, a science project, social studies projects. Kristin loves computer games and TV as well as spending time with her friends, so it is a major challenge to focus on her long term assignments. We hope she learns from both her successes and failures. Kristin and Grace had a special two week “Camp Granny and Grandma” in the summer where they visited with both sets of Grandparents and enjoyed Southern California's activities. It is such a blessing that their Grandparents enjoy and are able to spend time with the kids.

Our best wishes for Happy Holidays, a Happy New Year and a Prosperous 2006.


Ralph, Michele, Tim, Grace, and Kristin

Links to previous letters:

2004 Holiday Letter

2003 Holiday Letter

2002 Holiday Letter

2001, 2000 Holiday letters are missing

1999, 1998, 1997 Holiday Letter links

Grace's Physical Therapy Picture

The other kids had pictures of their sports (T-Ball for Tim, Soccer for Kristin); Grace wanted a picture of her sport which this year was physical therapy. Posted by Picasa
Kristin's soccer picture, I put this on the Christmas letter. Posted by Picasa
This one turned out cute from the Oakridge play area (after the Santa pictures) Posted by Picasa

Grace and Santa

 Posted by Picasa

All the kids with Santa

This was the Oakridge Mall Santa. Nice Santa, good beard but you couldn't take your own pictures. They wanted all the picture profits.Posted by Picasa

Tim and Santa

Tim trying to convince Santa he'd been nice this year. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Ceramics of Italy

I have talked about our trip to attend the wedding of our good friends Dave and Sabrina in Italy. They have a ceramics business in Deruta, Umbria. Recently, they put their website online They are great people and I'm sure you would enjoy doing business with them or learning about Italian Ceramics from them.

Dave and Sabrina see one of their marketing differentiators as being very easy to deal with for Americans. They have a toll free U.S. number that rings through to their business in Deruta. They have a U.S. address and have worked hard on packaging and shipping at reasonable prices. As an American transplant to Italy, Dave is especially eager to share his discoveries in his adopted country. He writes a monthly newsletter that can be found at

If you have any interest in ceramics, visiting Deruta, or even just visiting Italy get in contact with Dave and Sabrina at the contact information on their site. I am sure they will have some valuable tips to share with you and will be friendly faces to see if you get to Deruta.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Splenda, Coke Zero

There are suddenly a lot of different types of Diet Coke. I've noticed regular Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Splenda, Coke Zero (Coke 0), Diet Cherry Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, and Diet Coke with Lemon. What is a Diet Coke drinker to do?

To my mind, Coca Cola is risking customer confusion with so many brand extensions to Diet Coke (itself a brand extension). They must feel that grabbing more shelf space and appealing to people with fairly highly honed preferences in a diet cola out weighs the costs from confusion and diluting understanding of the taste part of Diet Coke's value proposition.

I ran a bit of a taste test with Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Splenda and Coke Zero. I'll try to describe the taste differences with references to Classic Coke.

Diet Coke--This beverage has had a consistent flavor for quite a few years. As near as I can tell, since the New Coke fiasco, Diet Coke has tasted the same. It was apparently designed to appeal to the New Coke or Pepsi Drinker who enjoys a bland, very sweet Cola. To my taste, not as good as Classic Coke but not much worse and no calories, so its usually what I drink.

Diet Coke with Splenda--This is something new I have seen on the store shelves. Splenda is an artificial sweetener made from sugar, so billed to taste like Sugar. Diet Coke with Splenda tastes a bit more like Classic Coke than plain Diet Coke. A little less bland than Diet Coke a little bit of "cola kick".

Coke Zero--This is also something new I have just started seeing. I haven't seen much positioning from Coke on Coke Zero, so I had no idea what to expect. Coke Zero is much closer to Classic Coke than plain Diet Coke and even closer than Diet Coke with Splenda. It is a little less bland and has that small cola kick that Classic Coke has. If you have had Coke Light overseas, Coke Zero tastes just like Coke Light. Coke Zero (along with Coke Light overseas) is my new favorite cola drink, although so far I can't buy it from a fountain, only in bottles and cans.

I'm not sure where Diet Coke with Splenda fits in here. If you like Diet Coke with Splenda better than regular Diet Coke, you will probably like Coke Zero even better.

The flavored diet cokes (Cherry Coke, with Lime, with Lemon) are fairly uninteresting offerings to me. Diet Cherry Coke has the bland, sweet flavor of regular diet coke with a bit of an artificial cherry soda flavor. Not enough of a unique flavor to make it interesting. Dr. Pepper is a better more interesting soft drink in this flavor range to my taste.

The lemon and lime offerings are also based on regular Diet Coke and add just a bit of a different flavor. I add lime if I'm stuck with only the choice of Diet Pepsi and I have access to limes. The lime taste doesn't add much for me if there is no "off" taste to cover up.

Even though the lack of calories and sugar can make Diet Soda seem cost free, I recommend keeping diet soda consumption down. Apparently, the diet cola's are just as bad or worse for your teeth than the sugared colas. There is a lot of acid in these drinks and the acid eats into teeth. I want to preserve my teeth a bit longer, so I only drink soda with meals when I can brush my teeth right afterward.

Linguica Casserole Recipe

I haven't found this Recipe anywhere, so Michele must have made it up. Thought I better preserve it for posterity. We enjoy it and its not too hard to make. A batch makes enough to serve about 8 adults so we make it in 2 8 x 8 pans and freeze one.

Linguica is a spicy Portuguese sausage. In the San Francisco Bay Area it can be found at Costco and most grocery stores. In some parts of the country, it can be hard to find so you may need a specialty sausage store.

2 Linguica sausage sticks
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (Monterey Jack and Cheddar works fine)
10 Medium sized Potatoes
2 Red, Green, or Yellow Bell Peppers
1/2 Cup Milk
1/8 Pound Butter
1/2 Teaspoon salt

Peel potatoes, slice and boil about 45 minutes. When potatoes are soft, mash them with Milk, Butter, and salt.

While potatoes are boiling:
Slice linguica and cut slices into bits (about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch bits)
Chop peppers
Fry Linguica in a pan until cooked through

In 2 8x8 pans, put a layer of Mashed potatoes (if you are freezing one pan, you may line that pan with wax paper)
Sprinkle linguica and peppers evenly on Mashed potatoes
Cover with another layer of mashed potatoes
Cover the mashed potatoes with the shredded cheese
Bake both pans (or put one in the freezer and bake the other) at 400 Degrees for 25 minutes.

To cook Frozen casserole, bake at 400 Degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Peerflix, Great Idea, Implementation doesn't work for me yet

Peerflix is a DVD sharing service that aims to give a user experience similar to Netflix with much less overhead and lower cost to the user. Instead of using a central wherehouse to hold and match DVD's, peerflix always keeps the DVD's with the users of the service. The users of the service do the labor of mailing the DVD to the next user. Peerflix also allows users to put their own DVD's on the service and get credit for them.

So, as a member you have no monthly fee and you only pay $1.00 for each trade of DVD's. To get started you put some of your own DVD's on the service. You can keep DVD's you trade for or send them back to the system. There is no maximum DVD's you can donate to the service.

Sounded perfect to me. If I had a movie I just had to have immediately I could buy it and trade it into the service for credit that would let me buy more movies. I could buy one movie every other month or so for what I would spend on Netflix or Blockbuster rentals, make trades and see all the movies I could want.

I thought the problem would be availability of new movies on the system. The problem for me has been getting people to take my movies so I can trade for other movies! I have a couple of good "last year's" movies ready to trade. So far, I haven't been able to trade out, so I can't trade in!

I hoped to get started by signing up with my credit card to get a free movie. I expected a newer movie that would be easy to trade in and get started. The choices were much older than the movies I had ready to trade. I settled on a John Candy movie. I was able to trade it out, but it is only one credit. Most movies worth having cost two or three credits.

So, Peerflix is an interesting idea but for me it is a non-operational so far. Note that the whole thing is in beta. They may figure out a way to make it easier for people to get started before it goes into full operation. I'll be watching.

Timmy, ready for Rivercats T-Ball action. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What kind of soap do you expect next to the bidet?

Here is a story from our trip to Italy last year. I submitted it to the "Travelers Tales" section in a travel magazine but they declined to use it.

As is typical in Italy, our bed and breakfast in Rome had a bidet. Next to the bidet was soap in a push top dispenser container. The soap bottle said in big letters "Vaniglia". Not speaking any Italian, I thought it was interesting that they were so blunt about what the bidet soap was meant to clean. I told my wife that if she needed to clean her "vaniglia" they had just the right soap next to the bidet.

Later in the trip, I was very surprised to find at the gelati shop a container of white gelati labeled "Vaniglia". Like all the gelati we had in Italy, it was delicious. Those folks more worldly than I don't need to be told that "vaniglia" is Italian for Vanilla.

Enjoying Vaniglia Gelati Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Dr. Phil on Evan Johnson Placement Story

I don't ussually watch Dr. Phil, but I wanted to see how he handled the Evan Johnson story that the NBC Today show botched so badly.

Dr. Phil did a better job making it clear that Evan Johnson was placed with guardians for 3 years rather than adopted. He spent a long time on the story and threw in another story about another attempt at adoption that didn't work out. Dr. Phil did say that these were atypical stories that should not discourage people from adopting.

These two stories certainly were atypical. The strange thing about the Evan Johnson story is that the child was placed with his guardians so long when he had a biological father who wanted him. The second story involved an attempt to adopt a Native American child. Two things make adopting Native American children problematic for non-Native Americans:

-U.S. law regarding Native Americans
-Native American tribes are generally opposed to non-Native Americans adopting Native American children because they feel that the children are denied their culture and the culture is denied a member who should be carrying on the tribes traditions.

This story also made it appear that the couple didn't get good legal advice at the start of their attempt to adopt.

Both these stories dealt with Children who were never adopted. Adoptions are permanent. Dr. Phil did a better job of making this clear than NBC. He could have done a better job of putting the stories in context of the large number of successful adoptions that happen every year.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Today show gets "adoption" story wrong

I saw a story on the Today show that made me very angry because they got the story wrong in a way that sensationalizes the story and does a disservice to the truth and to adoption. The Today show and MSNBC portray the story as an adopted child being ripped from its adopted home where it lived 3 years to be returned to its birth mother. Of course, this is a nightmare every potential adopted family thinks about. It is a nightmare that almost never happens. It didn't happen in this case. The adoption never happened. It was not an adopted child, but a child the family tried to adopt where they retained guardianship. A sad story yes, but not the story that the Today show and MS-NBC reported. Here is the MS-NBC story which is the way the Today show also portrayed it:

Here is a story that rings much more true from the Chicago Tribune: Story

I wrote to NBC to complain but only got a automated response. Here is the letter I wrote to NBC:

Subject: Disgusted by Sensationalized, inaccurate Today Show coverage of Evan Johnson Story

Dear Today Show Producers,

I was shocked to see on the Today show that an adopted 3 year old was taken from its adoptive home and reunited with his birth Mother. An adopted child being taken from its home is extremely rare. Before an adoption is finalized great care is taken to ensure that it is a final resolution of child's and the adoptive families status.

It is clear that Today Show and MS-NBC got the story wrong. The Chicago tribune story rings much more true:,1,7510119.story?coll=chi-newslocalchicago-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

The long standing guardianship described in the Tribune story is much different from an adoption. In fact, it appears that adoption was rejected when the child was less than 1 year old precisely because the permanent status of the child could not be guaranteed. While this story is indeed tragic and we can all question the wisdom of the decisions in this child's life, it is much different from an adoption falling apart. Adoptions are permanent. Guardianships, however long they last, may not be.

This kind sensational, inaccurate coverage is extremely damaging to families who might consider adoption and to children who can benefit from adoption. Family's have a right to know that finalized adoptions are almost never reversed. It is obviously extremely important that children and parents are confident their relationship is permanent. The importance of a feeling of permanence to children and families is the reason such great care is taken by legal authorities, social workers, and family's to make sure that adoptions are indeed final. The few times they have been reversed have been because of a long chain of extremely unlikely events.
I have been a foster parent and am an adoptive parent. It is very clear to foster parents, guardians, and adoptive parents that foster parent and guardianship relationships may be temporary, adoptions are permanent.

Portraying a long standing guardianship as an adoption to make the story more dramatic or exciting undermines the publics understanding of the reality of permanence in adoptive relationships. It may prevent prospective adoptive parents from considering adoption. It may leave children in foster care longer than they need to be.

I hope that Today and MS-NBC will work to correct the inaccurate impressions your story left. I hope you will have adoption advocates on your program to talk about how rarely finalized adoptions fall apart and how there are other defined relationships (foster care and guardianship) for situations where a permanent adoption is not possible. I hope you will let people know that adoption is a realistic, permanent and very loving way to build a family and raise child who can not be raised by his birth parents.

Ralph Galantine
San Jose, CA

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Snapfish and Firefox

Don't even bother trying to use Snapfish with Firefox (or Mozilla, Netscape, Opera) if you are running on Windows. Just grit your teeth and load up Internet Explorer (IE) as annoying as it may be. Snapfish has a very nice uploading tool (an ActiveX control) that loads into IE and allows you to upload groups of photos from a directory easily. A lot of features, like ordering photobooks and the upload tool, just aren't available on Firefox.

I was trying to use Firefox and only go into IE when I had to for something like ordering a photobook. Unfortunately, you can't always tell what you are missing. If you are not in IE, you don't know you are missing the ActiveX uploading tool. If you are running outside of Windows I'm not sure I would recommend Snapfish at all. Shutterfly had more support for alternate browsers.

I made my feelings known to Snapfish with the advice that they support Firefox and other standards compliant browsers. This is a pretty big issue for me because IE is feels slow and ponderous next to Firefox (and firefox keeps getting better) but not yet big enough for me to drop Snapfish because I am happy with everything else.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Costco Photo Paper Works with Epson CX6600

I tried the Kirkland Signature Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper from Costco on the Epson CX6600. I was worried it wouldn't work because I had problems with the Kodak Photo Paper (cracking in the reds and yellows). I am happy to report, no problems with the Costco paper and the blues are deeper like the Kodak paper (the Epson paper has slightly less saturated colors for some reason).

I couldn't find the Epson cartridges at Costco but they are available from Costco online. Costco's great return policy makes me prefer to buy from them. I have had clogged brand new cartridges in the past, Costco exchanges with no question.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Photo Memory Book Arrived

The "Memory Book" we ordered from Snapfish arrived and we love it. It's a nice little hard covered book with all our best Italy pictures printed on high quality book-like pages.

I think the pre-made albums are the way to go. To me the main outputs of picture taking are albums and archives. Archives are simple enough to create on CD's or DVD's. Albums are a pain to assemble from prints, empty photo albums, labels. If you order 4x6 prints from a photo service, all you have when they arrive is another project. If you order a Memory Book, you are done.

Snapfish customer service was quick and helpful when we thought the book was lost in the mail. They offered to re-create it promptly but it arrived the next day so there was no need. E-mail Customer service was very courteous and seemed genuine in their desire to help in any way possible.

Even with the good experience with Snapfish, I took another look at Shutterfly. They have a softcover album that is only about 50 cents a page (compared to a dollar for the hardcover album). Plus, shutterfly has ample space for writing on every page and more flexible page options. Plus, Sutterfly works with my Firefox browser so I don't have to go into Internet Explorer just to work on a photobook. I downloaded Sutterfly's software and it made it easy to upload my 122 photos for my Michele "Baby Book" project. I was ready to go with a softcover album. But, I made a few discoveries.

Discovery one: the softcover album is smaller, only 5.5 x 7.5 inches. The Snapfish album is pages are 9 x 10 7/8, the shutterfly hardcover album is 8.75 x 11.25 inches. So, on to a hardcover Shutterfly Photobook. With their January sale it will still be about the same price or less than Snapfish (more for 1st 20 pages, less for each page after 20).

Discovery number two: Shutterfly's software re-cropped my pictures and cut off parts of them! Since I have 122 pictures already uploaded to Snapfish without anything cut off, the bad cropping is a deal killer for Shutterfly for this project.

I'll be back to try Shutterfly if I can use a small book somewhere or maybe to see how their hardcover book compares. I'll need to figure out how to solve the cropping problem.

Meanwhile, I downloaded Snapfish's software, photoshow. As a Comcast customer I get the deluxe version free. It looks great, similar to Picasa which I blogged on previously but with the ability to make slideshows and put them on Video CD's. The main thing I am looking for from the software is easier uploading of photos to Snapfish. The web based upload procedure goes by the single picture and is very cumbersome. If the Snapfish software works for me, Snapfish will have a pretty good overall solution.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Picasa--Pretty Cool

Google is becoming the king of free software. Picasa is a very nice photo organizer and fixer. Two neat things:

1. It finds all the photos on your system when you install it. It also updates the folders that it expects to have photos. It organizes them more or less by folders. I can find all the stuff.

2. You can do simple fixes to photos like cropping, doing an auto color correction, or fixing red eye without changing the original file. It stores it in some auxilarly storage so you can _always_ revert back to the picture.

The ability to work on a file without changing it has been a godsend working on some family pictures that were scanned as whole album pages rather than individual pictures. I can crop and correct one photo from an album page, export it out as a new file then go back to the original page to start working on a new picture off the page.

I have Photoshop but I don't have any grasp of how to get much of the value out of it. Picasa does the simple, surface stuff easily and safely.

Picasa is now owned by Google and is a free download from:

Thumbs up, especially for free.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

150 Years of Progress on Freedom and Equality in America

150 years ago in America people were owned, bought, sold, and used like farm animals. The major export of the United States (Cotton) was dependent on slave labor. No major political party dared advocate abolishing slavery where it existed. The "Radical" Republicans only dared oppose the extension of slavery. Most large businesses and other non-religious institutions, North and South, were complicit with slavery by investing or dealing with slave owners and slave based commerce. Most individuals North and South practiced and accepted discrimination against African Americans in their own localities. Churches had split over slavery by the 1840's not because Northerners dared call for abolition in the South (much less offer church membership to African Americans in the North), but because Southern branches would not accept any condemnation of slavery as morally problematic. The United States was one of the most free and equal societies in the world at that time.

100 years ago slavery had been gone for 40 years, but:
-open and constant discrimination against African Americans was accepted and practiced by most Americans. Separate but equal had been enshrined by a supreme court ruling. The vote was effectively denied to most African Americans. Theodore Roosevelt was widely censured for dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House.
-Women were not allowed to vote and women's rights in general were widely dependent on their relationship to a man. Women's participation in the labor force was restricted by unrestrained fertility, open discrimination, and strong social mores.
-Jews as well as many immigrants from "less desirable" parts of Europe were openly discriminated against in education, jobs, and even lodging.
And yet, The United States was one of the most free and equal societies in the world.

50 years ago women had the right to vote, but:
-Schools in the south were segregated, African Americans were still effectively denied the right to vote in many states, Economic, educational, and social opportunities were denied to African Americans.
-Social and Economic opportunities for women were still highly restricted.
-Discrimination against Jews and other ethnic groups was still open in some areas.
And yet, the United States was one of the most free and equal societies in the world.

This year:
-an African American woman born 50 years ago in Alabama will succeed another African American as Secretary of State. The qualifications of an African American Supreme court Justice to become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are being widely debated. An African American defeated another African American to become U.S. Senator from Illinois. Public schools still don't provide equal education, but choice in education (Vouchers, Charter Schools, etc.) is improving opportunities for the poor wherever it is tried. An African American secretary of education fought for and won significant accountability through testing from the educational establishment. The face of America to the world as often as not has dark skin (I couldn't list all the African American athletes, entertainers, and public officials who are the ambassadors of the United States to the world).
-Women have greatly expanded economic opportunities and earn more than half of college degrees as well as significant proportions of advanced degrees in most fields including law and medicine. Wage differentials have declined to the point where they can be explained by time lost in the labor force due to child rearing and occupational choices for flexibility. Inequality is still significant and many inequalities (e.g., incarceration rates, homicide rates, life expectancy) bear unfavorably on men.
-Discrimination on ethnic or religious basis is rarely tolerated openly except where there is a claim of past discrimination to correct (affirmative action). There is work to do on more subtle discrimination.
And yes, the United States is among the most free and equal countries in the world today.

Past progress in human rights and equality makes me optimistic for the next 50 years. I am particularly optimistic since over each of those 50 year periods living standards for all Americans, particularly the poorest Americans, have improved measurably and dramatically. Life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, average height, literacy rate, just about anything you can measure has improved. Today, obesity is the most widespread dietary problem among poor Americans.

Worldwide progress on freedom and equality has also been great over long sustained periods. Europe and the world's struggles with fascism and Communism created huge backward steps in freedom and equality in the 20th century. I am optimistic (perhaps foolishly) that the European Union can create a framework for progress in Europe that can withstand challenges.

America is often portrayed as divided but almost all Americans can applaud the progress of the last 150 years and work for more progress on freedom and equality in the United States and the world.

Gillette M3 Power Razor-Vibrating razor

My brother told me about the Gilette Vebrating razor. He said he doesn't get any cuts with it. Checked it out in Consumer Reports--their review was pretty extensive. Consumer reports had people compare it to the old Gillette 3 blade system which is what I used. They said it was about even.

So, I gave it a go. I wouldn't say I get any smoother shave out of it (I still need to shave my roughest spot twice). But I would say it is less likely to cut and the vibrating motion does make the shave feel for more comfortable. The blades are interchangeable with the other Gillette 3 blade system.

So, marginal thumbs up. I'm going to keep using it, though I wouldn't say it is something you can't live without.