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This has been a year of great joy, and great sorrow, in our blended household. It began with Muriel and Paul at Niagara Falls for our first anniversary and an unforgettable New Year's celebration, in the nicest hotel on the Canadian side, with dinners and dancing and fireworks and romance and all those good reminders of why we've chosen to share our lives.
There followed Paul's two week lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand. The flight over was torturous (Muriel says, "I don't even do things I enjoy for 16 hours straight!) We found Sydney the typical large cosmopolitan city, with nothing but the distinctive Opera House to set it apart from any European capital. The conference there, however, was an unqualified success, and great exposure for The SETI League. By Brisbane we knew we were "down under," and had a real taste of Aussie culture and hospitality. It was beastly hot there (January, after all, is summer, and Brisbane is semi-tropical). But it was New Zealand, all 3.5 million people and 35 million sheep, which we found absolutely captivating. We long to go back -- just as soon as we can get there by Concorde.
While in Oz, we received word that Muriel's mom Joyce, who had been living with us while battling cancer, was back in the hospital. When we got home on the second of February, it was clear to us that she was losing her lengthy fight. We immediately checked her out of the hospital and brought her home where, after two weeks and with minimal medical intervention, she died in Muriel's arms. I don't know quite how to describe the impact of this experience, on the boys and on both of us.
A few days after Joyce's funeral, the offer we had made months earlier on our dream home was accepted. But before we could begin the move, Curran (age 8) fell down the hill while running for the school bus in his walker, and knocked out four front teeth. Believe it or not, Muriel is still fighting with the insurance companies over whether this constitutes an "accident!" The event happened on Friday, the 13th of March, but I don't attach too much significance to the date. It's bad luck to be superstitious. Now we need to step up the inevitable orthodontic work which we had thought we'd be able to put off for a while.
Some time earlier, we had planned a trip to Disney World with Joyce and all five of the boys. USAir was quite gracious about refunding the fares in full, so Muriel decided to invest the refund in a new computer for the boys. That they now have the most powerful system in the house speaks volumes about the technological requirement for games, which vastly exceeds the needs of science.
We started moving up to Cogan Station (six miles North of our old townhouse) on March 15th, and a month later, during our Realtor's first Open House, we had a buyer -- at our asking price! In fact, we even had a second offer waiting in the wings, and a third acquaintance who wanted the townhouse, but just didn't move quickly enough. This, mind you, in a down real estate market. (Muriel says we priced it too low; Paul says we priced it to sell, and it did just that.)
There followed a couple of months of construction, to finish up 1000 square feet of basement into deluxe (and fully accessible) living space. The result is a mansion: recent (1988) construction, well designed by an engineer, 3500 square feet, six bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, a very efficient heat pump/central air unit with thermal storage, a formal dining room which we turned into Muriel's office (since the dining table fits easily in the ample kitchen), a 288-square foot lab for Paul, living room, family room, fireplace, three-car garage, beautiful hardwood floors and solid oak doors, plus just under an acre of prime hilltop location, with forest behind, in a radio-quiet zone ideal for building radio telescopes (one is taking shape slowly, in the back-yard, even now). Best of all, we're in our obligatory school district, where we know the boys' special educational needs will continue to be met.
So of course, soon after the May close of escrow, we had to have Erika, Andrew, and Paul's dad Ben come out for a house-warming! It was also time for a proper wedding, as our civil ceremony a year and a half earlier lacked the spiritual component which is so important to both of us. The June wedding on our front lawn was conducted by the Rev. Ken Weiss, an ordained Protestant minister who is a member of Paul's temple (!), and was quite multi-cultural -- right down to the minister's Yarmulke. You can see the pictures on Paul's personal website, http://drseti.com. Just click on "Paul's Pictures" from the home page.
A large house with a large yard calls for a large dog, so after the wedding we took Erika, Andrew, Bryn, Aubrey, Devin, Curran, and Erin to the pound, and looked for an animal not easily intimidated by the crush of youthful humanity. We found Satin, an eight-month-old female black Labrador, to be gentle and affectionate with all the kids. We also found, after we got her home, that she loves to chew up everything she can sink her teeth into. That includes three extension cords, into which we had attempted to plug her electronic containment system! Satin now lives in the front yard, at the end of a long chain.
In late June we took Curran to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, for surgery which has proven to be a mixed miracle. Curran had a pump implanted in his abdomen, which injects a measured dose of Baclofen (a muscle relaxant) directly into his cerebral spinal fluid. This has been a wonderful treatment for his spasticity, allowing him to walk comfortably in his walker, with his heels flat on the floor and his legs well extended. But a recurring infection has required half a dozen follow-up visits to Pittsburgh (the longest lasting a week), and he now goes monthly to Hershey Medical Center for additional treatments. We believe his exceptionally strong immune system is trying to reject the catheter. His pediatric neurosurgeon wants to remove the pump, but he's responding so well to the Baclofen that we are resisting. A shoot-out at the Hershey Corral is imminent.
Our financial condition improved substantially in the Summer, when the Courts ruled that the boys' father was entitled to the money in the Trust Fund which his father had established for him, he being (at age 42) no longer a minor. With the earnings from those assets now officially counted as income, Kevin was forced to increase his child support payments to a reasonable level. It had bothered us all along that Kevin, who makes a better living than Paul does, had been paying less to support five children than Paul had paid to support two.
A subset of our blended household has gone with Paul on various of his half-dozen SETI trips throughout the summer. We took two of the boys to St. Louis for a conference, and (when the weather was not up to Beechcraft standards) ended up cashing in some frequent-traveler miles for first-class seats. Aubrey enjoyed the luxury; Curran hardly noticed. All seven of us attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore in August, and then the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society's annual convention in November. In between, because the boys couldn't miss school, Paul did a lecture tour of England by himself. While there, he had the honor (no, make that honour) of meeting one of his aging heroes, Sir Bernard Lovell, one of the inventors of radar during WWII.
Paul has been doing numerous radio and TV appearances this year, and in fact spent part of his week in England shooting a science documentary. He enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame, all for the wrong reasons, when a hoax was perpetrated on the SETI community in late October. For three weeks, Paul had to explain that, no, a signal from the stars had not been detected, all the while ducking charges that he was part of a massive Government cover-up. This resulted in his being invited to appear three times on the Sightings radio talk show, which is certainly a new string to his public relations bow.
In early December Ralph, the boys' paternal grandfather, died after a long illness. They now have only one grandparent, Marguerite, remaining, and she is in a nursing home, frail and confused after the removal of a brain tumor. We are thinking of advertising in the newspaper for surrogate grandparents.
This year, Muriel became a School Compliance Monitor. Working part-time for the State Department of Education, she visits school districts, auditing their compliance with special education laws. In other words, she makes trouble for the schools, now getting paid for what she used to do for free! She also continues to manage the boys' financial future through bold Internet trading. She loses enough money on some days to make Paul turn pale; then earns even more on the following day. She favors the most volatile issues on the NASDAQ, and when the system works, executing her buy and sell orders on time, it works. But the technology is a long way from maturity, and the reliability of on-line trading is still suspect. This is not a pursuit for the faint of heart.
The coming year promises more travel (Paul's back to England in February; we both get to go to Hawaii in August), more publications, more media exposure, and more battles with the doctors and the school districts. As next June is Andrew's college graduation, perhaps we'll see some of you in Santa Clara. Until then, be well, and enjoy life's wonders.
Copyright © H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 14 June 2007