2017 in review


Bob, Brigid, Mary, Iyska, Scott, Greg, Karen, River, Tenzing, Akari, Noriko

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Wong Family

Akari – at her “3-year-old” photo session in Japan
Noriko’s mother Yuko and brother Nobu
Akari – age 4
Karen age 2, River and Mary










River at home, Mount Shasta


Another year already? We barely got used to 2017 and its already in the rear-view mirror. We wonder if 2018 will zip past also. We’re still busy skating and working, and trying to spend time with family and friends.

Tenzing and Iyska learned to swim this summer, once they figured out that floating is possible. Akari turned 4 and draws, reads and writes at every chance, but is a bit disappointed Greg and Mary can’t read or write Japanese. In addition to her Japanese pre-school, she started attending their local neighborhood pre-school, so her English-skills are taking off.

River – age 2 – is learning alphabet letters, colors,  and how to count, and seems to be personally acquainted with everyone in Mount Shasta.

Mary and her sister Ruth – painting Mom’s shutters – Happy Birthday Mom! 
Mary, Noriko and Akari – Odori Dancing at one of the Obon Festivals we attended.


Fall Yosemite hiking








Tenzing and Iyska, 6th grade and 4th grade, are getting used to small-town life in the central valley after moving to Oakdale. They also had a big change in their family, with the arrival of their new baby sister in August.

(Scroll all the way to the end for “PAVLOV’S LIGHT SWITCH”)

EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: Mary took Tenz and Iys on a 3800-mile road-trip to Yellowstone and other monuments and parks, navigating by mountain range: Sierras, Tetons, Absarokas, Bighorns and Black Hills.

Tenzing was in charge of the computers and power strips and cables. Iyska took care of the camera, kept it charged and handy, and she was the chief cinematographer.  It turns out she shares Mary’s love for random scenic out-the-car-window shots.

They alternated staying in hotels and camping. Yellowstone has the geysers and wildlife: bison, a coyote that was shadowing them on the trail, crows and ravens, and a grizzly bear mama and cubs. The highlight of each national park was the Junior Ranger program. Tenz and Iys couldn’t wait to get their hands on the activity books, answering questions and drawing pictures, identifying plants and features, learning about what makes the park important, and attending the ranger talks. The rangers make each swearing-in a special event in the kids’ lives, and the Junior Ranger patches and badges are the favorite souvenirs. Highlights included photo taking at each new State Line sign.

Thanks to the rangers in Yellowstone and Yosemite, for talking about the wild-life, how important it is to respect the animals that call the park their home, and how visitors need to understand that humans are not the top of the food chain. Thanks to the ranger at Devil’s Tower for talking about the culture of the Native Americans and what the month of June and Summer Solstice means to them. We saw prayer bundles hung in trees all along the trail that goes around the tower.

Thanks also to the amazing story-telling skills of the ranger at Little Bighorn. We sat in the front row, and thought we were watching a One-man play as the ranger took us through the culture clash between Manifest Destiny and the Native-Americans protecting their way of life. He explained how the Cavalry’s overconfidence led to the massacre, and how the natives were doomed anyway.

in the streambed at the top of Illilouette Falls Yosemite
Another big rock, Yosemite 2017
One of many tailgate picnics


Solemn moment at Memorial benches and table for Japanese interned at Heart Mountain WY

Trying on deerskin clothes: Lewis and Clark monument at Pompey’s Pillar, MT
Lakota family demonstrating traditional singing and dance: Crazy Horse SD
Little Bighorn Battlefield and Monument WY. Tenzing said, “They were doing to the Natives what they did to the Japanese 70 years later.”
Imagining the battle, markers where soldiers died
Tenzing wearing a bear-skin. He was told not to let the feet drag on the ground or he would have to clean them with his tongue.

Grizzly mama and cubs

Frank Peacock immigrated from England – shot and killed 1880 age 20 Fort Fetterman WY – maternal relative
When your oxen die
at the base of Devil’s Tower

Iyska – chief photographer
Ancient Glyphs
Petroglyphs at Legend Rock, WY
150-year-old wagon tracks – Iyska said it is actually someone’s driveway. Maternal great-x5 grandmother died and is buried somewhere out there


The newest gadget to take up residence is Alexa. Alexa is the Amazon version of the personal assistant/voice activated computer/spy that you hook up to your internet. “She” responds to all sorts of commands: “Alexa, what time is it?” “Alexa, what is the temperature?” “Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes.” “Alexa, what is the air speed velocity of an un-laden swallow?” That muttering from Greg’s office that Mary has been ignoring? Greg is talking to Alexa. If you start your command with “Alexa, Simon Says…” Alexa will repeat whatever follows “Simon Says…” Since four are now in the house, Greg had to conduct an experiment. He told one of them: “Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says Alexa, Simon says Alexa Simon says …” Then he quickly set another one next to it. The first one repeated what he said; the second repeated it back, with one less “Simon says.” They kept repeating it to each other, subtracting one “Simon says” for each round, until they ran out. Happy dance from Greg. Mary doesn’t appreciate the finer points of artificial intelligence.

Greg couldn’t wait to tell the grandkids. Iyska shouted: “Alexa: Play the Duck Song! Alexa: Volume 10!” Immediately the Duck Song issues forth at high volume, so loud Alexa couldn’t hear us yelling “Alexa OFF Alexa OFF!” If there was an “11” Iyska would have used it. Iyska taught Akari to use it. Akari was talking quietly to Alexa: “Alexa, play Zootopia.” When it didn’t work, Akari said “Alexa PLEASE play Zootopia.”


One of Greg’s customers asked him to automate their factory’s light switches so they could be operated remotely. So, of course, now the lights at home are linked to the computer and controlled by Alexa. We’re no longer slaves to light-switch drudgery.We get home and announce “Alexa, I’m home!” and all the lights turn on. Homeland security records the date and time, I’m certain. No more going back downstairs to turn off a forgotten light. At the command: “Alexa, all off!” all the lights turn off. That’s the plan. In actuality, I walk up the stairs and because of 30 years of practice, my right hand reaches for the switch on the wall. My fingers touch the switch, push it up, and I’m half-way through the room in the dark before I remember to say “Alexa, light on!” By now I’m across the room and I turn on the bathroom light which, thankfully, still works the old-fashioned way. Going back into the still-dark room I remember the command: “Alexa, BEDROOM on!” but it doesn’t matter because I forgot what I went in there for anyway. I leave the room, the light turns on, so I finish whatever the heck I was doing. Going back out, my left hand automatically reaches up and hits the switch. I turn around to look at the Alexa sitting on the desk, taunting me with her smug blue light. She ignores me when I say “Alexa, Bedroom Off.” I repeat “Alexa, bedroom off!!” using different pitches and pauses. Such a convenience. I wonder if they’ll come up with a hand-operated switch for these things.

We’re going to have Alexa write our newsletter next Christmas. What could go wrong?