Dear Friends and Family,
All our very best wishes for Christmas to everyone!!! By popular demand, this edition of “Cross-mas Chronicles” is in larger type and on lighter paper. (So, forgive me if this letter looks (and is) longer.) We hope you’ve had a good year! Ours has been chock full of the “exciting,” the “interesting,” and the “concerning.” The “exciting” has come from travel - Scotland, Fiji, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, which, with Oregon trips, amounted to over 5 months away from home. The “interesting” has come mainly from what's happening with our kids – like Richard and Christiane finding Ben Stiller's wallet in Hawaii. The “concerning” has come from health issues of aging parents, who, thankfully, are doing pretty well for their years. We are well this holiday season, and we hope that this finds you in good health and spirits, too.
June in Scotland
John has really gotten the travel bug and, rightly so, believes “we better go while the gettin's good.” We had such a great time in England last year that we decided to do more of Great Britain by visiting Scotland. It was a great trip! We started out in early June in Glasgow and circled around Scotland counter-clockwise. From Glasgow, we dipped into England to see Hadrian's Wall before going to Edinburgh, where we saw Holyrood Palace, the Scottish crown jewels in Edinburgh Castle, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. At St. Andrews we saw die-hards out playing golf in 30 mph wind and pouring rain. Next, we headed to the most northeastern part of Scotland – John O'Groats – before ferrying to the Orkneys, where we visited the ancient Stone Age excavation of Skara Brae. We cruised on Loch Ness, but still no Nessie. On the western coast, we visited the Isles of Skye and Mull, and foggy, misty and mysterious Iona, where Scottish kings, including McBeth, are buried. Near the Isle of Skye, we went to the Eilean Donan castle, which I visited right after college, and the Dornie Hotel, which was once owned by good friends and whom the locals still remember well. We loved the beautiful countryside and now better understand why the Scottish cheer for the Americans versus the English in soccer.
Summer in Oregon and Washington and Volunteering at Fort Clatsop
John and I made 3 trips to Oregon this year – a week in March, two and a half weeks in November for Dad's birthday and over 11 weeks in the summer. After a little over 2 weeks in Scotland, John and I did a quick turnaround and headed to Oregon from mid-June until shortly after Labor Day. (Although Oregon was having a cooler than normal spring and summer, we didn't know until later that we were lucky to miss Houston's hottest summer since 1908!) The quick turnaround was prompted by a great clamming tide that week. Since we soon found out that our son, Dave, was now without a job, we invited him to come out to Oregon for a visit. He came for about 10 days, during which we went clamming, hiking, and touring along the Oregon and Washington coasts near the mouth of the Columbia River. He got to spend some nice time with his grandparents, including golf with grandfather. Eating fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries from the farm and garden, shooting birds with the shotgun, and going to minor league baseball games with John were also highlights. We were so happy to be able to have this time with him.
Later on in August, our middle son, Robert, also came for a few days to visit grandparents on the farm. With Robert and my Dad, we took in the local Banks parade, tractor pull and combine demolition derby. It was really a blast! Also, one of my cousins, Mitch Vandehey, drove one of the most popular combines – “Crash Test Dummies.” Robert loves to play golf and was also able to go golfing with my Dad. Most of the activities centered around meals with pie for desert.
Like the previous two summers, we again volunteered at Fort Clatsop National Historic Park commemorating Lewis and Clark's 1805-1806 winter. This summer, John gave talks and demonstrations in period costume on shooting the 1795 Springfield musket, starting fire with flint and steel, the history of the Star Spangled Banner, and how Lewis and Clark navigated and determined their position using the sextant and chronometer. Besides helping with park exit surveys, group tours and miscellaneous projects, I further expanded my background on the Lewis and Clark expedition, visited friends and family, and helped my parents on the farm.
Throughout the summer, we made various trips around the Pacific Northwest, especially along the Oregon coast. One of the trips involved going to Olympic National Park on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. This was also my maiden voyage with John in the vintage motor home. (Luckily, the only significant incident was a flat tire and, even more fortunately, we had cell phone coverage when it happened, since most of the wooded and mountainous areas had none.) We stayed near Port Angeles at Elwha Dam and spent 8 days hiking in and around the park. One side trip was to Neah Bay and the Makah Indian reservation, from which we hiked to Cape Flattery, the most northwest point of the US. We had gorgeous weather at the cape, which is amazing in itself. We also visited long-time friends in Forks, Washington, former home of the spotted owl and now the epicenter of the “Twilight” phenomenon. If you ever go to Forks, don't miss the fantastic logging and mill tour.
Fall in Fiji, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand
John has been itching to do more traveling, and one of our “dream” trips has been to go “Down Under.” We have been thinking about it for some time and finally decided to go in the fall to Fiji, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. This was really a trip of a lifetime. It took about 5 weeks and included a total of 17 flights. From Houston, we went to Dallas and then LA, where we headed to Nadi, in the Fiji islands - our first stop. The resort in Fiji was luxurious and spectacular! Every day, we had champagne breakfasts on the lanai - one day for 3 hours! From Port Denarau, we cruised for dinner one evening and another day cruised to one of the islands for snorkeling, a Fijian barbeque and entertainment. Out of the resort area, the rest of Fiji appeared somewhat poor. Tourism, followed by sugar cane, is their top source of income. The people live simply, many in little villages. One of the most interesting places we visited was an orchid garden, showcasing an immense collection donated by Raymond Burr.
After Fiji, we went to Australia, a country full of exotic animals and extraordinary plants. To start our 3 weeks in Australia, we first flew to Brisbane and motored north to the Sunshine Coast. We saw Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, with many iconic Australian animals - kangaroos, wallabies, echidna, cassowaries, kookaburras, etc. We went around Australia counter-clockwise, from Brisbane to Cairns, where we snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef, to Darwin and Kakadu National Park, to Alice Springs, in the outback - the middle of the “red center”, and then to Ayers Rock, another Australian icon. At Ayers Rock, we sipped champagne as we watched the rock change colors at sunset, and rode camels at sunrise. From Ayers Rock and the sister rocks, the Olgas, we flew back to Alice Springs, to catch the Ghan Train to Adelaide. The Ghan Train was like being on the Orient Express, with the old elegant dining and lounge cars right out of the movies. From Adelaide, we ferried to Kangaroo Island, where we saw beautiful scenery, as well as koalas and kangaroos in the wild. From our next stop at Melbourne, we went to Phillip Island to see cute “little” penguins (that's what they call them, as their former “fairy” penguins name is not politically correct) parade out of the Tasman Sea at dusk to waddle to their burrows to feed their young. From there, we went on to Hobart in Tasmania, where we saw many cute-looking, but super viscous – “would-bite your-hand-off” - Tasmanian Devils. Our last stop in Australia was Sydney, where we took an excursion to the Blue Mountains, toured the famous Opera House, drank Australian beer on a pub tour at the Rocks, and cruised the beautiful Sydney harbor.
The last 10 days of our trip were in New Zealand, which appeared to be one big, beautiful farm – zillions of sheep on the south island, beaucoup cows on the north, and even a few deer farms here and there. The free-range animals graze year-round in beautiful idyllic green pastures surrounded by manicured hedges. It was interesting to see all the school children in full uniform with blazers, shorts and knee socks – just like in those Harry Potter movies. We landed on the south island at Christchurch, from which the US departs for Antarctic studies. We even got to ride on a Hagglund all terrain vehicle that they use on ice in Antarctica. The south island of New Zealand is most beautiful with glacier-cut lakes and snow capped mountains, often called the “Southern Alps.” One notable mountain we went to was Mt. Cook, which is often climbed for training before attempting Mt. Everest. We didn't climb the mountain, but we hiked to the base of a glacier near it. Next stop was Queenstown at the edge of Fiordland National Park. There we cruised on Milford Sound, and in the rain, got a spectacular display of amazing waterfalls. In Queenstown, you can do all the wild, high adrenaline sports you can imagine. We passed on the bungie jumping and the Zorb, where you ride inside a huge ball down a hill. Instead, we took in lush scenery in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a very fast and fun jet boat ride up the braided Dart River. Although wishing we could stay longer, we flew to the north island to Rotorua, which lies on a hotbed of thermal activity, including hot springs, mud pools and the tallest geyser in the southern hemisphere. There, we learned of Măori culture at a hangi (dinner) with native singing and dancing. Another highlight was Waitomo glowworm caves where we walked, and finally boated through, caves lit only by glowworms, which looked just like little stars at night. Our final stop was Auckland, were we stayed at Sky City Hotel having the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere, before coming home. It really was a fantastic trip and we highly recommend it. The people are fun, and the scenery, flora, and fauna most unique and amazing! Do go!!! Don't wait!!!
Retirement is a big question mark. John and I are definitely out of the corporate world, but still tutor math, chemistry and physics to mostly high school kids. I love seeing the kids - they are interesting and so much fun. John continues to enjoy his hobbies of flying and photography, and, still keeps up his photo website http://www.pbase.com/ johncrossphotography. One thing's for sure, we are both keen on lots more traveling.
Richard, 29, and Christiane
This year Richard and Christiane moved from Wilmington, DE to Baltimore, MD to be centrally located between their jobs – she's a product specialist at W.L. Gore in Elkton, MD and he's the Business Intelligence Manager with EADS (European Aerospace Defense and Space Co.) in Washington, D.C. Christiane loves playing tennis and they both enjoy birding. In summer, they went to Hawaii to visit Oahu, the big island and Kauai where, just before they were to leave, they found - NO JOKE!!! - Ben Stiller's wallet!!! At first they thought it might be a “Candid Camera” set-up, but it really was his wallet, and through a pretty amazing chain of events, they got it back to him and received a personal “thank you” note with a gift basket of Kauaian goodies. However, the true prize was their incredible story.
Robert, 27, and Laura
Robert and Laura bought a house last year in Alpharetta just north of Atlanta. Laura is enjoying coordinating the inside with new furnishings, while Rob deals with outdoor issues – like tackling the lawn and manly grilling. Laura has a new position with InterContinental Hotels Group as the Manager of Partnership Programs. Robert has recently changed jobs, and, in November, started with Manufacturing Resources International, a subsidiary of American Panel Corporation, where he will work on large LCD screens for outdoor advertising. Besides a new interesting field, Rob's also excited about the much shorter commute and having every other Friday off. In May, they celebrated their second anniversary by doing their honeymoon trip to Hawaii all over again.
Last year after graduation from Georgia Tech, Dave landed a job as a bond trader in Chicago. In June, after a year on the job, Dave, along with most of the rest of the company, was laid off. Dave was not upset about it. After getting his first pay check and deciding that the government was taking too much out of it, he developed a keen interest in politics. At first, he started helping a Republican candidate (in Democratic Chicago, read that “long shot”) in his bid for the House of Representatives. Before the November elections, he ran a call center and afterward, he monitored the counting of mail-in votes. Now, we're waiting to hear if there are any job prospects in his future – or if he comes back home. (John said he could take over tutoring calculus and statistics.)
John and I are also very blessed to still enjoy our Moms, who are both 86 this year and are, generally, healthy. However, this year my Dad's health was definitely challenged. Between last Christmas and New Years, he had a major stroke, from which he remained in the hospital and rehab for a month. In March, after mostly recovering from the stroke, he was diagnosed with cancer (Stage 2 lymphoma). He immediately started treatment and got through 21 of 28 possible weeks of chemo, capped off by another hospital stay to ward off an infection. After building up his strength again, he was sent to go through a month of radiation in late July and August. Amazingly, he weathered the stroke and all the cancer treatments to celebrate his 90th birthday this November.
Thanksgiving Everywhere and New Year's “Christmas” in Houston
As all our kids live in different cities, it's not always easy coordinating holidays. This Thanksgiving, we were in Oregon with my folks, Richard and Christiane were in Jacksonville, FL, and David was with Rob and Laura in Alpharetta. We are very excited to all be together in Houston for “Christmas” around the New Year.
That's it from us! Hope to hear from you, too!! All the best for a very Merry Christmas and a Great New Year!