THE "CROSS-MAS" CHRONICLES
Dear Friends and Family,
All the merriest and most blessed Christmas to you!!! Hope you’ve had a great year!!! Since “every day is Saturday,” we’ve been in hyper travel mode – including a trip abroad to Spain and Portugal plus 5 road trips - logging over 20,000 road miles, 35 national parks and monuments, 16 state capitols, 12 Lewis and Clark sites, 3 flat tires, 2 high school and 1 family reunions, too many museums to count and great friends far and wide. Everyone’s healthy, including grandson Peyton (1½), and Mom (89) and Dad (93) Coussens, as well. For all of this, and for you, we are grateful!!!
Florida to Key West in January/February – Warm, Wild and Wonderful!
Our first road trip of the year was a 3-week, 4,000-mile trip along the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys – down the west coast of Florida and up the east. Along the way, we saw friends in Pensacola and Jacksonville, including some of John’s high school classmates in Indian Rocks Beach (near Tampa), Marco Island, Tavernier (Key Largo) and Key West. In Tallahassee, we toured the Florida capitol and visited Wakulla Springs, brimming with manatees enjoying the warm spring water. Along the west coast of Florida, we stopped at Edison and Ford’s Winter Estates in Fort Myers. In the Everglades, one of our Nat. Park friends toured us around showing us lots of birds, alligators and even an American crocodile! In other parts of the Glades, we took an airboat ride and canoed through mangroves seeing lots of anhingas, egrets, herons, buzzards, eagles and more alligators. Before going south through the Keys, we visited Biscayne, an underwater national park, where our leisure boat trip was shook up when the captain hit a pylon at full speed! In Key West, we saw some of the iconic sites, such as Ernest Hemmingway’s home, with the 6-toed cats, the Key West lighthouse, Truman’s Little White House, Ft. Zachary Taylor and the southern most tip of the US. From Key West, we took a boat 70 miles west to Dry Tortugas Nat. Park to see to Ft. Jefferson and snorkel. Of course, we couldn’t leave the Keys without having a Cheeseburger in Paradise at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café and seeing the cute little Key deer on Big Pine Key. On the east coast of Florida, we visited St. Augustine, founded in 1565, the oldest permanently occupied city in the US. After Florida, we also went to Isle of Palms in South Carolina to see friends and take a Civil War tour of Charleston.
Road trip to Natchez, Natchez Trace and Nashville in April/May – Beautiful and Historic!
Our second road trip – a 2½-week, 2,500-mile trek – went from Natchez to Nashville along the Natchez Trace. Before starting the trace, we spent a few days in Natchez along the Mississippi. Because Natchez was sympathetic to the Union in the Civil War, many of its beautiful antebellum homes are still standing today. What a treat it was to see a few of them. During Natchez’s Spring and Fall Pilgrimages, one can see about 24 of them, but we settled for 5, thinking that with any more we could get “antebellum overload.” Not far from Natchez, in Ferriday, LA, we visited the Frogmore Plantation, which was both an historic cotton plantation, as well as a current working cotton farm. There, I learned that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all of the slaves, only those controlled by the South. How did I miss this in school??? After a wonderful stay in Natchez, we hit the 444-mile trace, spending 3 days and visiting historic sites and trails along the way, including the grave of Meriwether Lewis who died in 1809 near Grinder’s Stand. At Tupelo, we took a break from the trace to visit Elvis’s birthplace home as well as the Civil War battlefield sites of Shiloh and Corinth. In Nashville, we toured the capitol and TN state museum (a real gem) and saw the Country Music Hall of Fame and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. On the way to Alpharetta for Peyton’s 1st birthday, we took a highly recommended side trip to Lynchburg to visit the Jack Daniels Distillery, complete with samples, which we both enjoyed very much!
Spain and Portugal in May/June – The wine is really cheap and really good!!!
For a change of pace, we decided to jump the pond for a month in Spain and Portugal. We spent a few days on our own in Madrid before touring around Spain. In Madrid, we saw more art than John bargained for, but he did concede that the Prado was well worth it. Some of our Spanish favorites were Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, El Escorial near Madrid, the Alhambra in Granada, and the Feast of Corpus Christi procession with medieval horse-drawn floats in Valencia, as well as Montserrat, Seville, Cordoba, Costa del Sol and the British Territory of Gibraltar. From Madrid, we flew to Lisbon to have a couple days on our own before starting a tour around Portugal. We really enjoyed an all-day-long city walking tour, including specialty foods and drinks, with a local. The highlight of Portugal was definitely Fatima. After a rosary said in five languages, tens of thousands joined in a candlelight procession. It was really a beautiful and moving experience. Other interesting Portuguese stops included olive oil tasting in Belmonte, Henry the Navigator’s school at the Promontory of Sagres, Roman ruins at Conimbriga, and miles and miles of cork trees in southern Portugal. When we get into any new place, we always like to stock up our traveling bar with some wine. Little did we know that the Spanish and Portuguese wines would be so cheap and so tasty. A visit to the Palacio De Mateus in Portugal brought back nostalgic memories of the Mateus we drank in college. Besides the wine, we both also really, really liked sampling all the port, such as at Sandeman’s in Oporto. Cheers!!! More miles: 10,000 by air, 3,339 by bus, 300 by train
Road Trip Out West to Oregon and So Much In Between
This summer we changed up our routine, so instead of volunteering at Ft. Clatsop as we did the last 5 summers, we ventured out on a 6½-week, 7,500-mile road trip - our first ever drive to Oregon. Along the way, we saw many places that we usually only fly over, such as Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, the Black Hills, Cody, Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Craters of the Moon, Dinosaur, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Rocky Mountain Nat. Park and Garden of the Gods. We also toured state capitols in Oklahoma City, Topeka, Boise, Salt Lake, Denver, and Santa Fe, Lewis and Clark sites along the Missouri River and Pompeys Pillar out of Billings. In Oregon, we saw family at the Coussens’ Reunion, classmates at the 45th Hilhi Reunion, and many Lewis and Clark friends at Ft. Clatsop in Astoria. In Colorado, we stayed in ski resort towns Steamboat Springs and Estes Park and visited Lyons, Glen Haven, Boulder and Manitou Springs, where we took the cog railroad up Pikes Peak, luckily just weeks before the devastating floods hit in early September. Before heading home, we also stopped in Albuquerque to visit friends. It was on this trip that we got one of the 3 flats – the scariest was a massive blowout at 80 mph in the Idaho high desert! Besides John’s good driving skills, we were glad to have AAA!!!
Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Beyond – Plus the Government Shutdown
As if we needed an excuse, the purpose of this trip was to attend John’s 45th high school reunion in Downers Grove, IL. It turned into a 4½-week, 4400-mile road trip, even after a week was clipped due to the government shutdown. We left around mid-September, heading north to Arkansas, where we saw Hot Springs Nat. Park and, in Little Rock, the state and historic state capitols. On the drive from Little Rock to St. Louis, the rain was so hard it removed the Love Bugs that cemented themselves to our car on the way out of Texas. We loved St. Louis, especially the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, the Anheuser-Busch brewery (and all the free beer there and at Grant’s Farm), U.S. Grant’s home, dinner cruising on the Mississippi and seeing Wood River, the starting point for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. After St. Louis, we went to LOL (Land of Lincoln), where, in Springfield, we saw the Illinois capitol and the phenomenal Lincoln Museum and Library. (It’s a must if you are ever in that area.) After a few other sites, we headed to Downers Grove for John’s high school reunion, a packed 3-day celebration. We also saw cousins in Lakewood before heading to Indianapolis and Columbus to see friends and more state capitols. We visited our son Richard and Christiane in PA before heading south to VA to see friends in Fairfax. Although we had intended to go to Shenandoah, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains, the government shutdown put the kibosh on that. We made a weekend stop in Alpharetta and then headed home via Jackson, MS and Baton Rouge, seeing more state capitols and the historic capitol in LA along the way.
Dad’s Birthday and Thanksgiving in Alpharetta, with Stops in Montgomery and Biloxi
Before spending Thanksgiving with Robert, Laura and Peyton in Alpharetta, I (Ginny) made a quick trip to Oregon for my Dad’s 93rd birthday. All went well. As for Thanksgiving, I dug up my one and only hill of sweet potatoes (6 ½ lbs) and took them along with presents and other stuff to Rob and Laura’s. We had a great time and on the way back we checked out the Alabama capitol, as well as the 1st White House of the Confederacy, in Montgomery and Jefferson Davis’s last home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi.
Richard, 32, and Christiane – Get a Dog, Richard, a Glider Rating, Christiane, a Piano
In early October, we saw Richard, Christiane and their new dog, Penny, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, and had some fun walks around the Kennett Square neighborhood. Big news for Richard - he got his glider rating. Big news for Christiane - she got a grand piano; and, of course, she plays it beautifully. Richard changed positions at Moody’s Analytics and now works as a senior database engineer; Christiane continues to be a product specialist in medical devices with W.L. Gore.
Robert, 30, Laura and Peyton (1½) – Lots of Fun Times
This year we made four trips to Alpharetta, GA (Feb., May, Oct. and Nov.) to see Robert, Laura and grandson, Peyton, now jabbering and running in “random walk” motion. Peyton knows the Disney characters well, since as of this Christmas, he will have been to Disneyworld and/or Disneyland five times! Due to an office closure, Robert changed jobs this fall and is now in R&D with NanoLumens, which specializes in high-end, custom LED displays. Laura continues to work with InterContinental Hotels Group, now as the Director of Global Brands Strategic Projects.
Dave, 27 - Climbed all the High Points in the Lower 48 States
Dave, our youngest son, is having a blast this year and taking advantage of a great work schedule. As a mechanical engineer with Shell, in February, he started a 2-weeks-on/2-weeks-off assignment in the northlands of Canada (Groundbirch) in NW BC. There, at a fracking site, he’s been working on natural gas well completions and workovers, i.e. putting the production equipment on drilled wells. In the 26 weeks that he’s off during this year-long assignment, he moved out of his apartment, put his stuff in storage and climbed the highest point in all of the lower 48 states. Granted some of the southeastern and Midwestern states’ “peaks” were pretty tame, those in the west, such as Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Whitney, as well as those in the Rockies, were pretty impressive. (See his blog www.meatsleeprepeat.com for pictures/commentary.) After this assignment, which is over at the end of January, he may not want to come back to a desk job in Houston. When not climbing, he’s off skiing places like Banff and Jackson Hole. Besides his work/play adventures, he became a “Cross-Fit” trainer this year and is still eating “paleo.”