THE "CROSS-MAS" CHRONICLES
Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings to all! After last year’s water disaster – from a broken upstairs toilet – we were really fortunate to avoid being flooded during Hurricane Harvey – in spite of getting 46” of rain in a very short time! Our main adventure this year – a huge undertaking – was cleaning out our house and putting it back together. It’s still a work in progress. Six weddings within about 9 months set the timing and destinations for our trips this year. One was a 6-week road trip for a wedding in New England, and on the way we saw many great friends and visited 6 more capitols, bringing our total to 48 in recent years. My mom, now 93, is doing well and staying much healthier in assisted living. The kids and 4 grandkids are also doing well, and so are we, so life is good!!!
The trip of a lifetime – Rebuilding the house
I really need to get a glass of wine – or maybe two – to explain this. Rebuilding the whole inside of the house was a real trip – unlike the ones we’re used to. Getting a contractor took much longer than we expected. We were so glad we got the whole project done before Hurricane Harvey hit. Now, it is still close to impossible to find a contractor and, if you do, you’ll pay a fortune and wait forever. Our “water event” happened the last of September, 2016, and we didn’t start the rebuild until January, 2017. We had to do the project in 2 stages – first, the garage, and, second, the rest of the house. For the garage rebuild, we could stay in our house. The actual project work took about 2 weeks. The beams had sunk 2.5 inches over the 22-foot span because the former owners made the attic into a bedroom, but without properly reinforcing the bedroom floor. They just put carpet over plywood and forgot about it. After the sheetrock had fallen in the garage from all the water from the 2nd floor, we could see that some of the beams were not even being supported by the load-bearing walls. It’s funny how sheetrock can cover up so many sins. All the old joists had to be jacked up and reinforced – each sandwiched between 2 more 2 x 12s. Finally, a proper floor for the “room” above was installed. In order for all of this to happen, we - that is John and I - had to completely clean out the garage. That may not seem like such a big job, but it was huge because of all of the wet stuff the water remediators had piled in the garage when pulling things out of the house – furniture, washer and dryer, moldy books, vinyl albums, garbage bags upon garbage bags upon garbage bags of stuff – all had to be cleared. Thankfully, we were able to get a portable storage POD into our driveway to contain stuff we could still use. Anything salvageable that we didn’t need went to local charities.
After the garage was done – and we now have the Taj Mahal of garages – we had to clear out everything in the house in order for the crew to gut it. John and I had to remove everything from the 1st and 2nd floor. We could leave beds, desks and credenzas, but everything in them had to be removed. After 37 years of living in the same house, one gets a lot of “stuff “- John calls it “crap.” Well, how do you move all of that “stuff?” You put it in boxes. Where do you get boxes? Well, at your local liquor store, of course. When you go to the liquor store to get boxes, what else do you get? Well, liquor, naturally. The boxes are free. The liquor, not so much. We thought that the “house” project would follow right after the “garage” project, but there was so much to do. All of the stuff in the POD had to go back into the garage. All of the stuff in the house had to go in the POD and in the garage. We couldn’t fit it all in those areas, so we also stored things in our bedroom and master closet, the only 2 areas that we didn’t renovate. I emptied every cabinet in the kitchen, laundry room, bar, bathrooms and bedrooms. There were hundreds of boxes. We didn’t count, but we made a lot, and I do mean, A LOT, of trips to the liquor store.
Besides emptying the whole house, everything needed for the rebuild had to be selected, ordered and ready to go before the contractor would begin. This was no small task either. What kind of cabinets do you want? How do you want to change in the house? What about plumbing fixtures, lights, flooring downstairs, carpeting upstairs, countertops, backsplash, tub, toilets, tub surround, colors, wallpaper, sinks, etc., etc., etc. John got tired (and bored) of going to all those decorator/design kind of stores. Finally, the house project began March 2. The guys gutted the kitchen, bar and all the bathrooms, save for the master shower. Everything was gone - the tile floor, the upstairs tub, every cabinet, sink and appliance – the house was now unlivable. For the next 2 months, we camped out in a 1-bedroom apartment at an extended-stay hotel about ½ mile from the house. I went to the “project” every day. John stayed at the hotel, where he set up “computer central” and scanned photos from his mother’s collection of family pictures from John’s childhood and teenage years. He also cooked and had a nice dinner ready when I came back from the house. The arrangement worked out well – there were also “his” and “hers” TVs in our apartment, which was really great for domestic tranquility. At the “house,” I really needed to watch what was going on. The workers were always asking questions about what we wanted. I also needed to be sure things were installed properly and the way I wanted them. Although, I had selected most of the things that were to go into the house, about a month into the project, I hired an interior decorator. This took a lot of the stress out of trying to pick room colors and wallpapers out of millions of possibilities – which comes to my next topic – there are so many choices of “things” these days that it makes your head spin. Just take a light bulb. In the old days, you go to a store to get a light bulb. Mostly, all you needed to know was the wattage. Now, you also need to know what kind of light - incandescent, LED, halogen, etc., what “color temperature,” do you want it dimmable or not, etc., etc. For most everything we needed, there were literally zillions of choices. Thankfully, there’s the Internet, but you can still spend hours, days, weeks, YOUR LIFE… looking through choices to get the right fixture, toilet, towel bar, sink, cabinet hardware, etc. Then, there’s the ordering and receiving, which seems pretty straightforward, but not without its challenges. I ordered a framed 44” x 60” mirror. It came damaged a first, second and third time. Finally, after the 4th attempt, we received an undamaged mirror. After 3 broken ones, we were almost afraid of opening the 4th one. They said we could keep them all, which takes you to the next project of getting rid of those ones you can’t use.
In late April, after 2 months, we were happy to get back into the house. Then, began the job of unpacking the boxes – after lining all the shelves. I’m still working on the boxes and hoping to become more of a “minimalist.” But, reducing the amount of stuff is still a huge job. And, where to go with all those boxes – well, maybe back to the liquor store?
Six weddings – six trips
With all the house rebuilding, there was little time to plan our travel this year. However, that didn’t stop us. We wouldn’t want to miss a wedding and a good party, so we planned our trips around the blessed events, seeing friends and family along the way. Since Christmas last year, we made a couple trips to Fort Worth for two weddings and, in one of the trips, we toured and learned the history of the stockyards. Fort Worth even has a real longhorn cattle drive down its main street a couple times a day.
In mid-May, we drove to New Orleans for my best friend’s daughter’s wedding. Love New Orleans and the partying is de rigueur in the “Big Easy.”
In mid-June, we headed off to the wedding destination of Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts. Along the way we visited many, many friends and our two older sons and their families. We also visited the sights and toured the capitols of North and South Carolina. We stopped in Fredericksburg, VA for a few days. This charming town was where the movers and shakers of colonial time lived. We visited the boyhood home of George Washington, as well as homes of his mother, sister and James Monroe. Nearby is Mount Vernon, and, although we had been there before, it was greatly expanded with fabulous museums, theaters, a grist mill and distillery – John’s favorite. (But we passed on the 2-yr old rye at $188/12 oz.) In Maryland, we visited the capitol in Annapolis. In PA, besides seeing our oldest son Richard and his family, we toured the Martin Guitar factory. In Massachusetts we visited some of the coastal towns and toured the Mason and Hamlin piano factory in Haverhill, one of 3 piano factories left in the US. While in Massachusetts, we weren’t far from New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, so we extended our trip to tour their state capitols and spend four days in Acadia National Park. John scouted out the best lobsters in the area and we enjoyed them tremendously.
Later in the summer, we flew to Oregon to attend the wedding of my niece Rachel Coussens. It turned out it was hotter in Oregon that week than it was in Texas. Go figure? Smoke from the many forest fires put a haze over the usual spectacular views, but we were happy to see so many friends and relatives and ride the dunes in Florence in the short trip.
In early October, my best friend’s youngest son was getting married in Las Cruces, NM. On the way there, we visited Big Bend Nat. Park, Terlingua, Fort Davis and McDonald Observatory. I slid down the quartz sand dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park and we hiked at Guadalupe Peaks National Park. We were close to Roswell, so had to go. It’s pretty cheesy with all the green aliens and such, but there is also art. Peter Hurd who married into the N.C. Wyeth family, lived there. He painted LBJ’s portrait, which Johnson rejected. We also revisited White Sands Nat. Monument – my favorite!
The “Kids” - Richard, 36, and Christiane and Active Andrew and Austin - now “3”
Richard and Christiane live in Kennett Square, PA with 3-year-old twin sons, Andrew and Austin. The boys love trucks and all things mechanical with wheels. Penny, their dog is often part of the action. We visited in June and had a great time with them and their wonderful neighbors. Richard is the head of Quantitative Research at Moody’s Analytics, and Christiane is in Business Development and Innovation for Gor-tex fabrics at W.L. Gore.
Robert, 34, and Laura - Handsome Peyton, 5 and Sweet Kensie, 2
Robert and Laura are also busy with careers and raising son Peyton and daughter Kensie. Peyton, now 5, started kindergarten at a new school. He loves playing games, but hates to lose. Kensie loves dressing up as Disney princesses. She looks so grown up, it’s hard to believe she’s only 2. In June, we visited and celebrated their May birthdays. Robert took a new job this year and is now a senior product manager at Promethean, a company involved with interactive educational technology for schools. Laura is the Director of Co-Brand Credit Cards with InterContinental Hotels Group. We celebrated both Thanksgiving and an early Christmas with them in Alpharetta in late November.
Dave, 31 – Makes a Third Attempt at Denali
Dave, our youngest son, lives in New Orleans and works for Shell as a Completions and Well Interventions Engineer in natural gas fracking. Sometimes he’s deployed off shore in the Gulf. In May, he made a third attempt to climb Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska. He got as far as High Camp at 17,200 feet, the last stop before the top, but foul weather prevented summitting. He loves hiking with Brody, his smart, cute and frisky border collie.
All the best for a blessed Christmas and New Year!!!