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26-DEC-2011 jCross

Christmas 2011

Xmas 2011P.jpg

Dear Friends and Family,
Christmas greetings to all!!! It’s been an interesting year for us – full of “changes,” “travel,” “sadness” and “joy.” The big “change” is “retirement”- more on that later. “Travel” was great this year with a 5-week trip to South America including the Galapagos, Ecuador and Peru, and, besides summer and two other trips to Oregon, we made a couple road trips – one to Glacier National Park and various Lewis and Clark sites, and the other to different Civil War and historical sites on the East coast. “Sadness” was John’s mom’s passing in February. And, there is “joy,” as we await the birth of our first grandchild next May. We are well this holiday season, and we hope that this finds you in good health and spirits, too.

Fall in the Galapagos, Ecuador and Peru
John is always up for traveling, and one of his “Bucket List” items was the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. After trying to determine the best time to go to the Galapagos, and doing some Internet searching, we found a 2-week trip on a 16-guest yacht with Galapagos Travel, which became the core of an off-season September/October 5-week trip, including a week on the Ecuadorian mainland and 2 weeks in Peru.

Our first week was in and around Quito on mainland Ecuador with three personal tours. With just a guide, a driver, John and I, the “private tour” experience was new and exciting. We found it absolutely fantastic. From Quito, we first went south through the Andean “Avenue of the Volcanoes” to Zumbahua, home to a local Indian market. This was definitely rural with many indigenous people, though poor, wearing their local, colorful native costumes. The market had everything from people with old peddle sewing machines set up to mend peoples’ clothes to foods – fresh and cooked - and just-butchered meats of all kinds to Shamans with their remedies to help cure one’s ailments. We saw no other tourists at this market; it was definitely off the beaten path. Next, we went to Quilotoa Crater, which was a huge caldera, like our Crater Lake, but smaller and without an internal island. The next day, after staying at a fabulous and elegant old hacienda from the mid-1600’s, we went to Cotopaxi Volcano National Park.

Except for the snow-covered volcano, the landscape looked barren and Martian. In comparison with the US, the national parks in Ecuador are primitive, at best. The roads were rocky, bumpy and rutty. At one point, we forded a stream with the van, and, if it rained, we would have had to return through the stream before it got too high for the vehicle to cross back.

After the trip south, we went with another guide and driver north of Quito to Bellavista, a cloud forest preserve, which was lush, green and full of many birds found no where else. Although we’re not “birders,” this was a “birder’s paradise.” There were zillions of different and exotic hummingbirds and our “birder” guide led us on various walks, identifying many different species. We stayed in a rustic lodge in the jungle-like woods, which was very calming - definitely an “eco-trip.” We also saw an orchid preserve, a butterfly farm and did our first “zip lining” through the forest – a real rush! Before leaving the northlands, we went to another caldera, Lake Cuicocha, at the foot of Cotacachi volcano and to the Otavalo Indian market for gifts and souvenirs.

Our third tour excursion was to Quito itself and the Mitad del Mundo – Middle of the World – where we straddled the Equator. The town had many elaborate churches built by the Spanish, and although the Spanish took lots of gold from the country, lots of gold went into gilding the entire insides of these very spectacular churches.

The next two weeks were in the Galapagos, part of Ecuador and mostly national park land. Although the yacht held 16, our group was only 10 plus a national park interpreter (required for all - including the locals - to go on to national park land) and a tour guide, who has been to the Galapagos over 400 times. Typically, each day, we would take a couple of hikes to see the fauna and flora of the various islands, snorkel once or twice (in our wet suits) with the seal lions, Galapagos penguins, turtles and tropical fish, and go on dinghy (Panga) rides around the shores or mangroves to see different sea birds and aquatic life. The variety of scenery and the animal life, especially seeing animals like giant tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, albatrosses, and, of course the red and blue footed boobies in the wild, were highlights of the experience.

After the Galapagos, we spent the last 2 weeks in Peru. Starting in Lima, we took in several museums on our own before heading to the Andes to see the incredible Inca ruins of Machu Picchu (~8000 ft), Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and the famous floating reed islands of the Uros Indians at Lake Titicaca (12,500 ft). Unexpectedly, near Machu Picchu, we even got a glimpse of Mick Jagger surrounded by screaming fans as he tried to leave the market place at Pisac. The high altitude made for slower uphill walking, but, fortunately, we did not get altitude sickness. Over the desert coastal region of Peru, we flew over the famed Nazca lines, to view some of the large, mostly animal, figures drawn by pre-Inca cultures. Like Ecuador, Peru is a poor country, and we were also able to visit some of the indigenous people in their native villages and huts. Some lived on various islands in Lake Titicaca and others in very remote areas. Their life styles were definitely primitive – no running water, indoor plumbing, little or no electricity or medical care – yet, they were cheerful. The experience was humbling and makes one grateful to be living where we do.

Summer in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana
Our summer was in Oregon again this year. It was cooler and wetter than normal in Oregon, which made it much more pleasant than hotter, drier Texas. This summer, Houston was hotter and drier than last year, which was then Houston’s hottest since 1908! Great time to escape the heat!

On the coast, we stay in a vintage motor home that Mom and Dad once used. It’s small and quaint, but we still had several visits from our Houston friends. We love showing off the beautiful scenery along the Oregon and Washington coasts near the mouth of the Columbia River. Of course, clamming is one of my favorite sports and we dug enough for a big clam feed for Dad for Father’s Day.

Like the previous three summers, we again volunteered at Fort Clatsop National Historic Park commemorating Lewis and Clark's 1805-1806 winter. John dresses in leather to give talks and demonstrations on shooting the 1795 Springfield musket, starting fire with flint and steel, the history of the Star Spangled Banner, and using the sextant and chronometer like Lewis and Clark did for determining position and map making. We both did park exit surveys and group tours. My sister Patty, an excellent seamstress, and I also made two 1804 uniform coats like the Corps of Discovery might have used on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

In late August, we took a couple weeks to go to Glacier National Park in Montana for hiking and horseback riding. The Rocky Mountain scenery was breathtaking and on our hikes we saw beautiful lakes and waterfalls, as well as lots of critters - grizzlies (at a distance) fishing and foraging, mountain goats, big horn sheep, moose and squirrels. If you’re interested in going, note that the “Road to the Sun” did not open completely until the middle of July this year and the first snowfall could come as early as mid-September. On our way, we hiked around Mt. Rainier in Washington and on our way back, we stopped at several Lewis and Clark sites, such as Great Falls, Montana, and Travelers Rest, Idaho. In Lewiston, Idaho, we took an all-day, very fun, super scenic, 200+ mile jet boat ride on the rapids of the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon at the Idaho and Washington/Oregon border. Before completing the road trip, we took a scenic drive to Joseph, Oregon, and Wallowa Lake, where we went up Mt. Howard on the steepest tramway in North America.

When not volunteering and traveling, I kept watch on my parents and attempted to make a living history video of their life growing up. I captured the raw footage, but now need to tackle the editing. Of course, besides driving my folks around, I enjoyed picking and eating all the fresh farm goodies - cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, currants, figs, apples, pears, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, beans and cucumbers.

Thanksgiving and a little trip in American History
This year, our oldest son, Richard and his wife, Christiane, invited us for Thanksgiving at their new home near Philadelphia. We made a road trip out of it and saw middle son, Robert and his wife, Laura, in Alpharetta, GA, on the way. The trip had its share of adventure when our car’s fuel pump died in South Carolina. We are thankful for AAA, and that we broke down in daylight. I also found out that our car’s fuel pump resides in the gas tank and watched its dismantling to install the new pump. At dusk, the repairs were made and we started toward Philadelphia, arriving at 4:30 in the morning. Since we arrived a few days before Thanksgiving, we could recover from the all-nighter and enjoy the holiday. Our youngest son, David, also came in from Houston, and the time together was lots of fun and very relaxing.

Since we had not been in Philadelphia for more than an airplane transfer, we visited some of the historic sites, such as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Mint, and Benjamin Franklin’s printing shop. Of course, we also had to nosh on the famous Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. With the kids, we also saw Valley Forge, the Brandywine River Museum, and the famous Longwood Gardens of the DuPont’s, which was spectacularly lit up and decorated for the Christmas season.

After the Thanksgiving weekend, John and I set out on a free-form “Magical History Tour,” visiting the Civil War battle sites of Gettysburg, Antietam, Harpers Ferry, Manassas, where the first major battle occurred, and Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered. We also toured Madison’s home at Montpelier, Jefferson’s home at Monticello, and Monroe’s home at Ash Lawn-Highland, all near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Last year, I was wondering about retirement. This year, we have been traveling so much, we have to be retired. I might still do a little tutoring, but not on a regular schedule. When I’m home, I’d like to fix up the house and guest rooms.

John is now full time into his hobbies of flying and photography. (See his photo website This year, we even shot a wedding, which was interesting and fun.

Richard, 30, and Christiane move into their first home
In order to have jobs within a commutable distance from each other, this year, Richard got a new job as a product strategist with Moody’s Analytics just outside Philadelphia. With the job change, Richard and Christiane moved this summer from Baltimore, MD to Kennett Square, PA, where they bought their first home on an acre of wooded property in horse country. The backyard is their own park and, as avid “birders,” they are able to enjoy a variety of birds that come to their many feeders. With their love the outdoors, they hiked around Washington in the northern Cascades and Olympic National Park this summer. Christiane continues to work as a product specialist with W.L. Gore in Elkton, MD and is still into tennis.

Robert, 28, and Laura are expecting their first child
Robert and Laura’s big news is that they are expecting their first child – a boy – next May. We are all very excited. Besides continuing to decorate their home, Laura has begun preparing the nursery and buying baby things like books, stuffed animals and little clothes. Rob hasn’t yet put up a basketball hoop or ordered golf clubs, but I’m sure they will be ready when the time comes. Robert works with Manufacturing Resources International, a subsidiary of American Panel Corporation, which manufactures large LCD screens for outdoor advertising. Laura is with InterContinental Hotels Group and was recently named Manager of New Business Delivery. In May, they celebrated their third anniversary by going to London and Paris.

Dave, 25, got a great job
In January, Dave left Chicago behind and moved back to Texas. He stayed with us while he looked for a job, this time in his field of Mechanical Engineering. At home, he stayed computer-bound, playing video games and sending out his resume. In the spring, he landed a job as an oilfield consultant, but after about 6 weeks, the company asked him to relocate to Dumas, TX (a little town about 45 minutes north of Amarillo next to nowhere). When they learned he wasn’t interested, he was back to the drawing board looking for a job. When John and I were in Oregon for the summer, he got an interview and landed a job with Shell Oil. He started Aug. 1, and is enjoying his job in gas well finishing. He now happily has his own apartment on the other side of town. Of course, before any furniture arrived, he got the must-have “guy-essential” equipment for the man cave, a 55-inch LED, 3-D HDTV. When not at work, he enjoys working out and playing ultimate Frisbee with friends.

Mom and Dad celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in May, and John, Dave and I were able to join friends and family in Oregon for the grand celebration. Mom turned 87 in March and we went to Oregon to celebrate Dad’s 91st birthday in November. Both of them are moving slower – Mom with a walker and Dad with his cane – but they are happy to be still living on the farm.

New Year's “Christmas” in Alpharetta, GA
We are very excited to be together at Robert and Laura’s in Alpharetta 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!

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