photo sharing and upload picture albums photo forums search pictures popular photos photography help login
jCross | all galleries >> Galleries >> The Christmas Letter > Christmas 2012
previous | next
17-NOV-2012 Robert

Christmas 2012


Christmas, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

All the merriest and blessed Christmas to you!!! This year has been fantastic!!! The very highest point of the year was the birth of our first grandchild, a boy, Peyton James, in May. Proud parents, Rob and Laura, are over the moon, as are we!! It’s the miracle of life at its best. We are thrilled and love every minute we have with our new grandson.

In our first whole year of retirement, we are glad to report, it’s really going great – we have been having a blast traveling (over 6 months this year), dabbling at our hobbies, and spending more time with friends near and far.

Fall European Adventure from Amsterdam on the North Sea to Istanbul on the Black Sea

This year John was hot to try a European river cruise from the North Sea to the Black Sea. At first I wasn’t sure, but it turned out to be fantastic. Of course, it was also a good excuse to go to Europe and see friends and relatives. We started in Belgium, visiting cousins in Egem, south of Bruges. Besides having a great time, we saw my grandparents Coussens’ farms where they grew up and married. What a treat!! On our own, we went to Amsterdam for about a week and, besides doing lots of Amsterdam sights, we took side trips to Delft, The Hague, Arnhem and Venlo, site of the Floriade, held every 10 years, which I first saw 40 years ago. For about a week, we went to northern Holland to visit friends in Roden, near Groningen. It was a reunion for me, seeing friends from 40 years ago when I first went to Europe. We had a great time and even saw other Dutch people we had met in Oregon at Ft. Clatsop. We timed the visit in September to coincide with the Roden Floral Parade, an amazing parade with floats like those in the Rose Parade, and the Roden market, where they sell all sorts of things from flowers and plants to live horses. Of course, there were massive street parties for days with lots of music, food and beer. Our Dutch friends made our trip so much fun and so memorable.

We then departed Amsterdam and cruised for 3 weeks on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, connected by appro-priate canals and 68 locks. Along the rivers, we stopped at many large and small, beautiful medieval cities. The first two weeks were mostly in Holland, Germany and Austria, including Cologne, Rüdesheim, Miltenberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Salzburg, Melk, Dürnstein and Vienna. Each day, we would explore the main city sights on our own or with a guide. The last third of the cruise was mostly former Eastern bloc countries, where we saw the remnants of Communism and civil wars, an experience that really makes one realize how fortunate we are. In those countries, we visited Bratislava, Slovakia, Budapest and Pecs, Hungary, Vukovar and Novi Sad, Coatia, Belgrade, Serbia, Vidin and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and Giurgiu and Bucharest, Romania. After the cruise, we spent a few days in Istanbul, which was full of ancient Roman ruins, as well as beautiful mosques and palaces from sultan times. We packed a lot into the trip and had an unbelievable time. The gourmet food was wonderful and we met many fantastic people from all over the globe.

Summer Volunteering at Ft. Clatsop National Park in Astoria and Central Oregon Road Trip

This was our fifth straight summer in Oregon, and again, we volunteered near Astoria at Ft. Clatsop National Historical Park, commemorating Lewis and Clark's winter stay between 1805 and 1806. John donned vintage garb and gave talks and demonstrated shooting the 1795 Springfield musket, started fires with flint and steel, told the history of the 15-star/15-stripe Star Spangled Banner, and explained how Lewis and Clark used the sextant, octant and chronometer for determining position and making maps. This year, besides giving tours and answering questions, I made four more 1804 military uniform coats like the Corps of Discovery used on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

On the coast, we again stayed in the family vintage motor home, and several good friends from Oregon and Houston even ventured to stay with us in the cozy digs. We had a great time along the coasts of Oregon and Washington and found new places to explore – like Long Beach Peninsula, where we learned how cranberries are cultivated, improved and harvested at the Cranberry Museum/Washington State University research station, and how oysters are farmed in Willapa Bay in Nachotta. Of course, I love digging razor clams and the great low tides were favorable to get plenty for another big clam feed for Dad’s Father’s Day.

In mid-August, we took a trip through Central Oregon. Growing up in Oregon, one would think that I had seen most everything around the state. But no, I hadn’t even been to Bend!! We started out in Salem touring the Capitol and the old Thomas Kay water-powered woolen mill. Near Silverton, we went to the Oregon Gardens, and the Gordon House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Northwest open to the public. We hiked around ten beautiful waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park, and walked along the absolutely picture-perfect Metolius River near Sisters. In Bend, we discovered the lava fields at McKenzie Pass in the Cascade Mountains. I didn’t even know there were lava fields in Oregon like those in Hawaii. We also toured the High Desert Museum with a spectacular raptor show and viewed the breathtaking lakes along the Cascade Lake Highway with dear high school friends. One of the main reasons we did Central Oregon was that John wanted to visit the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The beds are full of fossils, but the main attraction for me was the incredible formations in the landscape. The drive through Central Oregon was very hilly and sparsely populated; there are even a few ghost towns!! We stayed in John Day and Baker City, where we saw the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center and actual wheel ruts left by the pioneers heading west in the mid-1800’s. We looped back to Hillsboro via Pendleton and the Columbia Gorge. Besides the traveling and volunteering, I spent four weeks driving and helping Mom, 88, and Dad, 92, who are still living on the farm. Of course, the wonderful fresh fruits and veggies made the summer much more delicious!!

Philadelphia Road Trip for Thanksgiving plus Snow and Chocolate in Hershey

Richard and Christiane again invited us for Thanksgiving/Christmas in Kennett Square and we “road-tripped” it. On the way, we saw grandson, Peyton, in Alpharetta and friends in Atlanta. Besides the turkey-centered festivities, we visited grad school friends in Wilmington and took in sights such as Winterthur, home, museum and garden of the DuPonts, Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the Reading Mid Atlantic Air Museum and a Reading Royals hockey game.

After leaving Kennett Square, we road-tripped back to Houston, stopping at various sights that piqued our interest. In Lancaster, we learned about the Amish and the Mennonites. I had always wanted to go to Hershey, and this year was the time. We had a lot of fun at the “World of Chocolate,” where we designed and made our own chocolate bars and created the packaging, as well. We also took a trolley ride around Hershey and learned a lot about Milton Hershey’s town, life and philanthropy. The next day we were greeted with a ton of snow in Hershey, but I loved it. As we worked our way back to Houston, we also stopped at the National Civil War Museum and state capitol in Harrisburg, viewed the beautiful Luray Caverns in Luray, VA, saw friends in Hickory, NC, and toured the NASA Stennis Space Center in MS.

Retirement = Travel, Friends, Flying, Photography, Fixups, and Garden Club

Retirement has been fantastic!!!! As John says, “Every day is Saturday!” We bought a new car for road trips and are ready to go. We love seeing friends near and far. Hobby-wise, John is doing lots of flying and photography. See Besides planning and going on trips, I love fixing up the house and guest rooms. I also joined a garden club this year and am learning a lot about plants and other horticulture from Master Gardeners. After the last two years of Texas drought, the yard and garden can use all the help they can get.

Richard, 31, and Christiane visit Big Bend and Iceland

We have got to keep up with our kids!!! Richard and Christiane vacationed in Iceland this summer. They had a great time and saw amazing scenery and wildlife. Now we can’t wait to go. They also vacationed in Big Bend, where they did a lot of hiking and “birding.” Besides “birding,” Richard loves flying. Already a pilot, he’s now learning to fly gliders and recently “solo”-ed. Christiane’s passionate about tennis and plays regularly. Their home in Kennett Square, PA is about midway between West Chester, PA, where Richard is an associate product strategist at Moody’s Analytics, and Elkton, MD, where Christiane is a product specialist with W.L. Gore.

Robert, 29, Laura and New Son “Peyton James”

Our greatest news is our first grandchild, Peyton, born May 9th, just before Mother’s Day, to Rob and Laura. He weighed in at a hefty 8 lbs 15 oz., and 21 in. long. We first saw him when he was just over a week old and he was so tiny. At 6 months, he hit the scales at 20 lbs and 27 in. long – both in the 90th percentile. He is strong, happy, well-adjusted and super photogenic. Since Rob and Laura live in Alpharetta, GA, about 850 miles away, we are so glad they send us lots of pictures and videos of Peyton. Robert and Laura are wonderful parents and have already taken Peyton on several road trips - Ashville, NC and Disneyworld, where he got his “Mickey Mouse” ears. Robert changed jobs this fall and now works as a senior engineer with FLIR Systems, which specializes in infrared cameras, night vision and thermal imaging. Laura continues to work as the Manager of New Business Delivery with InterContinental Hotels Group.

Dave, 26, into Hot “Cross-Fit” Workouts and Cold Canadian Workovers

Dave, a mechanical Engineer with Shell, did a lot of training this past year, taking him to Holland and Canada, as well as more local venues like Branson, MO and Shreveport, LA. Early last year, Dave left the freezing northlands of Chicago, but the experience may come in handy as he starts an assignment in the northlands of Canada come January. Dave is based in Houston, which is a pretty hot place (especially in the summer). Although Dave can take the heat, we’ll see about the cold, as he heads to Groundbirch, which is in the northeastern part of British Columbia, near Alberta and closer to the Yukon than to the US. He actually wanted a Canadian assignment, where he’ll work on natural gas well completions and workovers, but needless to say, it’s going to be much colder than anything he ever felt in Chicago. The good news is that the assignment is 2-weeks on/2-weeks off for the entire year, so he can thaw out every two weeks. In his spare time, he also did some high adventure hiking in Colorado this summer and made a road trip to Atlanta.

Dave is also an avid “Cross-fitter,” with workouts that are insanely intense (like a gym on steroids). He now has cantaloupes for biceps and “don’t-mess-with-me” muscles. He also eats “paleolithically,” which is basically meat and veggies, hold the carbs. If you are interested in “paleo” eating and/or cross-fitting, check out his blog/website:; he even has “paleo” recipes, like the “meatza” (think pizza with a meat crust). Enjoy!!!

That's it from us! Hope all is well with you!! All the best for a very Merry Christmas and a Great New Year!

Canon Powershot G11
1/60s f/6.3 at 10.8mm iso400 full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
comment | share