Dear Friends and Family,
As December rolls around and Christmas greetings start to arrive, I know I had better get writing. Although we never get much snow in Houston, things always seem to snowball this time of year. We've had another breakneck-speed, busy year. So much fun to squish into every spare moment of free time, and live to tell about it. I think we survived...again.
Thanksgiving in the Caribbean
For the last few years, it's been his (Scouting) vacations and her (travel) vacations -- of course, all with the boys. But this year, for a change, we were even able to coordinate (no small feat) one as a whole family. And what a vacation it was! -- A big adventure to the Caribbean, specifically St. John, a U.S. Virgin Island. The island is mostly National Park, thanks to the generosity of the Rockefellers, and it is still very pristine and beautiful. We had been planning this vacation for years, but since this would be Richard's last at home before college, we couldn't wait longer. So about a year ago, we got plane tickets and reserved a condo-like, ecologically-engineered studio apartment for John and I and a tent cabin for the boys at Maho Bay. With plans in place so far in advance, you could never predict what would happen -- like Hurricane Georges going though a month before and Continental's flight mechanics threatening to go on strike days before the trip. In spite of the worries this caused (me, especially), the trip went off without a hitch.
Getting to St. John was quite an adventure in itself. Because we used Continental frequent flyer miles, we had to fly round about to Newark, NJ, before we could head to San Juan. From there it was purchased American tickets to St. Thomas, a half-hour taxi ride from the airport to the ferry, a 20-minute ferry boat ride to St. John, and another 30-45 minute taxi ride to Maho Bay. From San Juan, it was all in the dark, on skinny, windy, hilly roads, some dirt. And the taxis are not what you'd expect either -- these were open-air, pickup trucks with canopies over them -- so you sit in the back with lots of other people and all the luggage. Actually it was a lot of fun -- kind of like being on safari. The next day, and for the next week, we enjoyed the beauty of the island and the Caribbean. The waters were clear aqua blue and we went snorkeling every day. There were many colorful and exotic fish and coral - an amazing underwater adventure. Several days we went out on small boats for more adventure. One day was a small boat to various islands for snorkeling, another day we went out on an large wooden sailboat, another day was a tour of the island with a snorkel stop, and yet another was a tour of the old Annaberg sugar mill plantation with a Park Service interpreter. But the highlight of the trip for all of us was SCUBA. All the guys really wanted to do it, and lucky for Dave, who just turned 12, he just met the age requirement. We went out on a dive boat with a couple other people and a dive master, who taught us the basics for an introductory dive. The guys took this without fear, but I was a bit more nervous. Eventually, we all were exploring the aquatic exotica about 45-feet down. There, we saw stingrays, spotted eels, parrot fish, star crabs, abalones, striped shrimps and all sorts of beautiful fish and coral. We all liked it so much we took a second dive. It was quite an adventure, which everyone wants to do again.
Since it was Thanksgiving week, and we weren't going to try to cook a turkey in our solar oven, we joined our fellow adventurers for the big feast at the open-air, restaurant/cafeteria overlooking Maho Bay. The boys asked if they could have seconds, but with all the "firsts" they were given and all the pie they had, no one wanted more. With all the good eating, there was no way to lose weight on this trip, in spite of all the snorkeling, swimming, hiking, and step climbing - over 400 steps from our place to the beach. I was happy to come home with a nice tan, even if it did start out as a sun burn. Even though my tan will fade, we will keep our fond memories of this "best ever" family vacation. (As a P.S., we highly recommend Maho Bay, but if you want more seclusion, there is a nearby island for sale, i.e. if you have a few millions to spare. If not, there is also one nearby to rent with thatched huts for your friends to stay and party for only $5,000/day!)
Summer in Sweden and Norway
Another trip that was planned for quite some time was to Sweden and Norway. Robert, David and I took off mid-July for Gothenburg, Sweden, to see our friends Mickie and Ken Cameron and their boys Robert and Edward. (Mickie and I have been Scout leaders for 7 years --starting when the two Roberts were first graders, and until David and Edward, who are also in the same grade, were 5th-grade Webelos.) After a night at their beautiful place, Mickie and I and the two pairs of boys went by train to Oslo, where we then caught a 10-day tour of southern Norway. The scenery was absolutely spectacular; the accommodations and smorgasbords were fabulous. Among other things, we had an interesting visit to Lillehammer, where we saw ski jumpers practicing their jumps onto water-soaked plastic "snow". Most of the tour was the fantastic scenery -- breathtaking fjords, glaciers and numerous waterfalls. Water was everywhere and the tall, green, fir trees reminded me of my roots in Oregon. We were blessed with beautiful, warm-for-Norway-and-Sweden weather. Of course, now being from Houston, I wore my sweater every day and loved it.
Richard, 17, a Senior Applying to College
Richard's now a senior at Clear Lake High School, and compared to the first three, it's almost been a relaxing year. He took his SATs early in the year as a junior. In the fall, he opted out of marching band, so that he could fit in other courses, such as Chemistry II and Physics II, as well as other activities, such as robotics and captain of varsity academic Quiz Bowl. His other big project has been college applications, but as of this writing, it's still too early to tell where he'll go. Although he gave his trumpet to David, Richard is still playing piano and appears to like jazz. In Scouts, he is a junior assistant scoutmaster for the troop, and was on staff in charge of scout craft at Camp Strake this past summer. Just before school started, he attended the National Order of the Arrow conference at Iowa State, where he, Robert and John all had the time of their lives trading Scout patches. After Christmas, he will again be in his element as a Winter Camp staffer at Strake.
Robert, 15, an Eagle, Beating the Drum - Loudly
Robert turned 15 this year and is now a freshman at Clear Lake, where he's in marching band playing percussion and Quiz Bowl. He continues to play piano and sounds very good. The big highlight of Robert's year was earning his Eagle rank in Scouts. He has worked hard and put a lot into Scouting. For his Eagle project, he constructed five 20-foot high chimney-like looking swift bird houses for the local nature center. His Eagle Court of Honor was held September 13th, and we were all very glad that grandparents Remi and Rose Coussens from Oregon and grandmother Mary Ellen Cross from Minnesota could come for the ceremony and reception. To date, he has earned 50 merit badges and is currently the assistant senior patrol leader for the troop. This summer, he and John went on a 10-day high adventure canoe trip in the Minnesota boundary waters at Charles L. Sommers near Ely, MN. It was a fantastic trip with lots of fishing and fun times, and they can't wait to go back. For now, Robert's looking forward to Winter Camp, Philmont and Strake junior staff next summer.
Dave, 12, Tooting His own Horn - Literally
This spring, David went to Washington, D.C. with his fellow 5th graders from Armand Bayou Elementary and, in the fall, started 6th grade at Space Center Intermediate. He "inherited" Richard's trumpet and is enjoying life in beginner band. In music, he's also continuing piano and, I'm happy to report, things are sounding a bit better, thanks to finally reading the notes. Maybe that is why he was piano challenged, because this year we found out his eyes were very far sighted and that he badly needed glasses. As you can imagine, David's also heavy into Scouting. This spring, as a 5th grade Webelo, he earned his Arrow of Light and became a Boy Scout. He's now an enthusiastic First Class Scout with 15 self-sewn merit badges on his sash. He is also the troop historian and den chief for a Cub Scout Wolf den of second graders. This summer, he went to three weeks of scout camp at Camp Strake and helped out as a den chief at Cub Scout day camp - Camp Bayshore. He is also eagerly looking forward to Winter Camp at Camp Strake this Christmas.
John - Not a new hobby, but we're swimming in patches
John's hobbies have been legendary in these newsletters, but since last year, there have been (read my lips) NO NEW HOBBIES. However, the bug has been passed on to all the boys, and Scout patches are now taking over the house. Either someone (like Richard is a candidate) will have to move out, or we will have to add on. The former is the most probable. Besides patch collecting, John is still an avid Scouter and recently became a district unit commissioner. It's been a busy year for him in Scouts. Early in the year, he was David's Webelos den leader. Then, after resigning as scoutmaster of Troop 869, he helped revitalize Troop 870, which was down to just a couple boys. Now the new troop is doing well with over 40 enthusiastic scouts, and John is enjoying being an assistant scoutmaster. With Robert, he had a blast taking a scout contingent on the high adventure canoe trip in Minnesota, and patch trading with Richard and Robert at the National Order of the Arrow conference, where he was on the communications staff. Now, he's preparing to teach the ham radio merit badge again at Winter Camp at Camp Strake after Christmas, and getting another trek together for Philmont next summer.
And for the Letter Writer -
Besides work at Exxon, this spring, I continued giving ACS "Kids in Chemistry" programs to Armand Bayou 5th graders. With David in Intermediate school, I have found many other things to keep me busy -- as if that were ever a problem. For the couple years, I've been the Tiger Cub coach for Pack 956 and this year received the district "Outstanding Tiger Cub Coach" award. With the Troop 870 revitalization, I, somewhat by default, became the Troop Committee Chairman. This has been quite a lot of work, since the Troop was even in significant debt when we arrived on the scene. So, besides getting a committee of volunteers together, I chaired two garage sales at our house and sold a donated 1985 BMW for the Troop. I'm glad to say, we are now solvent again - thanks to a bunch of great parents. In March, I took the boys to Oregon for spring break, where we skied at Mount Hood Meadows with Bob and Ryan Coussens. Richard and Robert had a great time trap shooting with their Grandpa Coussens, and I, especially, loved clamming at the coast. And a good time was had by all.
Well, again, I'm out of room and out of time... Merry Christmas to All and to All a Great Year!! - From all of the Crosses