Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas in Houston 2009

Bill had arranged a car to transport us from Puteri Harbour Marina in Malaysia to the Changi Airport in Singapore, but the car did not show. Instead we could have been transported in a van but that negated the entire effort. Everyone crossing the country borders in a van must exit the vehicle with all luggage and clear out of Malaysia and again when clearing into Singapore. Passengers in a regular car can clear both places seated in the comfort of their car; luggage remains in the trunk. We decided that the van would be a waste. If we were going to have to deal with luggage during immigration and customs clearances, then we might as well take the bus for 3.50 ringitt instead of the car for 300 ringitt.

Turned out to be a wise choice. Clearing with our rolling duffel bags and backpacks was not difficult at all. We were traveling on a Sunday mid-afternoon and the bus was not crowded to standing-room-only as it normally is on weekday mornings. We switched from the bus to the subway at the Jurong East MRT station and were soon in the Changi Airport. We stayed in the Crowne Plaza Hotel right inside the airport. This made it very convenient to board our first 6-hour flight very early Monday morning, December 14. We arrived in Tokyo right on schedule. A couple of hours later we were on our 12-hour flight to Houston. We arrived right on schedule mid-afternoon on the same day we had left even though we had been traveling more than 20 hours -- thanks to crossing backwards on the international date line.

Jet lag was awful on this trip! When we flew home from New Zealand last year neither of us experienced any jet lag. We crossed an additional 5 time zones on this year's trip and arrived to a full week of rainy dreary gray weather. Maybe if there had been bright sun for the first few days we were back in Houston then we might have adjusted to the jet lag quicker. It took about 10 days for us to finally feel normal during the days and to be able to sleep most of the night.

This trip allowed us to enjoy seeing our younger son graduate from college. He qualified to wear a colored stole for making high grades; but being the thrifty man that he is, he opted to wear the traditional cap and gown sans honors stole. He didn't see the point in paying for a stole when his grades weren't anybody's business but his own. We also were in town for our older son's 38th birthday but missed seeing him that day because we attended our granddaughter's school Christmas music program. I enjoyed playing with the new 6-month-old grandson while his dad took video of the music program. Another night we drove with the granddaughter to Santa's Wonderland in Bryan-College Station. Traffic was horrendous; if you plan to visit this display you really need to arrive there no later than 5 p.m. or you will sit in traffic until almost midnight. It was a very cold night, but a nice way for kids to celebrate Christmas.

One day we met up with friends Paul and Michele and their 2 kids for lunch. They had just sold their boat, S/V FREE SPIRIT, in New Zealand and are now landlubbers again. They haven't yet decided where in the US they want to live, so they were visiting Michele's sister in Houston area for a few weeks. It was really wonderful to see Paul and Michele again. We will very much miss them as we continue onward on our circumnavigation. They had originally planned to sort of casually buddy-boat around the globe with us. We had touched base with one another at various places throughout the Caribbean and across the South Pacific. Hope they enjoy land-life again.

That same night our grandson Zachary exhibited his developing cooking skills. He cooked cheese enchiladas for dinner and they were quite good! Looking like he might follow in his dad's footsteps and become an excellent cook.

The day after Christmas all the relatives came to our son's home in Houston for our traditional Christmas get-together and that was fun, as usual. Our elder son and his wife took off to New Orleans for a few days to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary. Bill and I were staying at our son's house with grandson Zachary while his parents were in New Orleans. So I invited all the relatives to our son's house for our Christmas family gathering. This year I did not feel like cooking or eating anything traditional. Instead, Bill and I had been craving Strack's Farms special potato salad and barbeque for months; so that is what we served. Everyone seemed happy with this very casual food choice. It was really more about visiting with each other than about a specific meal. It was great to see everyone again and catch up. And having the new grandson made Christmas special this year. Christmas always seems better when there are small children to enjoy the festivities. Didn't take long to teach baby Damien how to rip the wrapping paper off his gifts and get into the spirit of opening gifts with all the other kids. My favorite gift that anyone gave anyone was a tee-shirt received by grandson Zachary. His dad always purchases something each year from This year Zachary received a plain bright short-sleeve red tee-shirt with black trim on the neckline and sleeve edges. On the front is printed "Expendable." If you don't get that, then you are not a Star Trek fan.

I caught the flu and stayed in bed for a few days and missed New Year's Eve. Bill's brother, John, treated him to a celebratory special evening at our favorite restaurant Ruggles while I stayed home snugly tucked in bed. The next morning I was feeling well enough to drive down to Kemah and visit with friends who have a boat docked at Watergate Marina. We enjoyed wonderful shrimp and oyster po'boys and gumbo for lunch. We very much enjoyed visiting with Pam and Larry for several hours.

Next celebration during this home visit was the baptism of our 6-month-0ld grandson Damien. Nice that this was scheduled during our visit so we didn't miss the occasion. He looked so adorable in his very manly baptism apparel. No christening gown for this little boy. And he smiled throughout the entire ceremony. The outfit included a hat of sorts but we ditched that item of apparel. It looked way too Quakerish!

And here is a photo of our family at the church for Damien's baptism. The 2 men in the back row are our sons Trey and Aaron; middle row are their wives, Kristina and Lynn; and the other 4 are our grandchildren, l-r: Zachary, Elisabeth (BeBe), her baby brother Damien and big brother Sebastian. The photo on right is of Bill with me holding baby Damien. That baby is just so darn cute. Sound like a proud grandmother, don't I? And here is Damien with his godparents, Uncle Trey and Aunt Kristina. And, yeah, Trey is a really big guy. We grow 'em BIG in Texas!

We visited with several old friends during the month visiting home in Houston and it was just great to see each and every one of them. Some friends are in poor health and this might have been the last time we see them. Other friends hope to visit us aboard S/V BeBe for weeks of sailing in Turkey or Greece in 2011, assuming we manage to evade the Somali and Yemeni pirates and terrorists and actually make it to the Med. Bill did his annual medical check-ups with the VA Hospital and got approved for another year of scripts to treat the Crohn's Disease. That is really the main reason we make the annual trip home, to renew his prescriptions and the mandatory VA medical check-up.

One weekend Bill and his brother John made a nostalgic road trip back to our hometown Beaumont, Texas. Two men in their sixties recalling memories from when they were only 3 to 4 years of age. Surprisingly, they found everything they were interested in seeing again. They found the old home of their paternal grandparents and the home where they grew up. They even talked the current owners of both these homes into allowing them inside. This brought back all kinds of childhood memories of each place. Also looked at some churches and the places where their father's business had been located; the building is long gone. They think they found the spot where they owned a retail furniture store while still in high school; but they couldn't be sure because that building was also long gone and the streets had changed so very much. Heck, even the street names have been changed in that part of Beaumont. They thoroughly enjoyed visiting the old home town for a few hours. I thoroughly enjoyed staying in Houston that day and skipping that nostalgic trip.

We visited the Chinese Consulate to obtain visas. Have not yet planned a trip to China but needed to obtain the visas just in case we are able to put together a trip to fly to China from Malaysia. According to the China website, the visas can only be obtained from our home country so we needed to take this opportunity to get that handled.

Our flights back to Singapore start Sunday morning, January 10. This time we fly Houston to Tokyo and then onward to Singapore, arriving slightly after midnight on Tuesday, January 12; thanks to crossing the international date line in the other direction and gaining back that day we lost en route here. As much as we enjoy seeing everyone and visiting our home town of Houston and being Americanized again, we miss our boat home and are ready to settle back to our marina and cruising life. Love these annual trips home ---- and always love going back to the boat which is our real home these days.

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