Best Christmas Ever!

So, finally I’ve gotten around to the rest of the story of our Christmas trip to Texas. When we last left our intrepid explorers, we had finally found our way to San Leon TX after a five-day drive. We spent most of the first day (Wednesday) sitting on the back porch, catching up and enjoying the weather. The sun was shining and the temperature hovered around 22°C (75°F). Four days before Christmas. Awesome! In the meantime, I’m marveling at the palm trees and giant aloe vera growing in people’s front yards, and studying the snowy egrets in the backyards. And the hot shower felt kind of good too, lol.

Thursday and Friday were low-key, as we were still catching up from the long drive. But the weather was incredibly warm and I found I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a summer vacation, but that Christmas was just a few days away. It felt so weird.

For the last 10 years, I’ve been learning to play guitar. I’m not good at all, but I enjoy it so much, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My brother, who has been playing since he was a teen, is my mentor, and many phone calls between us end up being a long-distance lesson. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to play for a couple of years because of the severity of the carpal tunnel condition in my hands. By the time I would even get my guitar tuned, my hands were numb and aching.

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My brother Darrell (center), Wolff (left) and Mike (not mine, right) at the San Leon Beach Pub.

A week before we left home, I finally had one of my wrists operated on. It healed well, and I haven’t had a bit of numbness in my right hand since. But because of the fact that I haven’t played in so long, and the lack of space in the Tucson, I didn’t bring my guitar with me. On Friday night, my brother took matters into his own hands and generously re-strung one of his guitars for me (I’m left-handed, he’s not.) It sounded rusty and clunky, but I was playing again. I was so happy, it was difficult to keep a reign on my emotions, until I looked up and saw him with tears in his eyes, and I lost it. Of course, it could have been just my bad playing too.

Christmas Eve and Christmas day passed in a blur as they usually do, but it’s been almost twenty years since my brother and I have spent the holidays together. It was so wonderful and felt like old times. I was so grateful, both to him and my sister-in-law for having us, and to my awesome husband for knowing how important this was to me. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful men in my life.

Boxing Day, we piled into the car and took a drive to Galveston Island. We saw the surf from the Gulf of Mexico pounding onto the snow white sand, and the beautiful historic buildings and hotels in Galveston.

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The Seawall at Galveston Island.
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Bike Rentals were available in 2-up or 4-up.
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The entire amusement park was built out on the pier.
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More of Pleasure Pier.
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Supposedly a very haunted hotel.  Hundreds of lives lost in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.

Later we went to Sea Wolf Park and toured a Submarine and a Destroyer Escort, both of which are currently being restored. Well, the rest of our group went into the submarine. I just admired it from the outside. Not terribly fond of small, dark spaces.032

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USS Cavalla, WWII submarine.
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USS Stewart, one of only 3 Destroyer Escorts in the world.
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The gang coming out of the submarine. I’m already on the ship.

On Thursday, Mike was feeling a bit restless, so we went off for a drive by ourselves. Eventually, we found our way to Kemah, which isn’t too far up the road from San Leon. We grabbed the cameras and decided to play tourist for the afternoon. Kemah has capitalized on a pretty location, and has all kinds of shops and attractions, including a boardwalk amusement park. We wandered around the park for a while, snapping photos and simply enjoying ourselves. We came up to the carousel, which fascinated me. I’d never seen a two-story carousel before, it was awesome! As well, instead of just horses, it featured a menagerie of exotic animals to ride, including a gorgeous dragon. (You’ll have to excuse the excitement. I’m a huge GOT nerd, and have a bit of a thing for dragons.)

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Wooden roller coaster at the park entrance.
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Two-Story Carousel.
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How cool is a dragon on a Merry-Go-Round?
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Boardwalk at Kemah

Then came the highlight of the day. We wandered around rest of the park for a while, and found ourselves in front of a small aquarium. It seemed nice, nothing too out of the ordinary, when Mike suddenly grinned and said “Let’s go in.” Ok. Being a bit of a water-baby, I don’t mind fish. Let’s go.

What I had missed was the sign that read “Feed our Manta Rays.” Omigod, I thought I would lose my mind, I was so excited. These beautiful creatures swimming (flying?) around in this huge, waist-high pool, coming up and taking sardines right out of your hand, and allowing you to lightly stroke their backs as they swam by. Most were a couple of feet across, but there were a couple of really big ones that had nestled their way into the sand at the bottom of the pool that were probably close to 5 or 6 feet in diameter. Mike kept laughing at me, and telling me I looked like a 5 year-old. I didn’t care, I was loving every minute of it.  You can watch some of our videos here.

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The manta tank.
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Such gorgeous creatures!
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Feeding time.
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They were so friendly. (and hungry!)
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Outside the Aquarium. There may have been some Photoshopping done, since I won’t hand my camera to just anyone, lol.

The following day, we may have inadvertently made a huge mistake. We stopped at a couple of RV lots to look at toy haulers, just to browse a bit. Unfortunately, I think we may have infected my sister in law, Murphy, with the travel bug. She now points out every RV she sees for sale, and is talking about downsizing and hitting the road. My brother takes every opportunity to thank (blame) me for this. My pleasure.

After we got poor Murphy hooked on the Nomad idea, we went out for lunch, and afterward ended up in Texas City, where they have a large, man-made dike you can drive out on. The dike is nearly five miles long, and has parking, beaches and picnic areas all along it. When you get to the end, you’re practically out into the main shipping channel for the Houston Oil Tankers and other large cargo ships.

At the end of the dike, they have a sea wall of large boulders to prevent erosion. My brother climbs up on the wall, and invites me to join him. Ok. He points to the water and says “Watch.” Sure. Watch what?

Within minutes, I see the first dorsal fin. Then another, and another. Wild Bottlenose Dolphins. Schools of them follow the ships in and out of the channel, feeding on the smaller fish the propellers churn up. Now anyone who knows me, knows my fondness for whales and dolphins. The five year-old has just made another appearance. I honestly don’t know who had the better time, me squealing and pointing, or my husband and brother laughing at me.

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They were quick and hard to catch, but worth the wait!

273Watching the weather and trying to judge our best chances, we decided we would leave for home on Monday, Jan 2. So on Sunday, our last full day in Texas, we returned to Galveston, where we took the free ferry across to the Bolivar Peninsula. Again, we were joined by the dolphins, as well as pelicans, and some very friendly seagulls, who know that the tourists will feed them bread.

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Bolivar Peninsula Ferry
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View from the ferry
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The dolphins joined us again.
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The remains of the tanker S.S. Selma, the largest concrete ship constructed, now rests in Galveston Bay.
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White pelicans perched alongside the ferry dock.

Mike was fascinated by the houses on the Peninsula, they’re all built on stilts because of the frequent flooding. Even the local school is up in the air! I liked the idea that they weren’t afraid of bright colors for the houses. Purples, oranges, lime greens, you name it, they painted it. It kind of reminded me of the little houses in Newfoundland.

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Bolivar Peninsula house.
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More stilt houses.
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Even the School is up in the air! Apologies for the blurring, we were driving at the time.

On Monday morning, we reluctantly started off for home. There was a major snowstorm moving in that seemed like it would cross our path, so we decided it was the best time to go if we were to avoid it. It proved to be a wise decision. Except for a huge thunderstorm (we’re talking biblical here) just as we got north of Houston, we had nothing but fair weather all the way home.

We decided to take a different route than the one that brought us down, opting instead to travel to northern Texas to Texarkana, then on through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and so on. Partly it helped us avoid the bad weather, but in reality, we just wanted to see something we hadn’t before. In all, from the time we left home until we returned, we visited 19 states (16 of which we had never been in before) and traveled over 8400 km.

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Monday morning goodbyes.

 

It was a most awesome trip. And if he shook the car keys at me and said “Wanna go back?” well…just don’t stand between me and the door.

…And Now For Something Completely Different…

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled blog post for this important update on recent events.

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On Tuesday night, January 24, Mother Nature decided to put one over on us in the form of a rather nasty ice storm. All through the night, the wind howled like a freight train, and the freezing rain coated everything in sight with about an inch of solid ice. Trees bent and broke under the strain, and anything that wasn’t nailed down found itself relocated quickly.

By very early Wednesday morning, everything looked like this:

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Needless to say, we were without electricity. Considering how strong the wind had been, the fact that we still had a roof, windows, and various other parts of the house is nothing short of amazing. But I digress.

So, no power. Time to go into assessment mode.power-out_wall-post

In my house, no power means several things. Firstly, since we have our own well (and pump) and we are not connected to municipal utilities, we have no running water. Secondly, even though we have a wood furnace, the blower motor is still required to keep the heat moving from the chamber to the rest of the house, or you run the risk of burning out your furnace in a very short amount of time. So, no heat. Also no refrigeration, chest freezer or lights. Sigh. Let the battle begin.

First and foremost, we needed heat. Luckily, the temperatures were pretty mild for the
next few days, not really dipping below -8°C (17°F). Within a very short amount of time, Hurricane Sandy BrooklynMike had the generator up and running out on the deck. However, we quickly discovered that we had only one can of gas. A quick run to town left us worried, as we couldn’t find a gas station with operational pumps, the power outage was that widespread. We returned home with fingers crossed that the gas we had would hold out until the power came back on, either at our place or the gas stations

With a couple of extension cords run through a slightly opened window, our furnace was now operational, so we stayed warm. Through a continuous juggle of unplugging one to plug in the other, we also managed to keep both the fridge and the deep freeze going. And thankfully, by Wednesday night, power had been restored to a couple of stations so we were able to replenish our gas.

20170130_123623Water was going to be another matter. Since the generator and extension cords were at the full capacity that we were comfortable with, we decided it would be prudent not to try to wire the pump into the generator as well.  Instead, we gathered what jugs and containers we could find and hauled water from a friend’s house who was connected to city water. This would be done several times over the next few days.

So one of the few issues remaining was being able to cook. Luckily, we were prepared without even realizing it. Over the last year or so, we have been slowly and steadily buying items for Lonestar and our Grand Adventure. Among those items happened to be a portable camp stove that runs on small cans of butane. With an extra can, we were able to cook small, quick items for the first couple of days. However, the cans don’t last that long, and once they get so low, they are something less than useless. By this time, power had been restored to most of the businesses in town, but a hard search revealed that every store had been sold out of any and all sorts of heating/cooking fuels. Not a can to be had.

20170130_123517Lonestar to the rescue once more. Since there was no actual cooktop in the trailer when we purchased it, we had been on the lookout for an RV stove that we could permanently install.

Last summer, we found a gently-used 3 burner stove/oven for a very good price. With the help of a borrowed propane tank, Mike had the stove hooked up and going in no time. We even tried out the oven with a frozen pizza. It worked great. (And before the comments start, we were also very careful to keep the room well-ventilated while using the stove. Safety first.)

In the meantime, with the help of a power bar, we managed to keep phones and computers charged and the modem plugged in. Oddly enough, we didn’t lose our Internet. Although the beeping of the low battery indicator on the connection panel in the basement damn near drove me to drink. At least until we found the silence button. We found Facebook to be an invaluable source of information as to relief shelters and services operated by the city, and where the power trucks were currently working. Also, kudos to all the big-hearted people who opened their re-energized homes to those who were still cold and in the dark. You are special people.

So we weren’t hungry, we weren’t cold and we weren’t losing our groceries. However, with no running water for showers…well, let’s just say we were giving each other lots of space.

Using a trick we saw on YouTube, we set up a wash station at both the kitchen and bathroom sinks using laundry soap containers. These are the ones with the push-button spouts built in. By positioning the spouts over the edge of the sinks, we made a tap of sorts. At least it made it easier to rinse dishes and wash your hands. Still, a sponge bath with room temperature water can only do so much, and is not terribly enjoyable.

showerGreat opportunity to try out the USB-powered shower we’d picked up for the trailer. We heated the water on the stove top, and charged up the shower pump. Setting a container in the tub, we adjusted the hot water with enough cold to make it comfortable, and each took our turn. It worked great! Decent pressure, very easy to use, and we each had a hot shower using the equivalent of a large stock pot full of water. OMG, did it ever feel good to get clean again! That and a hot cup of tea improved my outlook immensely.

So we lost power at 6:10am Wednesday morning, and didn’t recover it until 7:40pm Sunday night. As I’m writing this, there are still a few hundred people in the city who haven’t had their power restored yet, mostly due to things like masts ripped from houses and such.

ice-storm-tree-trimmingBut props must be given to the hard-working and dedicated people of NB Power who have been toiling non-stop since the whole ordeal began.As well, many thanks to NS Power, who traveled the long way to come and help. I’d hate to think how long it would have been if these people worked only eight hour days and called it quits.

Also, a big “Job Well Done!!” to Miramichi’s newest mayor, Adam Lordon. Action was taken immediately, and information and updates were available often and at regular intervals. You handled an extreme and largely-unexpected crisis with efficiency, compassion and wisdom that seems far beyond your years. We couldn’t have asked for more.

And lastly, my admiration and over-whelming gratitude to my wonderful husband, Mike. Your mechanical aptitude, knowledge and creative thinking are what got us through this last week. Each time I say “we did” in this article, you know I mean “Mike did.” I was just a sidekick, and proud to be such. d14b458b67ac88d8aeffa1531f56a85cPay attention ladies. This is why you pass up the arrogant quarterbacks and self-absorbed hockey jocks in high school and hook up with a gear head or wrench monkey. They’ve always got your back, and the sports scores won’t help you when the chips are down.

So overall, while it was still a lot of work and inconvenience, we came through five full days without power in relative comfort. I lost a few large limbs off of trees in my yard, but no damage to the house or cars, no frozen pipes, no lost groceries, and no divorce lawyers. We had a few quiet evenings at home, remembered how to play Crazy 8’s, and even binged watched old episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man.

I’d say that’s one for the win column.

Texas or Bust!

Remember a few posts back, I mentioned Mike trying to convince me to go along with this crazy scheme and dangling the carrot: “Wouldn’t you like to spend Christmas with your brother in Texas?”Elf.jpg

Damned if he wasn’t true to his word. On December 16, we packed up and headed out for 2400 miles of fun and adventure as we drove from Miramichi, NB to San Leon, TX. It’s been almost 20 years since my brother and I have spent the holidays together. I tried so hard not to get over-excited, but who was I kidding. I’d been planning and shopping and mapping and packing for weeks prior to departing. And loving every single minute of it.

And before anyone asks, Mike’s mom was OK with the idea that we’d be gone for a while, even though I’m not sure exactly how much of this she understood at any given moment. She seemed to remember we were going away for Christmas, but I don’t think she grasped the concept of how far.

She asked me not long before we left, “Where are you going again?” “Texas,” I told her. “So, you’ll be gone for the better part of a week then,” she says, more of a statement than a question. I just smile and agree.

I’ve come to realize over the past few months that there’s no real benefit in re-explaining or arguing, because once she’s made up her mind about something, there’s no putting her off of it. At first I’d try to make sure she was understanding what was going on around her, but it would just result in having the exact same conversation only 20 minutes later, and again in another hour, and so on, and on. Now I just reassure her that all is well, and she seems content with that. Luckily, she has no real concept of the amount of time passing.

So I got busy on Google Maps, adjusting routes, times, overnight stops and more. Driving straight through, Google assured me it’s approximately 37 hours from my door to his. Definitely one of our more ambitious road trips.google-map-1

Lonestar did not accompany us on this trip, feeling it would be more prudent to leave him home, what with winter weather and holiday traffic. Instead, we went old school, opting to sleep in the car. Wasn’t the first time, probably won’t be the last either. While it can be uncomfortable, it can also be a lot of fun, and I like to compare it to camping. Except with a heater, lol.

Granted, car-camping would have been much easier if we could have taken Mongo. There is ample room in the back, and Mike had finished the raised platform that supports a mattress, and it has lots of storage space underneath. However, Mongo has been sidelined, as there is an issue that has developed with the transmission.

On to Plan B in the form of my Tucson. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable, but the seats reclined and there’s (some) cargo space in the back. As well, the Tucson gets almost double the mileage that Mongo does, so there’s pros and cons to both sides. By the time we left, I didn’t care if we went by rickshaw, as long as we got to go.rickshaw_in_central_park_winter

We pulled out of Miramichi at noon on December 16th, the temperature at a balmy -35°C with wind chill. After a quick stop in Fredericton to see our daughter, we made it across the border about 5 p.m. We had planned to stop in Bangor for the night, but due to the extreme cold, we decided to push on for another 3 hours and stay an extra night with my cousins in Boston. Good call. Saturday morning we woke up to messy weather and semi-plowed roads. We spent the day with family, went out for a nice dinner, and left the next morning for the rest of our journey.

It was raining when we left, but substantially warmer. Once we left Boston, I was now in unfamiliar territory, having never been farther south than that.

Soon we found ourselves in Connecticut, which was grey and raining, but still very picturesque, and much warmer than the temperatures we’d been used to. As we traveled down the interstate, we were marveling at the overpasses we went under, as each one had a different distinctive architectural style to them. One was done up in an art deco theme, another was almost gothic, complete with gargoyle-like figurines.

As we didn’t want to drive through New York City, we skirted around and crossed the Hudson on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Wow. And the new bridge they’re building next to it makes it look tiny.

On through New Jersey, and intodog-funny-sleeping-in-the-car Pennsylvania, where the sun finally poked through. We stopped for the night in Greencastle, and had a relatively comfortable sleep in the car, even if we had to start the heater a few times.

Up early, a quick breakfast and back at it. We entered Maryland just minutes after getting on the road. Ten minutes later, it was West Virginia, and fifteen minutes after that, Virginia. All were stunningly beautiful, and we were fortunate enough to have a clear bright sunny day to enjoy it all.

As evening fell, we entered Tennessee, finally stopping just past Knoxville in Niota for another night in the car. This time, the weather was a bit warmer, so we only had to start the heater a couple of times. The next morning, we were up and at ‘em by 4:30am, getting to the Alabama state line just after daybreak. The temperature was still hovering just above the freezing mark, but the scenery was very nice.

img_1081Due to a 2-hour stop to manually pull the metal studs from our snow tires
(illegal in AL, MI, and TX), we were back underway, only to be frustrated as we lost even more time due to the extensive roadwork throughout the state. Eventually we made it to Mississippi and continued at a more reasonable speed. As sunset fell, we crossed the Louisiana State line, and turned more of a westward direction.

I was fascinated at the amount of casinos in Louisiana. It seems you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one. If not for the all the slowdowns throughout day, we probably could have made our destination that night, but as it was, we were getting quite tired and decided to stop in Breaux Bridge and grab a few hours of sleep.

015Wednesday’s dawn found us crossing the Texas state line and pulling over into the welcome centre to make a much needed coffee and tea. While Mike was doing that, I was feeding crackers to a very friendly flock of birds that I later came to find out were mockingbirds. Their lack of fear and huge appetites reminded me of the moosebirds back home. I also saw my first pelican fly over us just then. Being a bit of a bird nerd, I was quite excited.

On through Beaumont, missed our exit just before Houston, and got totally lost in San Jacinto. The GPS kept trying to put us back on the Sam Houston toll highway, but since they don’t accept cash, debit or credit for payment (electronic passes ONLY), we had no way of legally crossing. Way to make tourists feel welcome Houston!8585102824_e386744f3d

Giving up on the GPS and consulting Google Maps, Mike finally untangled us and we backtracked to the correct exit, arriving at my brother’s house somewhere around 10 a.m., and a welcoming 24°C temperature.  Gorgeous!  A hot shower and a good meal later, and we were feeling almost human again.

To be continued…

The Best Laid Plans…

Once again, apologies for the time between posts. Lately there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

To catch everyone up, our Grand Adventure has encountered a couple of pause buttons, so to speak.

pauseButton #1: Our term with our realtor completed at the end of November with a total of three showings, zero bites and zero offers. We’ve opted not to renew for now, since Christmas is coming up quickly, and really, not much real estate moves around here in the winter. In the meantime, there are still some projects to do around the place that may make it more appealing. We’ll work away at that as time and money allows. The plan was we weren’t going full-time nomad until the house sells, so based on that alone, we’re here until at least next spring. We’ll list it again once the worst of the season has passed.

pauseButton #2: Mike’s mom has been showing the symptoms of dementia for sometime now. However, in the last year, things have gotten steadily worse, so she’s now at the point where she can no longer safely spend the night by herself, so she comes and stays with us. She’s on a waiting list for a bed in the local senior’s home, but we have no real idea just how long that will take. In the meantime, she seems happy and comfortable when she’s here, so until a bed is available, this is now the status quo.

So nothing will move forward, for a while at least, until she is safely in her new place and we manage to sell Home Sweet Home. A bit disappointing, true, but we’re both OK with it. Right now, his mom and her safety are the most important things. I’ve been very lucky to have such a wonderful mother-in-law over the years, and no matter how long we end up looking after her, I will still feel like I haven’t repaid the kindnesses she’s shown me.

So at the risk of repeating myself, they’re only pause buttons, it’s not a full stop.no-stopping-sign-k-6132

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My  backyard this evening

In the meantime, life continues to chug along. Winter has arrived once again (didn’t it just leave?) and the kids have already had a couple of snow days off of school. Christmas is getting close and everyone seems to be in a terrible hurry. And while we had hoped just maybe to be off on our Grand Adventure by now, fate has a way of making you dance to it’s own beat, regardless of the best laid plans. Que será será.

 

I realize this post is a little shorter than usual, so in the spirit of the season, I’m including a Christmas Story for you.  This was originally printed in the local paper back when I was a bi-weekly columnist.  It’s very dear to my heart, and I’d like to share it with you.

A Unique Gift from a Unique Heart

As the holidays draw nearer to us once again, our thoughts naturally turn to nativity scenes, gifts, angels, smiling children, dill pickles…

Dill pickles?

Doesn’t quite fit the theme? Let me explain…

My maternal Grandfather was what you might call ‘unique.’ Those that knew him would tell you about his unrelenting energy and zest for life. We never called him Grampy. All I can ever remember calling him was Dadoo. How he got that nickname is a story for another time, but let’s just say that it fit him.

My grandmother always said he was going through his second childhood with us grandkids. I’m not so sure he ever grew out of his first. We didn’t think of him so much like a grandfather, but more like a playmate.

When the grandkids would go out in front of his house playing catch, it wouldn’t be long until the neighbor across the street would be calling him, telling him we were going to hit her windows. So, he would come out, and just to bug her I think, he would start tossing the ball around with us. And by the way Mrs. Wrigley, we never did come close to your windows.

fridge01In the summer, he’d help us make go-carts, and spend hours pitching horseshoes and trying to teach us all how to do it.  In the winter, he made us a sled out of an old fridge door, the kind with the rounded corners. We could fit six kids on that thing.  A slight hill and a good crust, and that old door was greased lightning.

And no matter what the season, when we got out of his sight for too long, he’d lift two fingers to his mouth for that ear-splitting whistle that let us know it was time to come home. You could hear it for a mile.

He was a self-taught musician. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen in the midst of a family gathering and listening to Dadoo playing the harmonica. He could never read a note of music, but played by ear instead. I still have one of his old harmonicas safely tucked away.

He was very sentimental, especially around the holidays, and was more emotional than most that knew him would have guessed. He wrote poems for almost every family member. He cried when loved ones passed on, and when new little ones arrived. And he was the first standing and applauding whenever any of us did well.

His energy was boundless, or so it seemed. He loved to skate, and I can still remember the village boys trying to catch him on the ice. It wasn’t easy. And at the tender age of thirteen, I had the honor of skating on my grandfather’s arm to a live band at the town rink. That also wasn’t easy, but he had infinite patience as a teacher. He was in his seventies at the time.

So what does any of this have to do with dill pickles? I’m getting to that.

The Christmas I was eight was like most others, sitting around the tree with my family opening presents. Until I got to one big box with my name on it. The tag said simply, “Love, Santa.” I unwrapped it to find an old boot box stuffed with newspaper. Rooting through the crumpled paper, I found my gift. A large bottle of dill pickles. Certainly, the most unusual Christmas gift I’d ever received.

Later that morning, I picked up the phone to hear “Jingle Bells” being played merrily on the harmonica on the other end. He did that every Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, Dadoo,” I said. “Thanks for the dill pickles.”  He just laughed.

Later, after all the excitement settled down, I asked him why the unusual gift choice. He explained to me that as a very small child, one of my favorite treats were the large dill pickles that he and my parents would buy for me from the local store. He said I’d make the most terrible faces because of the sour vinegar, but I’d come right back for more. He told me that ever since, every time he saw a bottle of dill pickles, he’d think of me making those faces. He gave me the pickles because it made him smile when he thought of that.

We lost Dadoo to cancer just before my sixteenth birthday. He left a very large hole in the fabric of our family, and I wish for all of the world that my children could have known him. But I share my memories of him with them whenever I can, and they’ve come to know him through me. I loved him dearly and still miss him terribly, especially around this time of the year.

My Christmas wish for you all is that you have someone as special as Dadoo in your life, even if it’s only for a little while.

And on my holiday table, right next to the turkey’s place of honor, you’ll find my dill pickles.

     — “Little Pleasures” 2002

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In Nana & Dadoo’s kitchen, 1972

I probably won’t get the chance to post again before the New Year, so as the hustle and bustle of the holidays approach, Mike and I want to take this opportunity to wish all of our family, friends and followers a very Merry Christmas and a happy and joyous Holiday Season. All the best in 2017.

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Only Pawn in Game of Life

Early this summer Mike’s old beater pickup, Jack, lost his ring gear. Well, not so much lost, as blew it all to hell. It looked like a T-Rex had used it for a teething ring. Anyway, after shopping around a bit, it seemed too cost prohibitive to replace such an expensive part on a truck so old, so we decided to put him out to pasture permanently. He’s old, he’s worked hard for us, and he deserves it.

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RIP Jack.  You were a great old truck, and you’ll be missed.

With no truck, we were down to one vehicle, my Tucson. Now, the Tuscon is a great little vehicle, for what it is. When we bought it, I was doing wedding photography and needed something comfortable, good on gas and enough storage capacity to handle all the equipment and props that I required. It fit my needs very well.

But as in all stages of life, needs change. Now that I’m no longer doing much photography and we have made fresh plans for our Grand Adventure, its not such a great fit anymore. When it comes to pulling a trailer, it’s something less than useless. Having only two wheel drive isn’t high up there on the list of plusses either. Once we sell the house and get this show on the road (literally), the Tuscon will be the proud recipient of a brand new for sale sign.
nedBut Mike is a patient hunter.  After weeks of scouring Kijiji, Facebook, and a hundred other sources, he finally found a decent lead. A ’99 Chevy Suburban in pretty decent shape at a pretty decent price. Four wheel drive, heavy enough to pull Lonestar, lots of storage space inside, and more security than a regular pickup with the enclosed cargo space and tinted windows. (It also doesn’t hurt that Mike has a definite thing for Suburbans. But that’s a love story for another time.). It’s the best of all possible solutions, so it followed us home.

It’s not perfect, there’s a little rust and it needs a few little beauty touchups, but Mike’s a body man, so no biggies there. It runs smoothly and pulls great. Since we’ve brought it home, he’s fixed a number of small problems and installed new tires, and it gets a little closer to perfect everyday.

img_4669My only beef with it is that it’s white. I hate a white vehicle. I really don’t know why, I have no valid reason. I just don’t like the look of them. I think it must be a little like appreciating art, you either like it or you don’t, and you can’t always explain why. But on the bright side, Mike’s promised a new coat of paint for the big boy as well, so for now I can live with the color.

Meanwhile we’re still planning our holiday trip to Texas, so he’s been busy building a project in the back. 2 large drawers to hold lots of cargo, and a platform on top, big enough to support our mattress, so we’ll have a place to sleep for the long drive down and back. With winter weather being so unpredictable, we’ve opted to leave Lonestar at home for the maiden voyage and camp in the truck instead.

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Not an actual photo of ours, but very similar to what Mike’s done.

The only issue remaining was, since we name all of our vehicles, the new truck now needed to be christened. This turned out to be harder than it usually was. We discussed options for a week or two, tried out the few handles that we managed to agree on, but nothing seemed to fit just right. Try as we might, we just couldn’t come up with a solid name that felt like it belonged.

Then came the day Mike decided to remove his plow truck Cletus from the back yard. It hasn’t been on the road for several years, and was used exclusively in the yard for snow removal. As of this spring, it no longer runs, and has a front wheel that’s solidly locked in place.

He hooked the Suburban up, and slowly but steadily drug the plow truck to where wanted it. As he was unhooking it, he caught me watching in the patio door and did his best Tarzan chest thump while bragging up the new truck’s power. I laughed and told him it looked like a big white Brahma bull plodding across the yard.

We just looked at each other.

And with another nod to Mr. Brooks, Mongo had his name.

mongo

WTF?

re39Our house has been listed for about 2 months now, and I have to admit, my frustration level is rising. Not only have we not received any offers, we’ve only had 3 showings! WTF?

My well-meaning friends keep telling me how nice the house looks, what a good job we did on the renovations, and so on, but it makes me wonder when the requests for viewings are so low. And lets face it, the chances of selling the place without at least a walk-through are something less than zero.

So why isn’t anyone interested? Is it that 5 bedrooms is too large? Is it the wood heat? Is the price too high? (We’ve already reduced the price once.) Is it that we chose the wrong real estate agent? (More on this later.) I’m running out of ideas.

The house has never looked better. It takes up a fair portion of my day keeping up on the housecleaning and mess to make sure it’s ready at a moment’s notice. Trust me, with my aptitude for housecleaning, this is no mean feat. As well, Mike has been keeping the yard immaculate, mowing, trimming, and throwing dirty looks at the neighbors if their own lawns haven’t been cut in the last 24 hours.

93e79718f53b632aa0f61038c6dcb4cdAfter each of the showings, the realtor assured us that “the house showed very well”, whatever that means. To me, that’s like when someone asks how you are and you automatically answer “fine.” No real information, just a pat answer. What did they like? What didn’t they like? What could we do to improve the place? The only real feedback we’ve received was from the first couple who looked at it. While they seemed very interested, they did comment that “it was a lot of white.”

Well, it is a lot of white. But the reason for that is because I was painting it for someone else. I knew I wasn’t staying, and rather than choose a color that would no doubt be rejected, I chose to paint all walls white so that whoever moved in next had a clean palette to start with. As well, if they didn’t get around to painting right away, their belongings would still coordinate with the walls, regardless of colors.

I wanted to make it easy for the next owners. I remember too well when we first started shopping for our house. If some of the paint schemes were nasty, others were downright hideous. One house in particular, the living room was a different color on each wall, pastel yellow, dusty purple, vivid chartreuse and a jewel tone ruby red. And the agent was assuring us that it had been freshly painted within the last couple of months. She got the idea I wasn’t interested when I asked “You mean they did that on purpose?”

Next house please. To this day, I can’t conceive what color of furniture or accessories I could/would have put in that room. But I digress.

Without beating about the bush, it’s quite possible that we’ve made a mistake in our choice of a real estate agent. She came highly recommended to us by trusted friends, and at the beginning, she seemed eager and enthusiastic. But once we signed with her, I’ve been less than thrilled with her effectiveness. It seems we have to ask repeatedly (nag) to get things changed/updated, things that were planned haven’t happened at all, and I don’t feel that she’s using websites and social media up to their full potential.

A good example:  A4571167bdacd892aa6fe0e431abd95c3 week before our first showing, we received our order of firewood.   It’s 5+ cord of cut and split seasoned hardwood, more than enough to heat the house for the winter.  If the house doesn’t sell, we’ll need it.  If it does sell, we’ve decided to throw the wood in on the house sale (a value of over $1000) at no extra charge.  Basically, the new owners would heat the first winter for free.

We informed the realtor of this and asked that it be included in the description on the MLS listing, to which she agreed.  A week later we made the same request.  Still nothing.  Last night, Mike asked for the third time that it be included on the website.  We were told that heat was an issue that was usually only asked about when prospective buyers were viewing the house.  Mike quickly pointed out that we didn’t HAVE anyone viewing the house, and she promised it would be on the website in the morning.  (Actually, it was lunchtime, but it did finally appear.)

Our contract runs out at the end of November, and we’ve decided not to renew with this particular company. We’ll leave it off the market until we return from our Holiday trip to Texas early in the new year, and we’ll choose a new realtor then.

I apologize for the rant, but as I said, the frustration level is rising. That being said, the rest is a guessing and waiting game. I’ve never been particularly good at either. If patience is a virtue, Lord help me, I’m in trouble.patience-patience-pissed-off-demotivational-poster-1265208695

The Grand Tour

FINALLY! OUR HOUSE IS LISTED FOR SALE!!!

So while we wait for some lucky family to find us, I thought I’d help the realtor along by giving you the Grand Tour of our castle.

20160802_153712Located at 201 Jacqueline Drive, Miramichi, our house is a 44’x 27’ raised bungalow situated on a 1/3 acre lot. The house is located in a quiet subdivision on a dead-end street.  It’s within walking distance of a playground, walking trails, beaches and Middle Island Park, and close to schools.

The house contains 5 bedrooms and 2 full baths. The lot features 3 large lawn areas, several mature trees and rosebushes. Concrete steps lead to the main level front door, and a side deck with double stairs provides entrance to the split entry side door or the backyard. The yard also contains 2 driveways, one on either side of the house. The upper driveway is fitted with an extra sewer cleanout which can double as an RV dump station.

The house features new vinyl siding, new insulation, new stainless chimney liner and every window and exterior door has been replaced.

The lower level also features 2 unfinished rooms (concrete and cinderblock) not pictured here.  One houses the wood/oil combination furnace, and the other is used for wood storage in the winter.  There are also electric baseboard heaters used as backup heat.  Heating costs are approx. $750 annually, and electricity averages $115-$140 per month.

Private well offers excellent water, sewer is municipal at a cost of $95.97 per quarter.

Asking price is $154,700.

Following is a room-by-room description with photos:

Kitchen

Room Size:9.11 x 14.5
Features: Ample cupboard space, dual-access upper cabinets, open ‘pass-thru’ to dining room, lazy susan corner cabinet, new flooring, new window, fresh paint.  Fridge and stove are included in asking price.

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The kitchen also features a wide hallway along one end that has been fitted with extra cabinets and a countertop for extra prep area.

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Dining Room

Room Size:8.11 x 14.7
Features: Access to upper row of kitchen cabinets, new patio door, large linen closet, large ceiling fan, new flooring, fresh paint.

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Living Room

Room Size:13.5 x 23.2
Features:  Large wood-burning fireplace, new exterior front door, large closet, new light fixtures, new flooring, new windows, fresh paint.

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Master Bedroom

Room Size:10.11 x 11.6
Features:  New interior door, large closet with organizer, ceiling fan, new flooring, new window, fresh paint.

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Bedroom 3

Room Size:8.3 x 13.4
Features: Large closet with organizer, new interior door, ceiling fan,new flooring, new window, fresh paint.

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Bedroom 3

Room Size:8.6 x 13.4
Features: Large closet with organizer, new interior door, new overhead light fixture, new flooring, new window, fresh paint.

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Bathroom

Room Size:10.11 x 5
Features: New ceramic tile tub surround, new bathtub, new sink and vanity, new faucets, large tri-door medicine chest with vanity lighting, new ceramic tile flooring, new interior door, new window, fresh paint.

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Laundry Room

Room Size:6.6 x 8.1
Features: Upper cabinets, large closet, coat rack/shelf, new flooring, new exterior door, new windows, fresh paint.  Washer and dryer are not included in sale.

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Bedroom 4 (Lower Level)

Room Size:20.8 x 12.3
Features: 2 Large closets, new electric baseboard heaters, new flooring, new windows, fresh paint.

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Bedroom 5 (Lower Level)

Room Size: 11.9 x 12.6
Features: Large closet, new electric baseboard heater, dutch door, new window, fresh paint. (Apologies for the mess, it’s being used for storage right now.)

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Bathroom 2 (Lower Level)

Room Size:7.2 x 8.3
Features: New ceramic tile tub surround,  vanity lighting, new ceramic tile and laminate flooring,  fresh paint.18

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Hallway (Lower Level)

Features: New stained pine staircase, new laminate flooring, fresh paint.

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Other details can be found at http://www.miramichiriverrealty.com/Listing/ViewListingDetails.aspx?listingId=208271372