Fall and Winter in Texas and North Carolina

Autumn and winter in Texas. 

Finnie’s Big Projects:  Finnie’s fall projects evolved into large woodworking projects.  He had given away and sold many of his electrical and hand tools before our move to Fort Worth thinking that a) he no longer would need these kinds of tools, and b) he did not want to move the tools.  The new woodworking projects created an opportunity to purchase new tools that he would enjoy using a router and router table, a reciprocating saw, a circular saw, and several nice hand tools.  He turned the garage into a wonderful convertible garage/woodworking space. 

Figure 1. Our garage Workshop

New Gate:  In November it was apparent that the driveway gate at Kathy and Micheal’s house was rapidly deteriorating.  It was sagging from too much weight straining the hinges that were not stout enough to hold the gate in place.  And the wood was falling apart from being under so much stress.  So with hammer, saw, level, straightedge, screws, and new fence rails in hand, Finnie and Kathy constructed a new driveway gate one Saturday afternoon.  It is good-looking, sturdy, well braced, and easily locks into place.  It enables Kathy and Micheal to park their cars in a secure place overnight and creates a secure, protected back yard space.  

Kitchen Cabinet: The next project was to build a kitchen island for Kathy and Micheal’s kitchen.  This was not the first wood working project that Finnie has completed – my latest count is that he has completed 10 similarly complicated projects.  After lots of planning and discussion, the wood was chosen, the design of the island cabinet was decided upon, and work began.  The new router table allowed Finnie to make very elegant corners and doors.  With glue, clamps, and lots of careful measuring the cabinet is definitely a work of art – and of love!   This project occupied both of us for the first couple of weeks of December.  It was a good physical and mental exercise especially for Finnie to make sure all his cuts were correct and everything fit together.  We stained and coated the cabinet with polyurethane prior to our leaving for a vacation at Topsail Beach, NC.  And as soon as the coating was dry we delivered it to Kathy and Micheal’s house.   The pictures below are of the cabinet including one of the finished cabinet with a paper “top” which represented the granite top that was being made for it but was not ready before we left. 

Figure 2.  The Cabinet after assembly; Finnie used the shipping carton for one of his new tools as a workbench.  He’s a genius if he must say so himself!

Figure 3.  Finnie making a door for the cabinet


Figure 4.  Staining the cabinet in our kitchen – where it is warm and mostly dustless


Figure 5.  Cabinet all finished except for granite top

After we returned from our beach vacation, we picked up the granite top from the manufacturer and delivered it to Kathy and Micheal’s house.  Micheal was home that day and with the help of Micheal, John (Micheal’s Dad), and Li Wenjing (who was visiting us that week); we installed the top on the cabinet.  Here is a picture of the finished cabinet!


Figure 6.  Cabinet with granite top finally installed, L-R: Deb, Finnie, Micheal, and John

New Shelves:  One of the nice features of the cabinet is the sliding metal racks inside the cabinet.  When we purchased them for the cabinet I realized that they would be perfect for our own kitchen cabinet where the pots, pans, and baking dishes are stored.  I was tired of bending upside down to try to find the dish or pot I was looking for.  So I asked Finnie to install four of these racks in our kitchen cabinet and that would be my Christmas present from him.  The racks are wonderful and create an orderly way to store the cooking utensils as well as easily find them when I want to use them.

Repairing light fixtures:  the light in the kitchen was extremely temperamental.  It blinked on and off all the time.  Finnie temporarily fixed it by securing it more tightly to the ceiling, but we finally realized that the light fixture itself was dysfunctional.  So we purchased a replacement fixture and Finnie installed it one evening.  What a wonderful difference that made to have a light that stays on all the time and doesn’t blink.

Speaking of lights, my mother realizes how handy Finnie is and has asked Finnie to repair several things for her.  One of the repair jobs was rewiring a lamp and the other was creating a place to hang her grow light for her orchids.  Both jobs were easy for Finnie but provided my mother with added light where she needed it.

Figure 7.  Grow-light for Velna’s orchids

Garden Boxes:  At the beginning of January as Texas started to warm up and thoughts of gardening drifted into mind, Kathy and Micheal decided that it would be awesome to have box gardens in their back yard.  This would allow them to control weeds, watering, and fertilizer better.  They had planned to have a new irrigation system put into the yard in February and so January would be a good time to build the garden boxes.  So they asked if Finnie could build them.  Of course, what a great project because it would not require exact cuts and it would be a relatively quick project before we left for China.  We priced the treated lumber needed and decided on the place to purchase it, rented a truck to bring all of it home and Finnie started sawing.  Within a week he had sawed all the wood into the correct lengths enabling the garden boxes to even have removable inside spacers.  Using my mother’s and Kathy’s SUV’s we hauled the cut lumber to Kathy and Micheal’s house and Finnie and Kathy assembled the six 4 foot square garden boxes.  Within a couple of weeks, the new irrigation system was installed and the installer even created a special watering system for each garden box!  So we are all looking forward to enjoying a plethora of fresh tomatoes, peppers, squash, onions, beans, and herbs this summer!

Figure 8.  Three of the six garden boxes, with things already planted (as of March 20)

Finnie enjoys woodworking projects and fixing things, so he is kept busy because fortunately our house is old enough that repairs constantly need to be made, my mother has discovered Finnie’s fix-it abilities, and our daughter and new son in law, my mom, and I have fertile minds generating project ideas.


Deb’s Presentations to Betsy Ball’s International Management and Leadership classes at Tarleton State University on “Why Live in China?”  Our good friend and colleague, Betsy Ball, an assistant professor at Tarleton State University (part of the Texas A&M system) in Stephenville, Texas invited us to present a lecture to her Monday evening class of students on November 8, 2010 and also to two undergraduate classes of students on February 7, 2011.  We prepared our lecture that included lots of pictures of our life in Weihai during the 2009-2010 academic year to answer the questions we posed – 1) why live and work and study in China?  2) What are the challenges that expatriates face living and studying in another country?

Figure 9.  Betsy Introducing Deb

Figure 10.  Deb listening to a question

We had a grand time presenting this information and thoroughly enjoyed the astute questions posed by the students.  As in any group of people, some are not interested while some are motivated to take the next step toward their goal.  We were happy to learn that in each class, some students were motivated to consider studying and working abroad, even as far away as China, as a real option for themselves! The lecture also provided the two of us an opportunity to reflect and analyze our life in China.  We found ourselves reading several books and viewing documentaries that helped fill in the gaps of our knowledge and understanding about politics, culture, economy, and everyday life of Chinese people.

Figure 11.  Q&A Period
Click here to see a pdf version of our lecture.

Thank you, Betsy, for providing us the opportunity to talk about our favorite subject with your students.  And thank your students for their attention and great questions. 

Thanksgiving and Kathy’s Birthday:

Thanksgiving Day 2010:  We were really lucky to have our Fort Worth family members gather together for a Thanksgiving dinner at our house.  There were six of us (Velna, John Preble,  Kathy and Micheal Preble, Finnie and Deb) and we enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of roasted turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, Velna’s homemade potato rolls, and Kathy’s homemade apple pie! 

After dinner, Kathy and Micheal hurried off to another Thanksgiving dinner with Micheal’s mom’s family while John stayed and watched the football game on TV with Finnie.  I took my mom home after the dishes were done as she had worked hard to prepare several of the dishes for the meal.  And Finnie and I took John home after the football game.  It was a nice relaxed day with close family.

Thanksgiving is a special time for most families since its timing at the end of November signals the beginning of the December holiday season.  It is a time when families make a special effort to get together and catch up with each other.  


Figure 12.  Our small family Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Euless, Texas

While dinner was in the last moments of preparation, Kathy and her grandmother compared notes on a knitting project.  My mom had taught Kathy how to knit about 3 years ago, and Kathy has been knitting ever since.  It is always a joy to me to watch my mother and my daughter enjoying each other’s company.


Figure 13.  Velna and Kathy at our house in Euless, Texas

 Kathy’s Birthday:  Kathy’s birthday is in the middle of December adding another special event to our family’s holiday season.  This year Finnie and I treated Kathy and Micheal to a birthday dinner at a restaurant of their choice.  It was a joint birthday dinner since we would not be in the U.S. for Micheal’s birthday in March.  We went to their favorite Italian restaurant.  For an after dinner drink we went to one of their favorite hang-outs and enjoyed wine and scotch by the fire.  We love this picture of Micheal and Kathy, and the following one of all four of us is also a favorite picture.


Figure 14.  Kathy and Micheal with her piece of Birthday cake


 Figure 15.  The family at Kathy’s Birthday dinner

 The Mayflower Ladies: My mother invited Kathy and me to lunch at a chic little restaurant in downtown Fort Worth in October 2010.  We enjoyed being with each other for this lunch and this picture is a family favorite.  Since this lunch, the three of us have enjoyed several lunches together and at one of them (after our beach trip) we decided that we were “The Mayflower Ladies”. 


Figure 16.  Kathy, Deb, and Velna — three generations of determined and highly independent women!

 Tarleton State University Jazz Band Concert: 

Betsy and Greg Ball invited us to Greg’s Jazz Band Concert in early December 2010.  Greg is an associate professor in music, teaching saxophone and directing the Tarleton State University’s Jazz Band II.  The Jazz Band program at Tarleton is a product of Greg’s passion for good jazz music.  He has developed this program so that there are actually two bands, one of student musicians who are just learning to play in a jazz band (Jazz Band I), and directed by Cara Pollard, and one for students who play very well (Jazz Band II), directed by Greg Ball.  Jazz Band II has played at a professional level not only at Tarleton State but also at many venues in Europe and in the U.S.  We enjoyed all the evening’s performances so much!!  The best part was that because one of the students could not play that evening, Greg had to play that student’s part; therefore, we were treated to a solo saxophone performance played by Greg.  We loved the performance! 

Later that evening after the performance we went back to the Ball’s house and enjoyed a gourmet dinner that Betsy and Greg had prepared for us and Cara Pollard.  And after dinner we were treated to a performance by their son, David, on his marimba.  Like his dad, David is a talented young man!

Thank you , Betsy, Greg, and David, for inviting us to your home and to the concert!


Figure 17.  Greg Ball, Professor of Jazz Music and Band


Figure 18.  The Band


Figure 19.  Dinner at the Ball’s after the concert.

Vacation at the Beach:   For over 2 decades our family has been traveling to southern North Carolina to renew family bonds with my small family and Finnie’s extended family.  When the kids were small we would stay with one relative or another, but as the kids got to be active teenagers, Finnie and I realized that renting a beach house on nearby Topsail Island would be a better solution.  So Christmas of 2010 was no different except that none of our kids were able to join us this year; however, my mother, who now lives near us in Texas, did join us.

Visit with son, Michael, and his family — Natale, Bergen and Athena.  This particular visit to the beach started with a 3 day car ride from Texas to North Carolina which included a quick overnight visit with Michael, Natale, and the grandchildren, Bergen and Athena.  It was good see them for at least a brief time before heading on the coast.  Due to other time constraints, and a serious illness in the family, they were unable to join us at the beach.

Figure 20.  Super snowman builders — Bergen and Athena

Figure 21.  Super snowman and Super Builders

Christmas and New Year at Topsail Island, North Carolina:  We rented an adorable cottage right by the edge of the waves and enjoyed 2 weeks of restful sleep with the waves lulling us to sleep at night

Figure 22.  House we rented on Topsail Island

We arrived in our cottage after a quick stop at the grocery store for supplies and found this cottage to be one of the best equipped and supplied cottages we had ever rented! 

During the day we watched the marine and bird life.  The most thrilling day was when hundreds of dolphins swam along the waves going toward the south.  They surfed in the waves, leapt out of the water, and circled around schools of small fish. 

Figure 23.  Dolphins just beyond the surf — look for the exposed dorsal fins.

Figure 24.  The beach at our house

Unlike many of the new beach cottages with multiple floors and lots of stairs, this cottage only had one set of stairs to the front door and then the bedrooms, kitchen, living area, and screened in porch was on one level with a wonderful view of all the action at surfside.  My mother had a room overlooking the ocean as did we, which made our stay pleasant and memorable.

Figure 25.  Sunrise from our bedroom

Figure 26.  Deb on Beach


Figure 27.  Velna on the beach

It was our turn to host a family get together and we did so at the beach cottage, but the day we chose turned out to be an unusual weather day in that it snowed almost an inch.  This is highly unusual for North Carolina beaches.  Within a few days the temperature was back into the normal range of 60F during the day.  Needless to say our reunion was understandably not well attended.

Figure 28.  Murray Family Christmas Dinner at the Beach House

But the subsequent warmer days allowed many family and friend get-togethers. 

Figure 29.  Sisters Helen and  Zelma helping Finnie with his genealogy project

Figure 30.  Finnie and Vel working on genealogy —  It was during the time, that we confirmed that Velna’s (and therefore, Deb’s and Kathy’s ancestors) were among the passengers on the voyage of the Mayflower, which made land at what is now known as Plymouth Rock in March 1621

As you have observed, the family gathers mostly around meal times to enjoy huge servings of fresh seafood – shrimp, flounder, crab – or Carolina pork barbeque with the accompanying southern vegetables of okra, slaw, butter beans, field peas, etc.

Figure 31.  Dinner together at Jones’ Seafood

We usually don’t give each other a lot of gifts, just one or two small things.  But Finnie and I decided to give my mother an i-pod i-touch, since she enjoys new electronic devices.  The i-touch allowed her access to her email, ability to take and send photos and videos, and to enjoy her favorite music.  She seemed to enjoy it!  Naturally, that led to a Kindle for her January 12, 91st birthday!  And they seemed to be a hit with all of Velna’s friends!

Figure 32.  Velna with her iTouch ipod  and Kindle

We reluctantly loaded all our stuff into the car and left the cottage on the last day.  We promised to return next winter!  The beach had a soothing, rejuvenating effect on all of us.  Our 3 day journey back to Texas was uneventful, but long!

Li Wenjing’s visit:  Just after we returned from our Christmas holiday at the beach in North Carolina, we were happy to host Li Wenjing.  Li Wenjing is now a graduate student at North Illinois University.  She attended UNK during her 3rd year of college and graduated from Shandong University last June.  During her winter break this year, Wenjing was able to visit us in Fort Worth.  We spent several days introducing her to our family.  She helped with the finishing touches of Kathy and Micheal’s kitchen counter, we drove on a sightseeing trip around Fort Worth, visited the Kimball Art Museum, toured the stockyards, and Wenjing was a guest at my mother’s birthday party!  She even changed the batteries in one of our fire alarms for Finnie. We had a wonderful time  and we are so happy that she could visit us for a few days!  Thanks Wenjing!

Figure 33.  Wenjing and Deb at the Ft. Worth Stockyards

Figure 34.  The finished cabinet with granite top; Wenjing, Deb, Micheal, and John


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6 Responses to Fall and Winter in Texas and North Carolina

  1. Kathy Livingston says:

    Loved the update. It sounds like you two are still having a wonderful adventure, wherever you happen to be. It is great to travel vicariously with you!

    • Thanks Kathy! Sorry that I sort of published the update yesterday instead of keeping it as a draft until I had finished it. Anyway, yes, we are still having the adventure of a lifetime! I hope all is well with you and that you are having a lot of fun, too!

  2. Karen Harmon says:

    Thanks for catching us up! It was so fun to see the posts and to at least see some of the family!!


  3. LuAnne says:

    Looks like you guys stayed busy while back in the states. Sorry we missed you at Christmas. Enjoyed all your pics.

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