Life in Texas, July 21 to September 30, 2011.
We managed to quickly get through the jet lag period after our return. Staying up late and sleeping as late as possible in the morning, coupled with melatonin at bedtime, seemed to be a good strategy this time. After a week we were back on Texas time. Renewing family ties was first on our wish list! Also, during this time we started working on several projects – buying a used pickup truck, repairing hail damage to the house roof and car, making major updates to the house, and helping prepare Tata’s (our unborn grandchild) room.
Renewing family ties
Re-establishing a family tradition started before we left for China the last time, we try to have a family Sunday Brunch together every week. It helps re-connect the local family and we have an enjoyable time together.
Other family meals at each other’s homes have continued to offer times for us to be together. Foods enjoyed at our family gatherings have included one of the following main entrees: grilled hamburgers, homemade chicken pot pie, or boiled lobster tails.
Figure 1. Family Gathering in Kathy and Micheal’s back yard
Figure 2. Checking out Kathy and Micheal’s Garden
Figure 3. Some of Kathy and Micheal’s garden produce.
Figure 4. Having a picnic at the DFW airport picnic plaza
Finnie bought himself a used pick-up truck. It is a dark blue 2007 Toyota Tacoma. It is fun to drive and it has come in very handy during the last 2 months since we have been back to take things to the recycle bin, the Goodwill store, and to haul furniture from one location to another. We will probably be hauling wood for Finnie’s woodworking projects and, as time goes on, other large bulky items from one location to another as the family needs help. Another reason for purchasing a second vehicle is that especially here in a large metroplex area with limited, and expensive, public transportation, a second vehicle is essential for safety and transportation.
We actually bought this vehicle the first weekend we were back in Texas. Finnie had shopped on line while we were still in Weihai for the type of truck to buy that had the best recommendations from Consumer Reports (and the price that we should expect to pay for such a vehicle) and had narrowed down his choice of truck to a 2007 Toyota Tacoma. So when we returned to the states all we had to do was check out a few car dealerships to find the best truck for the best price. Over the last 20 years or so, we have found that buying well cared for used cars and trucks is a more economical way to purchase vehicles.
Figure 5. Finnie’s new truck
Repair Hail Damage
As everyone knows, 2011 has been an impressively active year weather-wise. With large typhoons and hurricanes causing excessive damage, hundreds of tornadoes devastating large areas of the U.S. midwest, horrible droughts in Asia and the U.S., massive floods in other areas of the world, earthquakes and tsunamis like the ones in Japan in March 2011, record-breaking excessive heat and cold in every region of the world, it was inevitable that our house in Texas would suffer some damage at some point while we were gone. On May 25, 2011 a massive hail storm associated with several small tornadoes swept through the Fort Worth area and most houses in the metroplex were damaged from the fist-sized hail stones. Our house roof was hit with many such hailstones, which damaged the whole roof including smashing the outer shell of the skylight in our living room. Our car which was parked in the middle of Fort Worth at the time was extensively dented as well. We called the house and car insurance company and started the process of getting both the house roof and the car repaired. Since so many people in the area had similar problems, we had to wait our turn. Fortunately the excessive heat and drought meant that we did not have to worry about rain damage due to the damaged roof and skylight! Anyway, as of last week, we have a new roof and skylight, and the car has been beautifully repaired.
Figure 6. New roof and skylight on our house. (OK, the old roof looked just like this one before it was damaged.)
While we were preparing for our departure from Weihai, we were also planning for our return to the United States and to our house in Fort Worth. We purchased our house just before we started living in Weihai and knew at the time we purchased it that we would be remodeling it when we had a chance. The house was built about 15 years ago and we knew at the time of purchase that several things needed to be replaced, repaired, or upgraded. Our decision to do all the remodeling at once was precipitated by the fact that we will be traveling in the late Fall and our newest grandchild will be born in mid-February. We worked together on most of the projects: Finnie is an excellent handyman and loves to complete electrical, plumbing, and woodworking projects; I am pretty good at painting, dry wall repair, and organizing our stuff more efficiently. Below is the list of projects and pictures showing the results after the remodeling job was complete.
Rearranging placement of furniture and replacing worn-out furniture. We rearranged the living room by moving some furniture to other rooms, donating the old furniture to Goodwill, and buying new (more comfortable) furniture to replace the worn-out furniture.
Figure 7. New Sofa in remodeled living room.
Cleaning fireplace insert, repainting mantel, installing TV cabling to new location of television: The cement around the fireplace insert fell out of the fireplace before we left in January, so we replaced the insulation, cleaned up the bricks around the fireplace, cleaned and painted the mantle, and installed our flat screen TV over the fireplace. Finnie spent several hours in our hot attic installing new cabling for the TV
Figure 8. Fireplace in remodeled living room (Don’t ask what was on TV… we don’t know!)
Replacing kitchen countertop: The original kitchen countertop was beginning to show its age. It was a traditional tile countertop that was hard to keep clean and stain free. Water leaked through the porous grout and caused the plywood under the tiles to swell. Using Angie’s List, a referral service for goods and services, we found a granite countertop company that would make a countertop to fit our kitchen. We were happy to find that the company was able to complete the job from our first phone call to end of installation within 3 weeks. It was an interesting process: first we had to choose the piece of Brazilian granite we wanted, then a group of craftsmen cut the granite to the exact measurements and installed it, and second group of craftsmen skilled in putting up tile installed the backsplash. Finnie and I went to an enormous warehouse where we were able to choose the slab of granite we wanted from thousands of slabs of granite ( each measuring 8 feet by 15 feet and weighing several thousand pounds). We finally found the right one – a light tan colored piece with a pleasing speckled pattern of other natural colors. It was interesting to watch the craftsmen do their job and especially fun to see the transformation of the kitchen from a white tile kitchen to a more modern kitchen. Finnie fixed several electrical issues in the kitchen – upgrading several electrical switches and installing two new under-the-cabinet lights. He also installed a small water heater under the kitchen sink that gives us instant hot water at the kitchen sink, rather than having to wait for the hot water to get to the faucet from the big water heater in the attic (which, by the way, had been replaced while we were gone because it was leaking). A water shortage in our region makes us very conscious of creating ways to conserve water in any way possible and this little water heater saves gallons of water.
Figure 9. Kitchen before new counter top
Figure 10. installers starting counter top replacement
Figure 11. Finnie installing under cabinet lights and extra electrical outlets during counter top installation
Figure 12. Kitchen after new counter tops
New floors: When the house was built, a white carpet was installed – badly. The carpet was wrinkled, stained, and for whatever reason was never clean – no matter how much we vacuum-cleaned and shampooed it. Since we can come up with great ways of helping us depart from large sums of money, I suggested that we consider replacing the carpet with a wood floor. We discovered that while new carpet would be less expensive, a wood floor would be easier to clean and increase the overall value of the house. So again through Angie’s list we found a flooring contractor who efficiently and professionally helped us through the process of selecting the flooring product to use and then installed the floor. We chose the floor we wanted (which looks better than we had imagined!) and it was installed within two weeks of our first call to the company. Six young, agile men were able to install the floor in 8 hours and that included moving the furniture out of the way and then back in the original locations, as well as reinstalling base boards. We were really impressed with the quality of the workmanship and the quality of the floor.
Finnie was able to replace the in-floor electrical outlet so that it meets the electrical housing codes. We found that former owners had just poured cement into the electrical outlet box and had not cut the electrical current to the box – it was a fire hazard waiting to happen. This job took several hours of chiseling out concrete to accommodate the outlet box and making sure there was enough electrical wire to complete the connection properly.
Figure 13. Installing the new wood floor
Figure 14. Deb in Living Room after flooring installation
Getting Ready for Tata
Who is TaTa? In Chinese, Ta is the Pinyin word for “he”, “she” and “it”. Since we don’t know the sex of Kathy and Micheal’s unborn baby, we refer to the baby as “TaTa”. Both sides of the family are very excited about TaTa. In anticipation, we are working on projects that will help Kathy and Micheal prepare for Tata’s needs after birth like painting the nursery, woodworking projects, and shopping for baby equipment.
At 22 weeks, Tata is growing well and, most importantly, is a healthy baby according to all the blood tests and the 20-week sonogram. Kathy and Micheal decided not to learn of the baby’s gender at this sonogram. This picture is a snapshot from the 20 week sonogram of Tata, the newest family member…..
Figure 15. Sonogram of Tata (taken on October 7)
Painting the room On a date when many family members were available, we met at Kathy and Micheal’s house to paint the room that will be TaTa’s room. Kathy chose to paint the room an avocado green color, with white underneath a chair-rail. The painting process took longer than we anticipated, but the final result is wonderful! It will be a brightly colored room and full of interesting things for TaTa to look at and play with.
Building a changing table top –
Finnie built a changing table top designed similarly to the one he built for us to use for Kathy. It is a wooden box that sits securely on top of a dresser. The one he built for TaTa is very fancy with places to hold diapers, cleaning wipes, and other associated diaper changing needs. The changing table top fits very tightly on top of the dresser and is a beautifully constructed piece of furniture. Here are a few pictures of Finnie constructing the box as well as the final result.
Figure 16. Deb and Finnie starting assembly of the changing table.
Figure 17. Changing bed assembled
Figure 18. Changing bed painting. It was hot!
Figure 19. Tata’s changing table in Ta’s room!
Shopping for baby equipment – Last Saturday, Kathy and I went to a HUGE exchange sale of baby stuff. We were lucky to have found a bed for TaTa’s first few months that will allow her/him to safely sleep next to Kathy and Micheal. We also found a few clothes, blankets, nursing pillows, and other items. It was a lot of fun to shop together for these items and we were able to purchase gently used items for a reasonable amount.
In mid-September, Finnie’s sister, Helen, traveled from North Carolina to visit us for 2 weeks. We enjoyed several family get-togethers during her visit . The highlight of her trip was a week long driving trip through the Hill country of Texas and a quick visit to the Riverwalk area of San Antonio. It is always wonderful when Helen visits us!!
We started our trip by driving west to Abilene, then turned south through ranch country, heading for the historic town of Fredericksburg in the beautiful hill country of Texas.
Figure 20, We saw lots of cattle!
Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants, and so the town and region offer a distinctive flavor: German food, wineries, and a historical museum about World War II naval activities in the Pacific. Fredericksburg is the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and there is an impressive museum in the old hotel that Nimitz’s father owned and operated.
Figure 21. The Nimitz’ hotel building and currently a major portion of the World War II museum.
Figure 22. Entrance to the Nimitz Museum
Figure 23. Helen and Deb at the Nimitz museum
Figure 24. Helen and Deb in the Japanese Garden at the Nimitz museum
Figure 25. Helen and Finnie in the Japanese Garden at the Nimitz Museum
Figure 26. Finnie in the Nimitz Museum Japanese Garden.
Fredericksburg area is also famous for the scenery, especially in early spring when wild flowers are blooming. We were definitely not there in spring! However, one of the places where wildflowers are very abundant in spring is a beautiful round boulder called Enchanted Rock. Enchanted Rock is huge pink granite boulder that covers 1 square mile in area in has 425 feet in height projecting above the ground. It is beautiful any time of year.
Figure 28. Approaching Enchanted Rock.
Figure 29. Enchanted Rock. Can you see the large group of climbers about half way up?
There are many wineries near Fredericksburg, and we visited one of the best — Becker’s!
Figure 30. Becker’s tasting room.
Also near Fredericksburg is the huge city of Luckenbach, population 3. Luckenbach, Texas was made famous by a song, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” We enjoyed seeing the sort of ghost town!
Figure 31. Combination General Store, saloon, and at one time, Post Office in Luckenbach.
Figure 32. Outdoor saloon in Luckenbach
After our visit to Fredericksburg and area, we drove over to San Antonio, a beautiful city in southern Texas. San Antonio is known as the site of the Alamo a Spanish mission at which a small group of people fought to the death against a much larger Mexican Army in 1836. Although the defenders lost the battle, it was a significant event in the struggle of Texans to gain independence from Mexico.
Figure 33. Deb and Helen in front of the Alamo.
Another aspect of San Antonio that attracts visitors is the Riverwalk. Riverwalk is a beautiful section of the city in which streams that run through shops and restaurants. It is always delightful to spend time at the Riverwalk.
Figure 34. Section of Riverwalk
Figure 35. The Marriage Island on the Riverwalk.
Figure 36. Helen and Deb at Dinner on the Riverwalk.
Figure 37. Tower of the Americas.
We had a load of fun on this trip, and it was so much fun to have Helen with us!