Charles and Helen's Year End Letter


2018 Holiday Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hi All!

Murphy Bed

Helen has taken over the guest bedroom. Unfortunately, the queen size bed practically filled the room, giving her very little space in which to work.

To solve this problem, I built a Murphy bed. It was an easy project as the plans for the bed came with the mechanism. Once all the sub-assemblies were completed, Tim, who was visiting over the Christmas holidays, helped me to stain and clear coat the bed. After Tim had left and the finish had hardened, Helen and I installed it in the guest room. What a difference it made! Helen now has a whole room for her use!

Staining the bed with Tim.

Staining the bed with Tim (on right).


Putting decorative trim on was a challenge. Here, all the pieces are being dry fit to make sure I cut the correct size.

SUCCESS! All the corners lined up almost perfectly!


The finished bed installed in the guest bedroom.

I even made some night stands of the perfect height.


Opening the bed.


Boy is this comfortable! Guests should have no problem sleeping here. Notice the reading lights I installed. They were not part of the plans.


Taiwan

We had a great time in Taiwan in March. We spent two weeks there, however one of the weeks was a JEDEC meeting. The highlight of the trip was a tour of the Taroko Gorge National Park. We hired a taxi driver, Tonny Teng, to give us a tour. Tonny was a great tour guide and we enjoyed the day very much.

Contact information for Tonny Teng:

The city is filled with these mopeds. It seems this is the primary mode of transportation. At traffic lights, they have a special "box" painted in front of the cars, just for these scooters. Also, every block has 2 or 3 scooter repair shops. They are very popular.

This is one of the historic entrance gates to the city, when Taipei had a wall around it.


Taroko Gourge has many interesting rock formations. Most are made of marble, which is made of trillions of sea creatures that have been compressed over billions of years. These slabs are then uplifted into mountains when tectonic plates crash together.




The Chinese lunar new year occurs in February or March, depending on the year. They celebrate for an entire month. One of the highlights for us is the annual lantern festival when many colorful lanterns are made. Most of the ones we saw were made by individuals and were entered into a competition. The ones shown on this page were the winners in various categories.


Some of the lanterns are quite complex.


A Visit with Peter from Germany

My good friend and former co-worker, Peter, visited us in April. He was our first visitor to sleep on the Murphy bed I had built. He gave it a big thumbs up!!! YEA!!!

Even though Peter only stayed a weekend, we packed it full with a trip to Big Basin State Park, a flight to Columbia, California, breakfast with friends Michelle and Bart and finally a visit to the Apple Computer visitor's center.

Big Basin State Park is in the hills about an hour from my house. It is known for all the huge Coastal Redwood trees that have been preserved. We had a great time hiking through the forest to see these monsters!

The next day, we flew to the old gold mining town of Columbia, which has been preserved as a state park. It is about an hour flight from the Bay Area. Peter enjoyed both the flight and strolling through an authentic gold mining town.

The next day we had breakfast with former co-workers and friends, Michelle and Bart. It was fun to catch up with them as the last time I had seen them was during Peter's previous visit.

Peter (left) and Charles admiring a redwood tree seedling in Big Basin State Park.


Enjoying a chance to fly the plane.


Approaching Columbia Airport in Columbia, California.

Preflight inspection prior to returning home.


Michelle and Bart after a great breakfast at Holder's Country Inn restaurant.


The model of the new Apple campus we saw when we walked into the visitor's center.

Once we were inside, we were given some Apple iPads. When they were pointed at the model, the model came alive with lots of detail of the outside of the new "spaceship" building.


When you swipe up on the roof of the building, the interior is exposed.

Pinching the picture, expanded it to show more detail on the interior of the building.


San Antonio, Texas

In April, we flew to San Antonio. The purpose of the trip was to meet up with my brother in Bandera, Texas and to go cactus hunting with a good friend of ours. I also wanted to visit with a high school friend of mine.

Ginny and I lived on the Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. She and her family arrived 6 months before my family moved to Gainesville, Florida. During that time, my brother Wayne and I had become good friends with Ginny and her sister Kathy. It had been several decades since I had last seen her, though we had kept in touch though Christmas cards. I thought it would be fun if Wayne and I met her while we were in the area. My brother was about 2 hours away in Bandera and he drove to San Antonio and we all met on the Riverwalk in downtown. Our lunch couldn't have gone better as we all had a wonderful time reminicing. Thank you Ginny for driving into San Antonio and meeting with us :-)

My brother, Wayne (left), Helen, Charles and Ginny (right).


Casita Blue Bonnet Fiberglass RV Rally in Bandera, Texas

This was our third year attending this rally. The first time was when my brother Wayne purchased his 17 foot Casita travel trailer. It was manufactured in Rice, Texas, just outside of Dallas. Helen and I had driven to Rice towing Helen's 10 foot travel trailer and were with Wayne, who had driven in from Atlanta, Georgia, when he picked up his new trailer. We then went to the largest Casita rally in the USA, which just happened to be the week following Wayne picking up his trailer.

Then last year, Helen and I had to drive her Ford Explorer from Houston to California. After she sold her house, we had moved her to California, however, we couldn't bring the Explorer. We had originally planned to bring it in January, but that was delayed as her Mother had passed away. We then planned to bring it in April, so we could stop by the Blue Bonnet rally and visit with Wayne.

This year, our friend Roelof invited us to join him cactus hunting in Texas in May. We thought this would be fun and we could combine it with another visit to the Blue Bonnet rally and again meet up with Wayne. So, even though we do not have a Casita, we have been to the largest Casita rally for the past 3 years.

The rally is held during the height of the Texas bluebonnent's blooming

As well as some other beautiful flowers.


Cactus Hunting

A good friend of ours, Roelof (from The Netherlands) asked us if we wanted to go cactus hunting with him. Since we had been hearing about his trips for years, we wanted to see what it was all about.

Roelof knows all the back roads in West Texas like the back of his hand. We stopped at many secluded spots to harvest seeds from rare cactus species. He took the seeds back to The Netherlands and will grow them in his green house.

Roelof is the envy of the Eindhoven, The Netherlands, cactus club as he has the opportunity to scour the deserts in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in search of seeds from rare species of the plant. Up until last year, when he retired, he was attending 5 to 6 JEDEC meetings in the USA each year. On almost every trip, after the meeting, he would head South and spend a week searching out cacti.

Roelof's cactus green house in The Netherlands.


Most of the cacti Roelof is interested are small. Notice the quarter in the background to give a size comparison.

Up close, the flowers are very pretty.


The seed pods are what we were looking for.

Most seed pods are so small, the use of tweezers in needed to extract them from the plant.


Here is the famous Pecos river and the high bridge over it. The bridge was built in 1957. It is 273 feet above the water and is the highest bridge in Texas. Previously, in 1923, a high bridge 50 feet above the water was built about a mile further upstream. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by flood waters in 1954.


Roelof wanted the seeds from this cactus. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it had not yet flowered, so there were no seeds available.

A week later, we came back to this cacti, hoping it would have flowered, but as you can see, we were disappointed again.


Roelof clambering over all the rocks on this hill in search of a cacti he knew was in this vicinity.


Our travels in West Texas took us to Big Bend National Park. Roelof is on the left, Charles is in the middle and Helen is on the right.

The Rio Grande river runs through the park. On the other side of the river, is Mexico.


Here are two more views of the Rio Grande river. Mexico is on the other side.

When I was a child in school, we were taught that the Rio Grande was an old, old, river and that in places, it is a mile wide and an inch deep. Unfortunately, those days have past as the water is being taken out of the river further upstream in states as far North as Colorado. As a result, by the time the river reaches Texas, there is not much water left.


All during our trip, we were climbing up and down many hills. Charles is rejoicing at having reached the top of a steep hill!


Roelof taking a break. This cactus hunting is hot and tiring work :-)

Helen, checking out the temperature of the Rio Grande river. It was cool.


We even visited an abandoned movie set out in the middle of no where (Lijitas, TX). Click on these coordinates (29.2794, -103.8412) to see the set in Google maps, satellite view.

The following movies had scenes of the cantina (far left), the river and the outhouse (far right). Note: you'll have to click on the picture to see the expanded view to find the outhouse:

  • 1985: "Uphill All the Way"
  • 1995: "Rio Diablo"
  • 1994: "Gamber V: Playing for Keeps"
  • 1995: "Streets of Laredo"
  • 1995: "My Maria" (1996 Music video of the year)
  • 1996: "Dead Man's Walk"
  • 2000: "The Journeyman"


Many of the cacti had beautiful flowers.



We even had a chance to visit the White Sands National Monument.

There is not much here, but they do have a numerous cactus plants.



Seven days later, this wonderful trip ended in El Paso, Texas. This is a panoramic view of El Paso taken from a scenic park in the hills surrounding the city.


Vancouver

Our trip to Vancouver, British Columbia was a quick one. We arrived two days before the JEDEC meeting started and left the day after it ended. On our free day, we walked around Stanely Park. This park is HUGE. It is about 5 miles around the perimeter. We didn't go all the way around, instead, we cut through the middle of the park and came upon a nice little pond, then continued through to the other side. By the time we returned to our hotel, we were really tired :-)

View from our hotel room in the Yaletown Marriott (across the street from BC Place stadium). This is looking out on False Creek.


A Korean Bi Bim Bop at the hotel where the JEDEC meeting was held. Yum! Yum!

One of my favorite desserts, Mud Pie at my favorite Canadian Steakhouse, The Keg.


Some local artwork.


Yellowstone National Park

The big vacation this year was to Yellowstone National Park. Jeff & Dee Dee and Helen & Charles had been planning the trip since last year. We had decided the best way to visit was in a travel trailer. We rented a 30 foot trailer and a Ford F250 truck to pull it. We spent an amazing two weeks exploring all parts of the park. We were lucky as the weather was beautiful during the trip.

Pictures coming soon...

Smoky Mountain National Park

The RV camping was so successful in Yellowstone, we decided to do it again in September. This time we chose Smoky Mountain National Park. My brother, Wayne, drove up with his trailer and Helen & I rented a trailer in Charlotte, NC. Dave and Karen (Helen’s son) let us use their Ford Expedition to pull the trailer. We had a great time and it solidified our desire to do more RV camping.

On the way to the Smoky Mountains, we spent a night in Ashville, NC. Helen's nephew, Jack, lives here and he manages Gan Shan West restaurant, preparing Asian food using locally sourced ingredients. This is one of the noodle dishes the restaurant prepares.


Jack loves his job as he has much more responsibility than he had working at upscale restaurants in San Diego.

By coincidence, Helen's sister-in-law Jenny (Jack's Mother) happened to be visiting from San Diego. We all got together for lunch at Jack's restaurant.


The Blue Ridge Mountains in the Smoky Mountain National Park. What a beautiful sight.


This steam in Cade's Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park fed a gristmill used to grind corn, wheat and other cereal grains.

This is a collection of farm buildings in Cade's Cove. Notice the distance between each building. This was to prevent a fire in one building from spreading to the others.


The Coachman Apex Nano travel trailer we rented from Thomas RV in Charlotte, NC.

The other side of the travel trailer showing the dining table slide out.


The floor plan of the travel trailer.

After spending 10 days in this queen size bed, we decided we preferred a bed with aisles on both sides so either one of us could get up and not disturb the other.


The kitchen had a two burner stove with the microwave oven underneath. Using this setup confirmed we wanted a three burner stove with a baking oven underneath.

On the left side of the picture, you can see the bunk beds. We felt this was wasted space as we only used this area for storage.


The slide out gave us about 18 inches extra room. This was needed as this trailer was only 7.5 feet wide. However, from talking with the owner of the rental company, he said slide outs ALWAYS leak. You just can't get away from it. Also, it adds mechanical complexity and the chance of the slide mechanism breaking was pretty high. This confirmed our desire to have a trailer with no slides.


2008 Ford Expedition

When we returned from the Smoky Mountains, Dave and Karen asked us how we liked the Expedition. We told them it worked out perfectly. Whereupon, they offered us the vehicle as they had purchased a truck! Helen drove it to Snow Camp, NC, to visit her cousin Betty and drove to Florida to visit with her brother, Harold. A couple of weeks later, I flew to Florida so we could drive it to California.

Driving to California

Our first stop was in Tallahassee, Florida to spend a couple of hours with my good friend Lucy. We went a very good restaurant and enjoyed both a good meal and good conversation with Lucy.

After a great meal with Lucy (right).


Our trip to California was not exactly in a straight line. As the map shows, we made a BIG detour to Missouri.


Before I flew to Florida, I had researched on the Internet the make and model of a used travel trailer we would be interested in purchasing. I had found the model of choice in about 8 different locations in Texas, Arizona and California. This would have been on a direct routing to home. However, while I was in Florida, I found two used trailers in Linn Creek, Missouri. The pricing was better than any of the other locations I had found. Helen and I discussed it and we decided to make the 11 hour (one way) detour to check them out.

Jayco Jay Flight 212QB Travel Trailer

The first place we stopped, Quality RV in Linn Creek, MO, had exactly what we wanted. We purchased it on November 1 and used the Expedition to pull it to California. We have now spent 12 nights in the trailer and absolutely love it!

Pulling the trailer out of the dealership with our Ford Expedition.


Trailer floor plan. Click picture for larger view.

The neat thing about the bedroom, is the aisle on either side of the bed. Neither one of us has to crawl over the the other to get out of bed.


There is plenty of room in the bathroom. When sitting on the toilet, your knees will not hit a wall or the door. Also, the shower is plenty tall for a 6 foot plus person as the skylight over the tub extends up above the roof line.

Helen wanted a TWO door refrigerator. This fridge is big for an RV with over 6 cubic feet of space inside.


Helen also wanted a 3 burner stove with an oven and I wanted a deep double sink for doing the dishes.

My requirement was to have both a sofa and a dining room table.

One neat feature of the living area are the three windows one on each side and the back. This makes the trailer feel larger than it is.


Cozy MKIV Airplane Project

Sadly, I have not worked on the Cozy airplane project for about 3 years. I have decided it is time to give it up and hope to find a new home for the airplane. If you know anyone that might be interested in the project, let me know.

Visitors this Year

Tim from Texas and Peter from Germany were our only visitors this year. Of course, we were not home that much ;-)

We hope your year was as eventful and as exciting as ours and...

We wish you a merry holiday season and a happy New Year!

Love,

Charles & Helen