Jan. 21st, 2015

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
December, 2014
Hello everybody,

What an eventful year in the Tim and Joel camp. After a particularly hellish winter, where we did not go a single week from mid-December through early March without a measurable snowday, we made a huge decision while basking in the warmth of Palm Springs California preparing for the wedding of Joel’s nephew Oren to his lovely bride Becca. We went looking at real estate, just for fun. We would both like to spend winters there once Joel retires (2016). We found a place for a crazy low price, had it checked out, and as of now we’ve become the owner of a modest winter home in the desert.

The place is a manufactured home in a 55+ mobile home park about a mile south of downtown right up against the big mountain that looms over Palm Springs. It's 2 bedrooms, 1 bath with a 2-car carport and patio in the back with a view of the mountain. The kitchen is beautiful - granite counter tops, an island, plenty of cabinet space. The place needs some work but is structurally sound.

No sooner did we sign the papers than it was time for the trip to India and Nepal. It was an amazing and mind-opening adventure. We got to see amazing ancient ruins, stunning modern opulence, bone crushing over-population surrounded by mind-numbing poverty. There was so much to see and the tour group did its best to get us to and from each location via special luxury busses, which helped to keep us in something of a bubble from the rest of the populous who, as soon as they saw a bunch of mostly white tourists stepping off a bus, swarmed you with either panhandling or attempts to sell you souvenirs.

But the tour was colorful, filled with a completely different culture from what you are used to. What we consider sacred and they do could fill a whole letter on its own, from the cremations along the Ganges river to the omnipresent cows.

However if we had only made one stop on the tour and spent one day, the Taj Mahal was worth the entire tour. We were rousted from our beds at 4:45 AM in order to get there ahead of the lines and – most importantly – to watch the sun rise over the complex. The buildings literally shimmer in the early light. It’s something no description or photograph can possibly relay. As Kishur, our Mr. Fix It of a tour guide noted, “There are two types of people in the world, those that have seen the Taj Mahal and those that haven’t.”

Oh yeah, Tim got to ride an elephant. One more thing off the bucket list. Joel was smart enough not to take that particular sea-sickness potential affair.

Nepal was equally beautiful and majestic. In addition to visiting a few Buddha Stuppas, we flew along Mount Everest, which is one of these thing that makes you think “Oh the Rockies are mountains? We’ll show you some mountains.” Oddly enough, our flight along the Himalayas took place just a week before a series of avalanches killed a group of climbers. Nature still is mightier than anything man can conjure.

Two weeks later, we were in Ohio for one of Tim’s Book events. Tim also hosted his annual Author’s Roundtable which always gets a small but passionate crowd. We’re always pleased by the attendance and the participation. There were other book events this year in DC, Palm Springs, Northern California and Philadelphia.

Then came Summer.
One cross country drive from Philly to Palm Springs. Two campouts. Joel had neck surgery. Two concerts. A renovation that turned the garage into a new family room. And one special announcement. Busy, busy busy.

The trip was an interesting one. Joel made the impromptu decision to buy a used van so that we could haul a bunch of things from home to Palm Springs, including two Kashmir rugs we had shipped to us from India. We wound up with a Chrysler Town and Country that has been affectionately been dubbed Wilma. We stuffed her to the gills and proceeded to drive. We did it over Memorial Day weekend, so my birthday was spent somewhere in middle America. Things turned out nicely, though, as the van is a joy to drive and gets better mileage than one would expect from such a behemoth. Plug in the Ipod and you’re ready to groove.

Before Joel’s surgery, we started in on cleaning out the garage clean out in preparation for the new room. Effectively a storage dump for decades of crap, it took us a full three days’ worth of hauling junk out, sorting wheat from chafe, taking trash to the curb and keepers to the Black Hole of Calcutta….err, the storage shed. As you can see in the picture, the trash was lined from curb to curb. To our surprise, the trash collectors took it all. Then came the contractor. He’s well known throughout the neighborhood, as he’s done work with several of our immediate neighbors and has impeccable credentials. 

Along with that came the banging, the breaking, the smashing, and the DUST! Since we didn’t have a passage from the main house to the garage, one had to be created. The new bay windows had to be created from a non-existent ‘porch’ area. Frames for floors and walls all had to be put into place. All of this while Joel was in the early stages of recovery.

Joel had been dealing with neck and arm pain for the better part of six months when he finally got diagnosed with a pinched nerve that would require neck surgery to alleviate. The Doctors originally wanted to schedule the surgery for before we went camping, but Joel talked them into doing it just after. The surgery went well, and the recovery went faster than anticipated. While he had a month’s paid recovery leave, he was pretty much ready to return to work in three. He did wear the brace to work a couple of nights, but didn’t really need it. The doctors have told him to be careful all the same as such surgeries take up to a year to heal completely. They went through his neck and infused the space between the affected vertebrae with bone shavings to fuse the discs and relieve the nerve pressure.

By then, the house renovation was well underway. Despite the disruption, things went by in a seemingly quick progression. We also had the majority of the first floor repainted. It all looks fantastic. The dining room now holds our marble table with semi-precious stone inlays from India. It’s beautiful and will never be moved: it weighs 300 pounds.

We decided to christen the new dining room set-up with a dinner with Joel’s youngest daughter Miriam and her partner Suzanne, and his recently married nephew Oren and Becca. They both decided to surprise us with the news: both Miriam and Becca are pregnant. We’ll be grandparents again (this makes 3) and Great Uncles.

In the midst of this, Tim had a ticket to see the Queen and Adam Lambert concert. Even though it has been almost 25 years since Freddie Mercury has died, Lambert more than filled the tights of Mercury adequately. Next was The Avett Brothers, a three piece folk band that we travelled to Bethlehem to see. What was as impressive as the show itself was what Bethlehem has done to revitalize their city. What used to be old steel mills are now venues for shopping and for seeing music, instead of being abandoned to the elements. While not a summer event, after years of not being in the USA, we got to see Cat Stevens in Philly.

November was an unusually odd month, even by any standards. We scheduled a trip to Palm Springs to do a little more work on the house and then to drive the van back to Pennsylvania. We even went out for Palm Springs Pride and I packed a suitcase of books to vend. Should have been an easy trip, right?

Well, on the Monday before we planned on driving back, we had a booboo. While trying to park the van at a mini-mall, Joel's foot missed the brake and hit the accelerator. We drove over the curb and into a plate glass storefront. No one was hurt. Fortunately, the only person in the store was a clerk and he was in the back. There was no-one on the sidewalk and we hit glass instead of concrete. It was the best possible outcome for a very bad situation.

The van went to a collision center until early December for some pretty heavy duty body work. Our original plan was to start driving, but that has obviously had to change. Joel flew back that Saturday and Tim decided to stay behind, waiting for the van repairs to be completed that they originally told us might take a mere two weeks. Insurance covered a rental, thankfully. When it was fixed, Tim planned to drive back himself, or Joel would meet up at an airport somewhere on the way and we'd drive the second part of the trip to PA.

As if we didn't have enough going on with the van accident, we went out for dinner with a friend, and when we got home, Tim couldn't find his wallet. We tore the house apart, went back to the restaurant, parking lots where we'd been that afternoon, and called the stores we'd visited. No luck. This was Friday; Joel was scheduled to fly out in the morning. So we started calling the credit card companies, the bank, looking up Tim’s driver’s license online and cancelled everything.

Still feeling bummed out, we resigned ourselves to not seeing that wallet or its contents again. Meanwhile, the lady who takes care of the yard and trash calls from the porch and asks, "Is your wallet turquoise?"

Tim had put it in with the recycling.

All was then well in the world.

After the series of  interesting events in Palm Springs, when Joel arrived home he found one of the trees in our front yard uprooted and toppled over. I guess the evergreens were jealous of the Palm trees.

On the sixth day of what Tim jokingly called “Exile in Palm Springs,” the collision center called and informed us that the van wouldn't be finished until after Thanksgiving. So Tim hopped a plane heading back to Philadelphia that Tuesday. When he left, it was 75 degrees, and then when he got home it was 28 degrees. He wanted to climb back in the plane and head back. But that would have meant missing Thanksgiving, when Tim’s Mom’s side of the family hosts the family reunion dinner. Always fun, food and plenty of joy. We have a very loving and inclusive group. It was held in Virginia, and since Tim’s Mom couldn’t make it this year, we took a side trip to Lebanon on the way home and stopped off to visit. Tim had to show off his “Team Gallagher” shirt.

Finally, the important announcement. We have decided to get married. Now that it’s legal to do so in Pennsylvania, we’re looking at a 2015 October date to correspond with the anniversary of when I moved here to Springfield. We also want to keep it close to home so that Tim’s Mother can attend. We want to keep it small, maybe less than 100 folks. The “Save The Date” notices will be coming in the not too distant future. That’s about as good a note I can think of to end the year on. So we wish good health and good fortune to you this holiday season and for the coming year.


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