Thursday, September 29, 2011


Dearest Friends,

So, just when John makes up his mind that we'll be in Midland indefinitely, we hear a disturbing rumor.  It seemed Mobil was beginning to sell off most of their domestic gas plants.  That was pretty bad news, if one's job was to maintain the equipment in those plants.  John's boss, who had really taken my hubby under his wing, pulled him aside and planted a bug in his ear.  He said "Son, here's what we need to do.  We need to get you out of the domestic division and into International.  What would you say to a stint in Indonesia?"  John probably thought it was a great idea, but he's a very smart guy, so he told his boss "I'd better run that one past my wife first."

The Company Compound
I think my first reaction was probably "With kids? Are you nuts?"  But then he reminded me that this was Mobil we were talking about, not B&R, and they took much better care of their people.  Also, we knew several couples who were already over there, including our friends the Reehs.  I remember sitting at a burger place one day while my kids, who were five and eight by then, romped on the playground.  My mind was a whirling dervish of questions I needed answers to before making this move.  Lacking any stationary, I whipped the paper liner off our tray, flipped it over, and started a letter to Danny and Peggy right then and there.

Within a few weeks I had my answers.  They assured me that the company compound in the Aceh province of Sumatra was a perfectly safe place to bring kids.  In fact, it was more like living in a small town back in the good ol' days, when kids could run around outside and ride their bikes wherever they wanted.  There was a wonderful British doctor on staff, and a small hospital, but if he even suspected anything serious was wrong, he'd have you on the company jet headed for Singapore in a matter of minutes.  The school was fantastic, with a first rate facility and all the best equipment, a top notch staff, and a student to teacher ratio of about 6:1.

The International School of Lhokseumawe
There were two kinds of housing, depending on whether you lived on the Mobil side of the compound, or were secunded to P.T. Arun (which John would be), but both were quite nice and spacious.  There was also a great golf course, an olympic-sized swimming pool, a club house/restaurant/pool-side snack bar, tennis courts, and a nice little super market right there on the compound, all within walking distance.  Holy Smokes!  John wasn't kidding when he said Mobil took better care of their people.  This would be more like living in a Club Med resort!  The Reehs closed their letter by saying "It was really good to hear from you Becky, and I hope we'll be seeing you soon, but did you really have to write your letter on the back of a giant photo of a mouth-watering Whopper?  That was just plain cruel!"

So, we loaded up our trunks and we moved to In-do-nee!  (zhuh, that is)

Monday, September 26, 2011


Picnic on a train

This may be the afternoon in Vienna when we stumbled upon a little orchestra playing Strauss
Climbing up to the fortress in Salzburg
The convent where the nuns hid the Von Trapps, in The Sound of Music
One of several castles belonging to this kooky Austrian/German (?) guy who liked to play tricks on his guests.  When he got bored with his company, he could make water come squirting up out of their seats.
Versailles, I believe
View from the window of the Alpen Express
What can I say?  I was curious!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


My hubby, with the debonair hat and mustache, about to enter a Paris Metro station.
Taking a tour of Denmark's Carlsberg Brewery
A Danish day-care center
Making a wish in a Roman Fountain (I seem to remember wishing I could come back to Europe again!)
A Roman bridge

John enjoying breakfast at our Roman pensione, the only place where we were served in our room
I think this might have been the outside of our pensione in Rome, which looked onto a busy circle with lots of shops and cafes

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Miss Alexis, who has always had very strong opinions about style!
Lex and Chase were 2 1/2 when the Sanfords took a job near College Station, and we got transferred to Midland.  It was a hard, hard thing to be moving so far from them, but there was one consolation.  John's parents would only be 20 minutes away from us.  Good thing...

for our little Austin arrived just a couple of months after the move, and we needed all the help we could get!  A year or two later, our friends Danny and Peggy moved there as well, along with several other Mobil couples we knew from Houston.  Such was life with a big oil company.

Pawpaw George and Theda come to hand out our candy on Halloween, so we can both take our little critters trick-or-treating.
Midland was a great place to live.  Oil towns aren't like most other small towns, where it can take them years to accept a newcomer.  Oil people know they will probably get transferred again in a few years, so they don't waste any time.  They jump in headfirst and start making friends.  Within a year you're considered an old-timer, and it's your job to welcome the newbies.

We lived in a fantastic neighborhood, with Bunco groups, babysitting co-ops and block parties, and we joined a wonderful church, with the best Mothers' Day Out program ever, and ministers who became our good friends, and who could be a lot of fun at a good murder mystery party.

Best of all, I found the greatest job ever!  Bunco friend Beverly knew a girl named Barb, who had a catering business called Chez Vous.

Barb and Beck help celebrate John's 40th on New Year's Eve
Bev and I both started helping her out with parties, and before long, most of our neighborhood and church friends were helping out as well!  When both  kids were old enough for Mothers Day Out, I started working as their office manager two days a week.  Barb's partner was a crazy French chef named Dominique, whom everyone adored -- especially our kids!  He always fed them special treats when they stopped by the office, or whipped up some French-style hot chocolate from scratch, and gave them fast rides through the kitchen on rolling chairs.

Our Austin (striped shirt) hanging out with the CV catering kids crowd.
Through Barb and Dom we met Ron the florist, who hired some of the catering moms to become his Ronettes -- the crew that helped him decorate people's homes for the holidays and such.  Fun times!

All these new friends, though, did nothing to displace our old ones.  We met up with the Sanfords in Dallas several times, when visiting my folks, and one time they came to visit us, then we drove on out to the Davis Mountains for a little vacation together. (Before moving to west Texas, I didn't even know we had mountains in Texas!)  We also met up with them and other friends from Houston, including Nellie and Dave and their two kids, down in the Hill Country, to do some rafting and tubing.

Danny Boy
After just a couple of years in Midland, Danny and Peggy got transferred to Aberdeen, Scotland.  While they were there, we used our frequent flier miles to go visit our Eric in Denmark, then met up with the Reehs in London for a few days, while my folks and John's split up watching our kids for us back in Midland.  Our first get-away!

Meanwhile, my hubby had become one of the Rotating Equipment Specialists for Mobil.  It was his job to travel around to the different gas plants in west Texas and New Mexico, to make sure all those ginormous turbines and compressors were well maintained, and to trouble-shoot any problems.  He said this position was a bit different from that of most engineers, in that he really couldn't see us having to move anywhere in the foreseeable future.  So, after 10 or 12 years of worrying about "resale value", and keeping everything in our houses strictly neutral, I finally did this to my living area:

You know what that means don't you?  It means that, before the paint was even dry, we started hearing rumblings of unrest!

Friday, September 23, 2011


We're going to hit fast-forward now, so that I can give you a very quick version of the next thirteen or fourteen years, before heading back overseas:

We spent two years in Kingsville, heading up to Houston every chance we got to see all our old buddies.  Paula and Tim locked in their position as best friends by being the only ones who were willing to return the favor and make that long drive down to see us!  We gave a darn good toga party with the Sanfords.

John and Tim doin' the Gator
I had two miscarriages while in Kingsville.  A young bachelor named Danny Reeh, from a ranching family out in the Texas Hill Country, had just started working with John there at Mobil, and one of my miscarriages happened the first time he had us over for dinner.  I got up and rushed out in the middle of the meal, dragging John with me.  Poor Danny thought it was because he served us venison!  He met his future wife Peggy, a student at the college where I worked, while there.

We finally made it to Houston, and eventually, Danny and Peggy ended up there too.  I went to work as a store manager for Foxmoor Casuals.  We threw lots more good parties with Paula and Tim, introducing our new Mobil friends into the mix, and a baby shower for old friends Nellie and Dave.  Tim found an abandoned mangy mutt in the street near his office, and talked us into taking her in.  Munchkin was our first child.

We then hosted a Danish exchange student for a year.  Eric was our second child.  He got us involved in AFS, the organization that brought him over.  We later hosted Tamaki from Japan and Dewi from Indonesia, each for a summer.

Mr. Tim got cancer.  He recovered, but they were told they probably couldn't have children.  I had a third miscarriage.  Both couples started looking into adoption.  Then Paula heard of someone who knew someone who knew of a doctor.  I went to see him.  Not long after he figured out what ailed me, and fixed it, Paula came down with a "weird virus" that was making her throw up every morning.  Her virus, whom they named Chase, and our Alexis were born just three months apart.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Before moving on to our next adventure overseas, I thought you might be interested in knowing what became of some of the "characters" I have mentioned thus far.  Some we lost track of completely.  Others were lost, then found again.  Some have been a part of our lives ever since.  Here is all I can tell you:

The Three Musketeers, SM, A, and my hubby
Mr. A, there in the middle, did some traveling around after he left Indonesia, stopping off in Bahrain to spend some time with us.  He left B&R,  went back to graduate school, and ended up marrying one of his professors.

SM, on the left, stayed with B&R his entire career.  As I mentioned earlier, a lovely auburn-haired lady came to Bahrain to visit another friend, BW.  They parted amicably, and she returned to Houston.  When SM moved back to Houston, he looked her up.  We all went to their wedding a short time later, and they now have two grown sons. We will be crossing paths with the four of them in our next adventure.

SS and BW
BW (originally married to the girl who wouldn't step foot in Indonesia) also stayed with B&R.  When he was working down in Australia, he met a beautiful blonde nurse/midwife who was just itching for a life of travel and adventure.  They've been married ever since.

SS and BD
We stayed close with SS and BD for several years after we moved home, but then lost track for a while after we moved to west Texas.  We later heard, much to my dismay, that they had split up.  It seems BD had done the unforgivable -- built a career that she was just as committed to as her engineer husband was to his.  She needed to stay put for it to flourish.  He had to keep moving or die.

Boss Bob and Miss Pat
Boss Bob and Miss Pat stayed with B&R through retirement, and lived all over the world.  We lost track of them until just recently, when she  noticed an article of mine in the Austin newspaper, and followed it to my blog Seasonality.  We have met up with them a couple of times since.  They now divide their time between homes in Houston and the Texas Hill Country.

I & I
Mrs. I died in a tragic car accident while in Indonesia.  Mr. I took their kids back to England, and we never heard anything more about them.

Nellie and Dave: Dave stayed with B&R for about 10 years, then went to work for the Mundy Corporation (Is that right Nellie?) for whom he is now a VP and CFO.  We stayed close with them for several years after we moved back, but lost track when we moved to west Texas.  We hooked back up again when we stumbled across Nellie working as the nurse at my son's new high school in Katy, Tx.  They hope to retire to the Hill Country in a couple of years.

LF and D:  LF was Paula's best friend in Bahrain (the ex-stewardess and exec. asst. to the head honcho at B&R) and her hubby D worked offshore with John and Tim.  While Paula and Tim socialized with everyone there, LF and D hung out only with the wilder offshore crowd.  We saw them a couple of times after we all moved home, but instead of settling down like the rest of us, they seemed to be headed in the opposite direction, becoming a little too fond of straws and the things you sniff through them - even after having a baby girl.  D could never really adjust to life and work back in the states, and started accepting single-status rotational positions offshore.  He was stabbed to death in a fight over a card game while there.

Miss Paula and Toad
Paula and Tim have been our best friends for about 35 years now, live in College Station, love spending time in the Hill Country with us, and have a brand new grand baby named Wyatt Lee Sanford.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Upon landing in Texas, we hit the ground running!  First we spent nine days together in my hubby's hometown, Odessa, where we shopped 'til we dropped, visited with his family and friends, and bought a used pea green Mercury Comet from one of them, for me to drive.  The highlights of the stay were eating the infamous steak fingers and fried pickle chips at Big Bee (a little dive we loved out on Andrews Highway) and taking his parents to see Star Wars!

Then we were off to Dallas, where we visited with my friends and family, shopped some more, and bought a spiffy little red MG convertible (also used) for John to drive.  I was pretty jealous, until it broke down that same evening and had to be towed.  I had decided that I would go ahead and look for work in the fashion industry, even though my ultimate goal was to teach textiles at a university.  Odds were I'd be required to teach merchandising and/or design classes as well, at least at first, and a couple of years experience in the field couldn't hurt.  I was so thrilled to finally have a shot at doing something exciting and creative!  We both signed up with an employment agency there and went on a couple of interviews.  The highlight of that stay was John erupting in a severe case of Shingles, all around his torso. A mere six days of being jobless and staying with his in-laws, combined with more vehicle woes, had just about done him in.

He headed down to Houston to do some interviewing, but I stayed in Dallas for a few more days, to take part in all of my very favorite fall activities there.  First I hosted a hen party for all my old school buddies, then I went to a slumber party with my two sisters.  We got up early the next morning and caught the bus out to the State Fair of Texas, and while there, went to see Debbie Reynolds in Annie Get Your Gun!  Next we had a family celebration for my 24th birthday, and last but not least, Mom and I went downtown for the annual "Fortnight" celebration at Neiman Marcus, which happened to be French that year, and had lunch at the Zodiac Room.  Is it any wonder I've always loved October in Dallas?

A funny thing happened to my hubby there in Houston.  He was fairly certain he'd be able to stay with B&R, but wanted to meet with a headhunter, just to see what else was out there, and what they were offering.  This headhunter sent him on an interview with Mobil Oil -- the company which John had interned with all through college, and which had even awarded him a scholarship.  Wouldn't you know, one of his interviewers ended up being the very guy John had worked for in college, and of course, he recognized my hubby.  "You know, John", he said.  "We were kind of hurt when you didn't come to work for us after college."  John just stared at him for a moment, totally confused.  Finally he replied, "Not nearly as hurt as I was, when I didn't even get a job offer from Mobil!"  Apparently, someone screwed up big time.  Later in the conversation, he asked John "Do you mind telling me what B&R pays guys with your experience?"  When John told him, he laughed and said "We pay more than that to kids straight out of school!"  John accepted their offer.

I hopped on a plane to Houston, and spent the whole trip thinking about where all I would apply for jobs, and what neighborhoods would be most convenient to the Sanfords, Nellie and Dave, and S&BD.

I expected to see John grinning from ear to ear when I got off the plane.  Instead, he looked, well, nervous.  "Deeeaaar, is there something you haven't told me yet?"  "Well, yeah, kind of.  You see, we will be working in Houston, um, eventually."  My heart plummeted.  "But first, just for a couple of years, they, uh, want me to train in some, uh, gas plants.  In south Texas."  I must have looked like I was about to pass out, for he quickly added "But don't worry, they don't expect us to live out by the plants!  There's a nice little town not too far away, called Kingsville.  It even has a college!"

While it did indeed have a college, and a naval air station, one thing Kingsville did not have was department stores.  Not even one.  Nor anything remotely related to fashion design.  It is the small town (about 10,000 people at that time) that grew up alongside the famous King Ranch -- one of the largest ranches in the country.  It is four or five hours further down the Gulf Coast from Houston, and would be an eight or ten hour drive from our families.  The college was Texas A&I, and though the "A" stood for Agriculture, they did at least have a Home Economics department.  After we got settled in, I wandered over there to see about getting started on that graduate degree in Textiles.  "Well, I'm afraid we don't actually offer a graduate program in that just yet, though we hope to soon", the head of the department told me.  "In the meantime, however, I sure could use an assistant!  Can you type?"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Our month-long jaunt through Europe, back in '77, is probably the most important journey we ever took.  Why?  Because it's the one that taught us how not to travel.  It was everything that "Slow Travel" is not!

Because we had no way of knowing whether we would ever make it back to Europe again, and because we had those free plane tickets that allowed multiple stops, we ended up going to Athens, Rome, Florence, Zurich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna, Copenhagen, Paris and London.  Ten cities in 29 days.  Of course, you must then subtract all the time we spent traveling on trains, planes and busses, waiting in airports and train stations, waiting or searching for luggage, plus packing and unpacking, to get a true picture of how very little time we had in each city.  Also, don't forget to consider the time it took us to find a place to stay in each town.

Because we wished to be "flexible" -- to have the option to stay longer in some places than in others if we so desired -- the only place where we actually had a hotel reservation was in Athens, our first stop.  Everywhere else we went, we would consult our copy of Europe on $10 a Day, then take a bus or train to wherever was purported to be the best area for bargain hotels.  Of course, we weren't the only ones trudging around those areas with that book tucked under our elbows, toting our non-rolling bags.  Sometimes it would take another half-day just to find one with a vacancy, and then it would be on the 4th or 5th floor of an old townhouse with no elevator, and we'd be sharing a bathroom with everyone else on that floor.

So, how did we spend the couple of days that we did have in each city?  Why, we crammed in as many tours, galleries, museums, landmarks and cathedrals as we possibly could, of course!  We ate a few good meals, and a lot of bad ones, shopped every flea market for touristy knick-knacks and postcards to send home, had to check out every bar or pub with an interesting name, spent a whole lot of time being rather disgruntled with one another, and...well, in spite of all that, I wouldn't change one single thing about it, for here is what it taught us:

1) Being together 24 hrs. a day, for an entire month, is a lot to expect from a couple who'd each become used to spending a lot of time on their own.  By spending a bit of time apart each day, doing things we are separately passionate about and don't wish to be rushed through, we enjoy our time together all the more.

2) Our internal clocks are very different.  I am an early riser, he is not.  When I am ready to call it a night, he's getting geared up to go out and party.  After many tiffs, we finally learned to compromise.  I get up with the birds, wander out to a cafe, and get my fill of people watching, journal writing and tea sipping, while he sleeps in.  If he wants me to party down in the evenings, he makes sure I get an afternoon nap, which gives him time to wander around with his camera.

3) When you try to cram too much into too little time, it all just turns into a blur, one place indistinguishable from the next.

4) What do I remember from all those landmarks, museums and cathedrals?  Virtually nothing.

Here's what I do remember from that trip:

  • laughing ourselves silly over our lopsided bed in Paris
  • wandering the streets at night in Athens, hearing laughter and that distinctive Zorba-the-Greek-style music drifting out to us wherever we went (what is that instrument called -- a bazooki or something?)
  • my first taste of retsina at a wine festival we just happened upon (it tastes like pine sap smells)
  • arriving at the airport in Athens with time to spare, then discovering we were at the wrong airport
  • lying in bed at our Roman pensione, listening to the sounds coming from the movie theatre next door, which had cranked open its ceiling to let in the cool night air
  • a picnic lunch of wine, cheese and bread, eaten at a little pull-down table in our own private train compartment aboard the Alpen Express
  • another train trip where we were stuck out in the freezing passageway, with a passel of young people, all. night. long!
  • watching a motorcyclist spin out and crash, after coming too close and bumping into my elbow - possibly trying to grab my purse
  • trying to watch Fellini's Satyricon in Italian, with German subtitles (what the?)
  • a funny little old Tyrollean gentleman in a feathered hat, who took a shine to me in an Innsbruck bar
  • the best hot chocolate of my life, piled high with whipped cream (schlogg?), at a cafe in Vienna
  • happening upon a lovely pavilion in a Viennese park, where we spent a Sunday afternoon sipping more chocolate, whilst listening to a small group perform Strauss, along with the locals
  • touring the Carlsberg breweries, and finding that the workers are allowed to drink beer while on duty (Denmark has no age restrictions either, but virtually no public drunkenness - other than the Swedes who come over to get blotto, because they can't get it at home)
  • eating Smorgasbord at the railway bistro, then ending up at Vin & Og, a Viking beer hall where I had so much fun, I lost my voice
  • being turned away from dining at Simpson's on the Strand in London, because John had no tie
  • getting caught in the rain in almost every town, then running across a gorgeous raincoat I just couldn't live without (it swirled when I spun around!) at our very last stop 
  • turning to one another in the back of a big black London taxi, at almost the same time, and saying to one another "I think I've had enough.  It's time to go home." 
So what is the final lesson I have learned, just from making this list here?  It's that our very best memories come from slowing down enough to soak in the moment, to be fully present and participating.  As for the very best stories?  Why, those most often come from things not going at all according to plan!

P.S. It turns out all the pictures from this trip were made into slides, which we have now located.  Unfortunately, the scanner that could turn them into bloggable photos is broken.  We tried to buy one in Austin yesterday, but ended up having to order one, so it will be a while before I can post any pictures. Of course, now that I think about it, what constitutes "good" trip pictures is something else we have never been able to agree upon (John's never include any people!), which is why we now take two cameras.