I’ve mentioned a few times the fact that Mrs. MZM and I have moved quite a few times since our marriage back in 1982. (Yep; we’re zeroing in on 29 years real soon now.) Yessir, for some of us in the engineering business, sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces.
Admittedly, there’s definitely a few pros and cons to that kind of life, I’ll tell ya. On the one hand, we’ve both had an opportunity to see various and sundry parts of the world – on someone else’s dime. (It’s always nicer when other folks pay for our adventures. Just sayin’.) On the other hand, such a life presents a bucketful or two of challenges, many examples of which I’ve shared with you right here at the Zone.
However, since celebrating Christmas is a big tradition for both of us, we’ve always been diligent that, no matter where we were, or what the circumstances, we always made sure there was a Christmas tree. Admittedly, some years we had to get a little creative (you’ll see what I mean).
So just for fun, this year I’ll share with you our progression of Christmas Trees, along with where we happened to be at the time. (Click on the photos for a bigger view of each one.)
29 Years of Christmas Trees
1981, Houston, Texas – The soon-to-be Mrs. MZM and I celebrated our first Christmas together at her house near Hobby Airport. She used to live in a cute little place located directly underneath the runway approach path to Hobby Airport – landing aircraft were so low you could actually see folks’ faces in the windows! We still remember this tree as the one we bought and never had to pay for. Don’t know why, but the charge never showed up on the ol’ credit card bill.
1982, Houston, Texas – Being newlyweds, naturally the future looked rosy and bright! (Silly us – who knew the future actually held quite a bit of challenge and adventure. But that’s, as they say, yet another harmonica tune.) So of course we bought our first home, fully expecting to be there awhile. The house had a big picture window in the front which was perfect for displaying a Christmas tree that year.
1983, Houston, Texas – To our surprise, things didn’t quite work out like we expected (a statement which is currently the front runner for my tombstone’s epitaph.) Earlier in the year we sold our previous house in anticipation of the purchase of our first new home. So let’s see; what happened? Well, first the builder ran off with our down payment. Then Mrs. MZM took early retirement – and then surprise! the bottom dropped out of the job market and my job went bye-bye. Oh, and we also lost Mrs. MZM’s father on our first Anniversary. Finally, after a quick scramble we ended up in a tiny little rented house instead of our dream home. At least the living room had space for a tree. Wow, talk about a banner year! Yeesh!
1984, Houston, Texas – Sadly, the job hunt went on a bit longer than anticipated and money got a mite short. Fortunately a kind friend offered us the use of their unoccupied condo for essentially free, so we moved yet again. Don’t be fooled by the number of packages – most of ‘em are empty boxes, wrapped for fun. It was a wonderful Christmas just the same; there is no substitute for the love of a wonderful spouse, I’ll tell ya!
1985, Greenville, South Carolina – The job market finally picked up again – everywhere, it seemed, but Houston! So we packed our things for our first interstate move. That first Christmas in South Carolina was spent in this apartment as we searched for a better, long-term place. (Why temporary? Well, the floor seemed to be, er, dissolving under us. Yep, dissolving. We had to move to yet another temporary place before we finally found our “permanent” spot.) Temporary though it was, a tree we cut ourselves at a local tree farm, along with the cheery fireplace (not to mention a nicely-lighted model sailboat) helped set the tone for a very nice first experience away from the ol’ homestead.
1986, Atlanta, Georgia – You’d think one interstate move would be enough, but noooo! Within a few months, I was sent on a long-term field assignment to yet another state. On the plus side, though, the apartment we found had a perfect spot for a Christmas tree: a glassed-in sunroom. It was even more spectacular when it began to snow, giving us our first White Christmas! (By the way, if you look closely, you can see our cat, Cookie, lurking beneath the center of the tree.)
1987, Greenville, South Carolina – After that previous job assignment, we moved back in Greenville again. This time we decided to buy a house and ended up in a cute little place in the NE quadrant of town. Once again, we had a beautiful room just begging for a Christmas tree to give it life! Winter turned out to be unexpectedly heavy that year (we once woke up to a record 14” overnight snowfall!) that kept us stuck inside for over a week.
1988, Houston, Texas – Things started looking up in Houston’s job market again, and we sorta missed bein’ back home again, so we moved back as soon as we could, this time to a condominium near the Galleria area. Over the following years we actually lived in this complex several different times. However, this was the first, a nice little place that turned out to be home for only a short time.
1989, Austin, Texas – I changed employers again, moving to Austin, Texas, for a new assignment. We initially lived in a “corporate” apartment on the north side of town. A few weeks before Christmas, though, it got so cold the water pipes burst, ruining the entire building! We moved to an Embassy Suites Hotel for about four months. Not too shabby, I’ll tell ya! Since we really didn’t have room for a tree of our own, we adopted this one in the lobby of the hotel.
1990, Richmond, Virginia – After the last project ended, we got transferred to Richmond for about a year on another project. This apartment was a bit bare, since we tended to travel “light”, but the place still had a comfortable spot for our Christmas tree. Of all the places we’ve lived, Richmond is the richest in history. We had a great time checking out all the historical sites nearby.
1991, Robinson, Illinois – Moving to Robinson was quite an adjustment. After all, it’s little more than a wide spot in the road in the middle of eastern Illinois’ corn fields (at least it was back then). We rented this house, which was nice enough, but it sure did make a lot of odd noises at night! When the stairs started creakin’ and crackin’, we could almost see the ghost of the lady who used to live there, checkin’ us out. Talk about spooky! Where’s the Ghostbusters when you need ‘em?
1992, Houston, Texas – Back home once again, we bought a condo at the complex we were at in 1988 (see above). Turned out this place became our “home base” for the next 15 years as we continued to travel all over creation in the following years. It was nice to have a place to “come home to”, though. One of my favorite features: the glassed-in sunroom always made a perfect setting for the Christmas tree.
1993, Houston, Texas – This particular year I happened to be on assignment in Charlotte, North Carolina at Christmas. Unfortunately, Mrs. MZM got the flu really bad so she had to come home. Needless to say, she didn’t feel like putting up a tree! However, just before Christmas her sister and nephew came over and surprised her with a tree anyway! It was a remarkably kind gesture that helped just a tiny bit to overcome the loneliness we both felt from being so far away from each other.
1994, Richmond, Virginia – I took a position in Richmond and, while we waited for our house to be built, ended up staying in a Days Inn Hotel for several months – hence another hotel tree this year. I’ll tell ya, hotel living ain’t for the faint of heart! There was that time the entire hotel was filled with adolescent teenage girls – and us – during a state softball championship. The fire alarm must have “accidentally” gone off at least a dozen times. At midnight. Every night. Argh!
1995, Houston, Texas – Unfortunately, the previous job didn’t pan out as, er, long-lasting as I’d hoped. (Sheesh; industry downturns sure do put a kink in our well-laid plans, don’t they?) So instead of living in Richmond we moved back to our condo in Houston. For a part of the year I worked in Venezuela, but I managed to get back home by the time Christmas rolled around. Instead of presents under the tree this year, we put some of our collection of nativity scenes we’d picked up in our travels.
1996, Houston, Texas – We spent most of this year moving back and forth across the country due to my job. My project had us first working in Sherman, Texas, then clean across the country to Salem, Oregon, and then back to Sherman again. Upon the return to Sherman, I stayed there working while Mrs. MZM came home. However, we celebrated Christmas at home together.
1997, Perrysburg, Ohio – Moved to Ohio to work on a project in a small town just outside of Toledo (home of the world-famous baseball team, the Mud Hens!) Those of you who are my age or older may remember these old aluminum trees. We found this one at a garage sale, complete with the original box and motorized spinning color-gel wheel, and just had to have it.
1998, Houston, Texas – For about a year I took a break from the engineering business and worked as a consultant. This meant I essentially worked from home most of the time, only traveling on occasion – and that only for a week or two at a time. However, on one of my field trips to Florida during the hurricane season I got to play chicken with Hurricane Fred, or Bill, or something when it took a bead on Panama City where I happened to be staying. Ah well, at least we got to enjoy a relaxing Christmas together at home again.
1999, Taipei, Taiwan – Well, this still holds the record for the “most distant from home” Christmas I’ve ever spent – 14 hours time difference! Now, even though they don’t exactly celebrate Christmas in China, they still recognize the season for the tourists (not to mention the shopping!) The tree pictured here is from the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Taipei. And believe me, they don’t call it Grand for nothin’ – it’s quite a place!
2000, Portland, Oregon – Anticipating a permanent move to the Left Coast, we started with another one of those temporary apartments. Since it was only temporary, we decided to cut costs and were quite successful furnishing the entire with garage sale items (except the bed and the couch). I’ll tell ya, if you just take the time to look, you can find some incredible stuff this way! Although our Christmas tree was a bit smaller than we were used to, overall it made for a fine homey place. Ironically, Portland is where we experienced our first earthquake! Yep, I can still hear Mrs. MZM’s loving words to me immediately afterwards. I believe here exact words were: “GET ME OUTTA HERE!”
2001, Houston, Texas – Can’t believe it happened again! We expected the job in Portland to last a long time, but due to a yet another severe industry slowdown I ended up getting laid off 6 months later. Sigh. This was the beginning of a long stretch of odd jobs until the engineering business picked up again. Still, being back in Houston meant we could get together with friends and family.
2002, Houston, Texas – Still out of work, things were getting a little glum, and unfortunately, our Christmas tree sorta reflected that. Mrs. MZM didn’t even want to put up a tree, but I insisted on at least some lights on the ficus tree in the corner. It wasn’t exactly our dream Christmas, but we did spend some quality time counting our blessings rather than moping about what might have been.
2003, Houston, Texas – Although the engineering business was still out for the count, I spent most of these years (yes, I said years) doing assorted odd jobs that came along. At least it kept me outta trouble! (Er, more or less.) This year we decided not to put up the “whole” tree, but instead mounted the top two-thirds on a large trunk for a different look.
2004, Houston, Texas – Yet another Christmas outside of the engineering business, and things were beginning to look a little sparse. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but a great job was only a few months away. We never gave up hope, though, and kept our eyes on God, who graciously supplied all our needs. Celebrating His birth every year gave us the chance to thank Him personally.
2005, Houston, Texas – Although we spent this year’s Christmas back home in Houston, we spent most of the year on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Talk about a great work assignment; this one ranks up there with the best of ‘em! We had looked forward to spending Christmas on the island, but the assignment finished up too soon for that. Too bad. We decided to use the antique metal tree again, just for fun.
2006, Tomball, Texas – We decided to buy a house again after returning from Aruba, moving this time to a smaller town just north of Houston. Here you can see the expanse of arched windows that made what we thought was a perfect setting for the tree. This was also the last year for this particular tree; all that moving and storage pretty much destroyed it.
2007, Tomball, Texas – Behold our brand new Christmas tree – er, in it’s new, improved location. (Turns out, in front of the window wasn’t the most optimum spot after all.) The good news this year was that work was steady and the engineering business’ prospects were amazingly rosy. That’s always good for some level of comfort; especially with my history.
2008, Tomball, Texas – Er, did I say “rosy” outlook? Sheesh, in an amazingly dramatic turn of events, the entire economy seemed to tank this year! Luckily, I spent most of the year on a project that kept us going, but the future was yet again getting a mite uncertain. Still, God blessed us again this year with good health, steady employment, and gracious love. What more can one ask for? (Besides pie, of course. One can always use more pie.)
2009, Tomball, Texas – Alas, earlier this year my previous job folded. Luckily, I fell into a new one almost immediately, so that was a real blessing indeed! Sadly though, it only lasted about six months or so before the engineering business (and pretty much every other business) dried up and flew south for the Winter. Still, God kept us warm and dry and basking in His love this Christmas.
2010, Tomball, Texas – Halleluiah, a new job came along and this time it truly looks like a long-term project. ‘Course, it has to actually last that long, but prospects look good for the time being. Assuming it continues to its conclusion, eventually we’ll be leaving the Houston area and traveling the world as the project further develops into its Engineering and Construction phases. Nevertheless, for the time being we’re still snug as a bug in a rug right here in Tomball, Texas!
2011, and Beyond
Lots of folks, when they hear about the crazy, whacked-out kind of life Mrs. MZM and I have, er, enjoyed over the years, tell us they’d never have survived such insane turns of events. Well, I can understand the sentiment, for sure. The fact is, most folks like to think they’ve got things figured out, don’t they? What’s more; they’ve even got the plans to prove it, too. Um, yeah.
It sorta reminds me of a rather profound statement a fellah named George Campbell said once: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
I’ll tell ya folks; if there’s any one lesson we’ve learned (and keep on learnin’) over the years, it’s that only God knows what the future will actually bring. In truth, the best we can do is keep our eyes on Him, and follow where He leads.
Now, life ain’t always been a bed o’ roses, and that’s a fact. Some years have truly been ‘way harder to cope with than others. But after everything is said and done (and as you know, more is usually said than done), hey, we’re still kickin’, we’re still together, we still love each other with all our hearts – and of course we’re still mightily blessed by the Creator of the Universe.
Hey, that’s good enough for me!
Merry Christmas, y’all, and a big ol’ tip o’ the hat to ya!