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Bush Goes From Pennsylvania Ave. to a More Simple Life in the Lone Star State
Late in 2008, Laura found the couple's new house less than a mile north of their old block, in what Langdale described as a "stepped up" part of Preston Hollow. Laura loved the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that lined the hallways, the fireplace and the large windows with views of a football-field-shaped back yard. Bush never visited the property; on Laura's advice, he agreed they should buy it.
The Bushes have settled into a new routine at home, even as they write their own books and travel to give occasional speeches. Laura shops for furniture with Ken Blasingame, her friend and decorator, and plans to practice yoga. The former president tests new mountain biking trials and monitors his heart rate while he rides. Laura returned to Washington last month to speak at the funeral of a former White House employee but left hours later. Her husband stays in touch with former aides by e-mailing on his BlackBerry, a new toy.
The couple subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, which has written about their visit to a local elementary school and the standing ovation they received after finishing dinner with friends at Fernando's Mexican Cuisine. Even on days when the paper's front page is blanketed with difficult reminders of Bush's terms -- deaths in Iraq, Osama bin Laden, the recession -- the former president has told friends that he prefers the newspaper to his old morning reading: a stack of national security threats.
Bush rarely talks about his successor and he vows to support him. At his luncheon speech in Calgary, the former president said: "I'm not going to spend my time criticizing [Obama]. There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence."
But Laura has one curiosity about the Obamas that she cannot shake, friends said. Before leaving the White House, she spent her own money to have two of her favorite chairs reproduced as a gift for the new first family. The original chairs, on loan from her friend Anne Johnson, are armless and chic, and Laura thought Michelle Obama would love them.
"Laura keeps asking about those chairs," Johnson said. "She's saying to me, 'Do you think they're using them? Do they like them? Oh, how could they not love those chairs?' "
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Bush has said that he expects to live at least 20 more years, and that he does not want to spend all his time dwelling on an eight-year presidency. He has placed the hopes for his future in plans for a 207,000-square-foot presidential center, which will feature a library for his archives, a museum and a policy institute.
The center is scheduled to open in 2013, but the policy institute will offer preliminary programs starting this fall. Bush plans to host scholars and world leaders who will ruminate about freedom, the economy and keeping the country safe. He and Laura will participate in their discussions regularly, aides said.
But first, Bush will focus on writing a book that explains his presidency in detail. He thinks his two terms will ultimately be judged on a series of major decisions: going to war with Iraq, selecting Cheney as a running mate and directing the response to Hurricane Katrina. The museum will offer an interactive tour of those key moments, so visitors can experience the decisions as Bush made them. His book, scheduled for release in 2010 by Crown, will focus on about a dozen major choices and the reasoning behind them, aides said.
Bush has already written more than 25,000 words, and a research assistant has been dispatched to the warehouse in Lewisville, Tex., that is temporarily storing his archives. In explaining the book to friends, Bush has reinforced that it is at least partly intended for future historians who will examine his presidency with fresh eyes. Bush told former White House press secretary Dana Perino that he had found comfort reading several biographies of George Washington. If the first president still required analysis, Bush joked, then what could the 43rd president have to worry about?
"There's a comfort that comes with knowing you probably won't be alive to see the real verdict on your presidency," said Kirbyjon Caldwell, Bush's friend and the pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. "There's only so much he can control."