Friday, January 18, 2008

November 8, 2007 - January 3, 2008 - The Holidays

It happens to me every year. As the holidays bear down with the calendar packed with doings, I panic and abandon all attempts to keep up the website. It seems ironic because, of course, there is so much going on to write about, at least for family and close friends. This is all pretty gushy family stuff, so if you aren't into that, skip this entry!

Our first event of the extended holiday season was a midday Thanksgiving feast at Kai’s pre-school. Here we got to see Kai and his class on stage singing “A turkey is a funny bird, his head goes wobble wobble, he only says one funny word, and that is ‘gobble gobble.’” This, the first of a long line of such performances, is the stuff of grandparents’ dreams. Kai’s grin was a show stopper.

The following Monday we drove up to Florence, South Carolina to spend the actual Thanksgiving holiday at my nephew’s. Since marrying into the Wilson clan and since my sister has stopped choreographing the elaborate Hamlin family Christmases, I have been feeling that my connections to my own family have been getting a little thin. So I was very pleased to be invited for the holiday. John & Gay win the award for the best residential campsite. From the street their neighborhood appears a tightly-packed, brick-faced suburban front with no place for a bulky RV. Yet, when we back the coach up the driveway, we can just keep on rolling into a huge tree-studded back yard! John & Gay’s kids truly appreciate the RV, and not only relished showing it off to friends, but Karen slept aboard with us every night we were there, despite temps plummeting into the thirties!

John and Gay put on a perfect family gathering, with my sister and her husband in attendance as well as Gay’s brother and his wife. Instead of a single sit-down meal, turkey day (and the day after) was one continuous graze from sun-up to sun down. Gay’s brother Mark works for Lego, so he brought a Lego engineering project that kept family members engrossed for hours, while my sister, currently an aspiring poet and I (currently an aspiring magazine writer) compared writing projects. We also made a family outing out of a matinée showing of Enchanted, Disney’s semi-animated spoof of its own famous fairy tales as well as an afternoon game of Risk, where Tom looked primed to take over the world from the rest of us. Among many other things, Tom plays piano and guitar, just earned a brown belt in karate, and carries a school schedule of advanced subjects, while Karen has taken up the flute and piano, takes horseback lessons, loves to cook, and carries her own challenging school sked. These kids hadn’t seen us for two years, and yet they welcomed us as if it were yesterday! John and Gay and Tom and Karen demonstrate very clearly that one can raise a bright well-balanced family in this trying age, and I LOVED feeling a part of it.

From Florence we drove to Hilton Head to rendezvous with our great friends Dennis and Lisa of Lady Galadriel, who were southbound on the ICW. Dennis and Lisa had spent a whole year working in Annapolis on the boat and at West Marine. Then this past summer they cruised north up to New England as far as Maine, before turning southward for the Bahamas. We had thought to meet up with them at the SSCA Gam in Melbourne (see last entry), but like many cruisers’ their progress had been delayed, so this was our second shot. What luck that we were able to find an RV park with its own marina! We caught up over an expansive seafood feast at Crabby Bills, and then were able to run them around on errands the next day. Again, it was instant rapport, like we hadn’t been apart for years.

No sooner than we got back parked in Crystal River, than Don took off on the Harley for boys time, stopping first with Bill Church for a night to help with some two-man bot projects on Bill's Endeavor 37 Geodesic II and then with old friends of his from Indiana – two retired state troopers known as the two Toms – down for a fishing vacation in Sarasota. This gave me the chance to join a gym, take a yoga class, and catch up on my writing.

The day after Don got back from Sarasota, we turned around and drove down to Tampa with our friends Diane and Alex for dinner at Colombia’s, a famous Latin restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City followed by a night at the Tampa Performing Arts Center for "The Nutcracker." For so many years, the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker was an annual highlight of the spectacular family Christmases my sister orchestrated before they moved to North Carolina. It had been about five years, I think, since my last Nutcracker, and I was in withdrawal. In fact, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve attended ANY cultural performance, so I was really looking forward to breaking the ice here in Florida. The Tampa performance, unfortunately, was not in the same league as the Boston Ballet’s, particularly the fun first act, nor did the theater itself hold a candle to the opulently-renovated Wang, with its sell-out audience of adorably dressed-up yuppie children. But then, for years I did not think Boston was in the same league as American Ballet Theater with Baryshnikov at Lincoln Center. Eventually, I came to find witnessing the Boston company’s growth exciting, so perhaps the same will happen here. It’s tough when you start out at the top!

On December 7th, Don and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary at a new Thai restaurant in Crystal River called Thaipoon. God knows how this jewel dropped into our back yard – land of fried chicken and BBQ, but it is outstanding! The trick will be finding people to take there; our neighbors do not demonstrate much gourmand interest. Thank goodness Diane and Alex will drive for a good meal!

The Wilson early-Christmas plan in Indiana came extra early this year thanks to the 2007 calendar. We flew up with Tiffany and Kai on the 11th and were back in Florida by the 17th! Last year the Wilson clan had enjoyed their traditional Saturday night gathering in the house Don’s nephew’s family had been in but weeks. This year we were able to truly appreciate a year’s worth of improvements, including a roaring fireplace in the new basement family room and Sam Adams ale on tap! Plus it snowed just enough so that Kai could have his first snowball fight, make his first snowman with his cousins, and even get a little sliding in on a shared flying saucer. Unfortunately, the snow kept some of the family from making the trip into town, and also cut the numbers back at Aunt Margaret’s Shelbyville family Christmas the next day. Still, for Floridians a little snow does add atmosphere.

After Indiana, we had four days to catch our breath in Crystal River, before it was time to move the RV to its slot between the kids' and Cindy’s houses for our Florida Christmas celebrations in Clearwater. With Kai’s birthday just two days after Christmas, the holiday gets seriously extended. This year started with a shared birthday party with Kai’s best friend Tovar and all their schoolmates on the 22nd in a park over in Safety Harbor. Tiffany and Tovar’s Mom, with some major culinary input from Cindy, put together a great spread for the kids and their parents. Don and I did our best to contribute with schlep and decorating. A highlight of the party was a visit by a real fire truck from the station down the block, since that was Tovar’s theme. Kai’s theme was “Jeff Gordon” and though there were plenty of Gordon plates and NASCAR party favors, our side was unable to recruit a race car driver to make an appearance.

After the party, Don and I went to cement the deal on Kai’s big B-day present: a big boy bed. For those of you too old to remember, the abandonment of the crib is a huge step in a kid’s life…and in his parents’ lives, as well. There is the worry whether or not he will like it, the worry that he will fall out, and the worry that it will fit in his room. I’m proud to say that we scored big in all departments with a bare wood trundle-type bed with six drawers underneath it, bedding in a sports motif, and a safety rail to prevent the falling-out. Kai likes it so well that he has betaken himself in for naps on his own accord, AND better yet, he has slowed up on the early morning visits to Mom & Dad’s bed.

Christmas itself was as festive as it can be in a place with palm trees and no snow. Both Tiffer and Cindy had lovely Christmas trees and decorations, while we bedecked the coach with bows and wreaths and lighted garlands. Dinners were highlights, what with not one, not two, but three culinary-minded women. I took care up the lead up dinners; Cindy made a Christmas eve feast of shrimp, mussels and crab legs; and on Christmas Day Tiffer’s kitchen produced a rare roast beef, mashed potatoes and pear, pecan and blue cheese salad. Fortunately, this year the sweets got cut back substantially!

The big boy bed actually arrived on Boxing Day, but the Family celebration of Kai’s third birthday party still took place with cake and ice cream on the 27th. You might think that heralded the end of all the family doings, but nay, nay…we’re not done yet. On Boxing Day we got a call from Don’s brother Greg, who called to ask how we’d feel about a visit. Of course, we said, "Great, when were you thinking?" He said, “Tomorrow!” So, while the seconds on the cake and ice cream were being served, we made a late trip to the airport to pick up Little Brother.

Greg stayed with us a week, got to ride the Harley, hiked the back forty, picked around the green veggies I insisted in putting on his plate, read novels on the deck and generally relaxed. Greg’s ailing father-in-law has recently moved in with them, and I guess, with school out (Greg is an elementary school principal) and the blizzards blowing, he just needed a break. His timing was good as the senior Wilsons pulled in with their RV on Sunday to spend a few days with us, too. More big family eating opportunities, including a New Year’s cookout with a bunch of our neighbors and biking buddies.

So not until all the Wilsons were departed – Jim and Ginny south to Ft. Meyers and Greg back to the frigid north of Indiana – did the ping-pong match of our holiday season finally roll to a stop. Which left us a week before our cruise to Cozumel.

…Our what???!!!!

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