Merry Christmas 2009

So this is it.

We’re at The Farm, and the last leg of our Christmas travels is coming to an end. All the gifts have been unwrapped and we’re on a roll of holiday-themed, feel-good movies. We just finished watching “The Family Stone,” which gets better and pulls harder on my heart with every viewing, and now “The Holiday” is playing. I think the latest Harry Potter film is up next.

Kates and I just finished putting Phoebe to bed. Tomorrow, we’ll say good bye to her for a few days and head home to pack our moving truck. Then on Wednesday, we head out to start that new adventure that’s been bubbling in the back of our minds for weeks

All of it made our bedtime reading tonight of “I Love You Through And Through,” quite a bit more sentimental. Not to mention our entire Christmas run this year. Since it’s the last night I’ll spend with Phoebe for at least a couple weeks.

* * *

Christmas Eve wasn’t as chaotic as last year’s -- Kates and I brought it up a couple times this year, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing it for years to come.

We woke up to a couple inches of snow on the ground, and I got the joy of shoveling our driveway and sidewalks one last time. Wet, heavy, back-breaking stuff. … I spent the remainder of the morning doing some last minute errands in the rain and sleet, while Kates finished wrapping gifts.

By late afternoon, we were getting ready for church, and at 5 o’clock, we were in our pew.

Things got off to a decent start, with Phoebe -- dressed this year in a red velvet dress with a holly pattern stitched on the trim -- working her way back and forth between the pew, lining the seat cushion with offering envelopes and scratching each one with pencil marks. As long as she was occupied, Kates and I could only shrug our shoulders.

Phoebe’s content couldn’t last forever, though. When Kates got up to direct her children’s choir and had to stay with them for the remainder of the service, Phoebe had a fit, screaming “Mommy!” and tried as hard as she could to squirm out of my grasp. Some friends sitting nearby tried their best to distract her by waving toys and making faces until finally I had to carry her out during a hymn.

She settled down, and eventually we returned to the church service. And Kates joined us for “Silent Night” and the lighting of the candles. By that time, Phoebe had squirmed most of her energy away and she was just fine in Mommy’s arms.

We greeted our friends afterward and wished them Merry Christmases; the goodbyes and warm wishes especially sweet for me because it may have been the last I see of them.

Back at home, we feasted on pineapple teriyaki burgers and sweet potato fries -- being one of our favorite meals this year, it seemed fit for our Christmas Eve. … We got Phoebe to bed and then took pleasure in the parental duties of arranging her Christmas gifts under the tree.

* * *

Christmas morning and Phoebe was whining for Mommy at exactly 7:02. It’s as if that girl has a built-in alarm clock. It seems like it’s always 7:02 with her.

Pulled from her crib, her diaper changed, she gingerly followed us to the living room and looked around the corner to see a half dozen gifts stacked for her under the tree. Teaching Phoebe how to unwrap her gifts, however, was slow-going -- more than an hour and a half slow-going … We had unwrapped about half the gifts for her before she showed any interest in doing it herself. And even then, she unwrapped them one strip at a time, tearing away small pieces of the gift wrap one at a time and daintily laying the strips on the floor.

When it was over, Phoebe had a new pair of puzzles -- one with trucks, cars and trains, the other with shapes. She had a new coloring book, some alphabet blocks, a pink Packers sweatshirt, and some items for her baby doll -- a milk bottle, a juice cup and a bib.

The grand finale was a Fisher-Price kitchen that Kates and I found at a resale shop during the summer. It was one of those fantastic deals we couldn’t pass up. … Between the phone that beeps when you press its buttons and the stove that makes boiling sounds when you turn the knob, Phoebe was utterly occupied for the rest of the morning while we ate breakfast and packed for our annual Christmas tour.

* * *

With a snowstorm sweeping across the bottom of the state, we drove into it to get to our first gathering with Kates’ father’s family on Christmas night… A roast dinner and gift exchange there, and we were on the road again around 9:30, heading to my parents’ home.

We arrived there around 11 on Christmas night, unpacked, got a decent night’s sleep. In the morning, after breakfast, Mom wasted little time getting us around the tree to unwrap a few gifts. The ritual was low-key and an oh-so pleasant contrast to the other gatherings … Phoebe got a small play house with figurines that can be set at tea tables. But her favorite toy -- perhaps her favorite of the whole Christmas run -- is the Fisher-Price “Sing n Learn Delivery Truck.” It took her little time to figure out every time she dropped a letter through a slot in the truck that the “A-B-Cs” started playing -- or there’s her name for it, the “A-Bs” -- and we rarely heard the end of it the rest of the weekend.

Saturday afternoon. We traveled to an aunt’s home for our gathering with my mother’s family -- all 29 of us, not including the 14 who were absent from this year’s gathering. Those gatherings are always rollicking good times with lots of food, games and laughter. … Phoebe entertained with her counting, worked up a sweat playing chasing games with Elliott, her older second cousin, and came away with a new doll to add to her growing collection.

Sunday afternoon. We headed to my grandmother’s house for our annual Christmas gathering with my father’s side of the family -- that one consisted of Great Grandma, five aunts and uncles plus my parents, four cousins and three significant others, plus me and Kates, and four great-grandchildren.

Three of those grandchildren were born last year within seven months of each other, which made the afternoon a little more interesting. Last year, those kids arrived in car seats and weren’t even crawling. This year, all of them were walking and talking and taking in their new surroundings …

And there, the family had voted to abandon a gift exchange in the spirit of the true meaning of Christmas -- spending time as a family and enjoying each other’s company and conversation.

Although, gifts were still handed to the little ones. Among them, each toddler received a snugly bath blanket/towel (See picture).

Sunday night. We headed to the farm. Phoebe was so zonked she barely stirred when we stopped to say goodbye to my parents and again for gas …

As we traveled the winding country roads, we watched one of the most beautiful sunsets in recent memory. The sun was a fiery orange glow setting behind the darkened trees that line the ridges and valleys. The snow-lined roads only added to scenery. Around every bend in the road, there was another landscape so pretty I wanted to stop the car, get out and take a picture. But I had to keep driving.

Soon we turned onto old Highway 58 and Kates counted the barns. The eighth barn after the turn marks our destination …

1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …. 5 … 6 … 7 …

We traveled over the hill and there was the old farmhouse, lit up and waiting for our arrival.

“Serenity,” I said.

Inside, the house was decked out for Christmas. The tree stood aglow, adorned with snowflake ornaments and wrapped in white lace. Logs were burning in the fireplace. And the stockings had been hung on the magazine rack with care.

Once we were settled, our final gift exchange commenced with Kates’ parents, Orrin and Kelli. And once again, we were overwhelmed with their generosity … Phoebe got a Mr. Potato Head and has taken more interest in wearing his glasses than anything else. She also got a talking Elmo doll and a crate of accessories for her new kitchen.

Like a lot of things throughout these last few weeks, this one has been a bittersweet Christmas. One for the ages, you could say. With the tough year our families have endured, and all the changes to come, every minute spent together, every memory painted seemed to be more meaningful … Which made the fact that I mistakenly hit a button on my camera and deleted all of the pictures I’d taken the last few days a whole lot harder to swallow.

Here’s hoping my mind can store the images a lot longer than my camera could.

Our four days of Christmas, by the numbers ...

Miles traveled: 285, roughly -- not including the 160 or so we have to travel home tomorrow.
Mountain Dew cans drunk: 4
Gift exchanges: 6
“Sesame Street” themed gifts: 4, including an Elmo doll for Phoebe and the 40th anniversary DVD set, which I had on my list.
CDs: 5 -- including three “Glee” soundtracks, two of which are duplicate copies of Volume 2
Alphabet themed toys for Phoebe: 3
Puzzles: 4 -- three of which went to Phoebe
Candy canes Phoebe snatched out of the family stockings when we weren’t watching her on Sunday night: 7

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