Christmas Festivities

I’ve worked long and hard on this one, but have managed to capture the entire year in review. Don’t worry. It’s really not too long.

For some cute pictures of our adorable cats, click here.

‘Twas the Season

When last we left our heroes, they had just returned from a beautiful Hawaiian vacation. . .
Returning home in the middle of November put us in prime position to start preparing for the holiday season. And, of course, no Christmas would be complete without the traditional Christmas Tree Hunt. Once again, Steve and I trekked out to the Frosty Mountain Christmas Tree Farm. And, once again, we found the hunt for the perfect tree to be rather frustrating. It really seemed like all of the best trees were not for sale. After spending over an hour looking around the field, we finally found one that would suffice. Interestingly enough, it was off to the side, in the same area where we finally found one last year. Once we had stalked our prey, we began the kill. It was a tough little tree, taking all of our best efforts to bring it down.

Steve cutting down our Christmas tree

Anne cutting down our Christmas tree

When it was all said and done, the tree could not withstand the sheer, brute force of the mighty Christmas Tree Hunter.

Steve with our Christmas tree

Just before we were scheduled to fly to the Midwest, the word came in that appropriate celebrations were necessary for our friend Aaron’s birthday. With that mandate, Steve and I hustled down to the South Bay for the festivities. We all converged on Benihana’s for a very entertaining evening of flying meat and expensive bar bills. You see, everyone at the table decided to get their drinks in a porcelain figurine to commemorate the evening.

Brian and Meredith at Benihana

Aaron and Vera at Benihana

We should have known something was up when the tasty beverage menu neglected to include any prices. When the bill came, we were shocked to find that the bar bill accounted for HALF of the total! Much hilarity ensued as our shock took the form of jokes at our own expense. It was an expensive party favor, but it was a fun evening and we did get these exciting glasses to use over and over again. Not that they’ve actually made it out of our cabinet since we brought them home. . .

Here I am with the friendly kitty I always have to find.

Anne with the lucky cat

Christmas with the Barkers

Last year, Steve and I returned to the Midwest together for the first time to visit our respective families. We started off in Illinois visiting with Steve’s future in-laws. We flew into Midway Airport for the first time because we got excellent fares through Southwest. Midway at Christmas was, basically, Hell. It was, without a doubt, the worst airport experience I have ever had. We landed on time, but by the time Steve and I managed to hook up with my dad, 2 hours had passed. The security line to get into the terminal was outrageously long, so my dad was late getting to the gate. So, Steve went off to start collecting our bags. When my dad and I met Steve at Baggage Claim, he had all of our bags. Except for one. He was missing his red duffel bag. The bag in which he had packed all of his warm winter clothing. Never mind that I had told him before leaving that he should carry his winter coat on the plane with him. No, I won’t mention that at all. I stood in another line for about 45 minutes to put in a claim for the bag. The woman at the counter, who was amazingly nice considering the number of angry people she had to deal with, assured me that it was most likely on the next plane and that someone would drive it all the way to our house by the next day.

Meanwhile, Geoff, my brother, was also flying into Midway. My dad went off to get him at his gate as Steve and I dealt with the baggage. So, we all met up and started to wait for Geoff’s baggage to arrive. An hour and a half after his plane landed, the baggage finally began to come out on the carousels. Finally, all the people and bags (that we could find) were in one place. My dad ran off to get the car, while Geoff, Steve, and I brought the bags out to the curb to wait for him to pull around. Yet another hour later, we were still waiting. Steve, whose coat was in the lost luggage, refused to wait inside, and it was a struggle to get him to put on one of my extra scarves. So, he was standing out there in 5 degree weather in his thin little denim jacket. Finally, my dad pulled up and we loaded everything into the car. Apparently, there had been an accident on the road around the airport and he had just been sitting in traffic that whole time, trying to get through. It was the worst airport experience. I swore we’d never fly into that airport again, no matter how cheap the tickets were. Of course, we flew back in August and Southwest had a great sale again. . .

In addition to seeing my family, this was also a good time for Steve to meet some more of my college buddies. For the first time in 2, maybe 3, years, I got to see Dave and Jae. It was great to visit with them. I do miss all my college friends and the wacky things we used to do.

Anyway, we started off the evening by going to a pizza place for dinner. Here I am with Dave, Jae’s girlfriend Caroline, and, of course, Jae.

Anne, Dave, Caroline, and Jae

And Jae and Dave were up to their old antics in no time.

Jae and Dave

Jae still had some last minute Christmas shopping to take care of, so he had to leave after dinner. But we got one last shot in before parting company. Did I mention it was incredibly cold in Illinois?

Anne, Dave, and Jae

After Jae and Caroline left, Dave, Steve, and I went to Dempsey Rockin’ Bowl and had a great time bowling to loud eighties music. I didn’t do very well the first game, but scared the boys at the start of the next game when I got 3 strikes in a row! After a couple of games, it was getting time for Steve and I to start the long drive home. I always enjoy seeing my friends from college. It’s just a shame that it happens so infrequently.

Suddenly, it was Christmas Eve day! And Steve’s missing luggage finally arrived that morning! It was truly a Christmas miracle. As my faithful readers may recall, my family has our family Christmas gathering on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas day. I think Steve still finds this strange, but he’ll just have to get used to it. My brother Greg and sister-in-law Colleen arrived in the middle of the afternoon and the eating, drinking, and teasing began. After dinner, we settled in for the traditional reading of “The Night Before Christmas”. My dad reads this every year, and, I think, every year it gets more and more irreverent. The part about the belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly is a particularly favorite place to give my dad a hard time.

Geoff, Anne, Dad, and Greg

Geoff, Anne, Dad, and Greg

I had hatched a grand plan while Steve and I were in Hawaii. In addition to their real gifts, I bought everyone a tacky Hawaiian tourist trap souvenir. Their real gifts were kept hidden in the back of the house and they each got to open the tacky gift first, thinking that was what they were actually getting. It went off very well and everyone got a real kick out of their gifts. We had a great time with it. Before we left on the trip, Greg told me that all he really wanted was a cursed talisman like the one Greg Brady found on his trip to Hawaii. I was happy to oblige, giving him a fantastic example of Hawaiian plastic craftsmanship.

Greg with plastic cursed talisman

Of course, the talisman was only half of the story. I also presented him with a photo documentary of my search to find it in a Hawaiian construction site. I’ll reproduce it for you here.

Anne digging up cursed talisman

Anne digging up cursed talisman

Anne digging up cursed talisman

For my sister-in-law, I thought the perfect gift was a coconut bra and grass skirt. Despite the fact that she was 7 1/2 months pregnant, I encouraged her to put it on and give us a little hula show. She graciously declined.

Colleen with coconut bra

Colleen with grass skirt

Geoff received a great little ornament for his car dashboard. I tell you, a sexy wobbling hula dancer never goes out of style.

Geoff opening his hula dancer

For my dad, I thought perhaps a little something for his desk now that he’s retired and no longer has a bunch of work to occupy it. This motorized hula girl actually dances across the table while playing enchanting music straight from the islands.

Dad opening his hula girl

Finally, what else does a 21st century liberated woman need but new potholders and kitchen towels with a pretty pineapple pattern on them?

Mom with pineapple potholder

The evening’s jovial feeling came to an abrupt end shortly after Greg and Colleen left for the evening. No more than 10 minutes after they left my parents’ house, we got a phone call from Greg that they’d been in a car accident. While he and Colleen were both fine, Colleen went to the hospital to get checked over because she was pregnant. She started having contractions and was flown by helicopter to another hospital that was better prepared for premature births. The baby was not born that night, or the next week, or even the next month. Despite Colleen’s continued daily contractions, my nephew was not born until February 15.

Mom with baby Ian

Ian’s a pretty cute little bugger with incredible blue eyes. Here’s Ian when he was 11 weeks old. You can really see the color of his eyes.

Ian

Greg and Colleen are both very happy with parenthood and, with the insurance settlement, they even bought a new family SUV to haul around kids and dogs. And Ian’s drool production far exceeds demand. In fact, he reminds me a bit of the dog from Turner & Hooch.

Ian the drool monster

Christmas with the Shaws

On December 26th, we flew to Tennessee to celebrate Christmas with Steve’s family.

Shaws at the airport

We went to his brother and sister-in-law’s house directly from the airport to bestow Steve’s niece and nephews with gifts. It was soon apparent that the contents of the packages were not as immediately important to the kids as the line of packages themselves. Frankly, I’m not certain they even looked at the gift they’d unwrapped before grabbing the next one. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a Christmas with a group of kids getting a bunch of presents. At the Barker Christmas gift exchange, we go around in a circle, by age, and everyone opens one present at a time. We continue to go around until all the presents are opened. It was a very different gathering at the Shaws. I can only imagine that Steve was as taken aback by our Christmas as I was by theirs. Here you can see the frenzy that overtook Will, Sam, and Lily in progress.

Gift opening frenzy

After dinner, we drove out to Steve’s parents’ house in Cookeville. That evening, at a slightly less feverish pace, we got to open some presents of our own. Steve’s dad, Reid, and Merri (who loyal readers may remember from my last installment) sit here enjoying one of their presents.

opening presents at the Shaw's house

However, for me, the best present was the tour we took of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchberg, TN.

at Jack Daniel's Distillery

We had a great tour guide, with a bushy gray beard and a rotund form from his years as a BBQ tasting judge. He had a great way of speaking, taking considerable pauses to be sure he got his point across. For instance, when talking about the vast amount of whisky the Distillery produces, he told us that “that [was] more whisky than [he’d] like to drink. . . . . . . at one time.” We learned that every bottle of Jack Daniel’s Whisky in the world is produced right there in Lynchberg with the special water that comes from this spring.

spring at Jack Daniel's Distillery

And Steve and I got to have our picture taken with Jack himself.

Annd and Steve with statue of Jack Daniel

The tour led us through the Still House and the Mellowing House where the whisky is soaked through charcoal to purify it. We even got to go into the Fermentation Building where we were encourage to dip our fingers in and take a taste. I guess there is so much alcohol in the fermentation vats that no germs could survive. Yes, I did taste it and it was surprisingly mellow. Mmmmmmmm.

Anne taking a taste

On our last day in Tennessee, we went to Steve’s grandma’s house for dinner. His grandma had played an important part in Steve’s childhood and I wanted to make a good impression. After all, she was the one who taught Steve to make such wonderful pies!

We also got to see Will, Sam, and Lily again that day. They are a rambunctious crew! Here’s Steve with Miss Lily just as we were sitting down to dinner.

Steve and Lily

And here she is with John, Steve’s brother.

John and Lily

Will absolutely hates having his picture taken which, of course, makes it more challenging and fun to do it. Reid literally had to hold him down to get this picture.

Reid and Will

And Steve didn’t have to work too hard to get Sam all riled up.

Steve and Sam

All too soon, it was time to leave and head to the airport. But not without taking this great family picture first.

Shaw family

The following links will bring you to many more of my exciting adventures!
My fabulous 26th birthday!
Another fun-filled summer, full of fairs, festivals, and gold! And pictures from Brian and Meredith’s wedding.
Our tour of potential wedding sites.
Another fun-filled California autumn.

Coming Attractions:
More wedding planning. . . . And another Christmas visit to the Midwest.