Friday, December 29, 2006

My Favourite Christmas Gifts

OK, I whined about how things were not as I was used to, but we had some extra-special gifts this year. The very best was that Kaylin, my beautiful grand-niece, was able to come for the day, and she introduced her new little brother to my sons and my cousin. My nephew's divorce gave me the opportunity to spend a whole day with my wonderful new grand-nephew RT3, and he decided he likes me.
For those of you who haven't seen me in action many years, I have a special talent- babies. Babies love me, and there isn't one I cannot get to sleep in 5 minutes when fussy or sick (except Buck who was nearly 4 years old before he slept thru the night. That's another story!)
Needless to say, once I was done cooking, with the tremendous help of Buck and Dan (who also did all the cleaning for the cat-allergic sector which is 90% of the family including me and Dan!), I had my baby buddy on my lap. He smiled and charmed the lot of us, and all my boys had a turn with him. The Elf hat was especially winsome.
Kaylie danced about in her velvet dress and all the boys played games and dolls with her. She wasn't shy and skipped about giving orders- boy, she is like a Kate clone!
Sue put her in charge of the Yankee Grab- everyone picks a number, chooses an anonymous gift, and can choose to swap with any opened gift; number 1 gets to choose from all the previous gifts at the end. She saved the last slip for her boyfriend Dan- and yes, it was #1. Rigged! We had a lot of laughs.
Buck's girlfriend came unexpectedly, so we were delighted to add her to the company.
The gift-opening was hectic, crazy and fun. Joe gave me a floating frame with four pictures of Ireland, all of them places I had been, and I swore they were pictures I took, but they were ones HE took, from the exact same angles. Dan agreed, it was so eerie that he had exactly the same views- it was so beautiful and I cannot wait to hang it.
Kate called and we passed the phone to every person before hanging up.
Since we ate so early, we had the place cleared up by 9 pm, so I finished wrapping. I was too tired for midnight Mass, I would have had to drive several towns to reach one. I rose early and went to church, and drank two pots of Kona coffee with Brendan while we waited for the others to wake. When they did, Dan started cooking bacon immediately, so we ended up eating our big breakfast first, and opening gifts after- another first! They all liked their gifts, and I liked mine very much. It just seemed that a great deal of thought was put into everyone's selections this year. For example, I got a NAPLEX study guide from Dan, the first three Lemony Snickets from Bren, and a grill from Buck! They loved their Hawaii shirts- Bren got one dyed from hemp, the others from volcanic ash, and all of them got a Kauai red dirt shirt. Lots of coffee, macadamia nuts, and useful things like socks, jeans, workwear for Bren, and Dan got a leather jacket. It was great happiness and relaxation.

The stuff is incidental and fun, but stuff is stuff. Spending the time creating our holiday meant the most. Buck took the time to get his grandmother discharged from hospital, and spent a whole day shopping with me, trying on coats, finding groceries, and a marathon vacuum job. Dan picked up Bren, peeled mountains of vegetables, cooked, cleaned, and came to my mom's follow-up appointment after the holiday. Bren pulled it all together, mopped floors, made coffee, and was there when I needed him, and popped in for turkey next day so we could re-hash the holiday. Joe and Elaine drove, drove and drove, sent lots of supportive emails, brought excellent desserts, and praised the lumpy mashed potatoes. Auntie served as the family matriarch, regally despite all the driving.
Rich drove a long way with an infant and a very excited child, and still had everything organized. And Sue and Ted visited my parents before coming up to our house, did a million errands, baked gluten-free meringues, bought wine, cheese, gluten-free crackers, and touched base every step of the way.

I was surrounded by people who loved me on Christmas, and this is what I needed most, and what I love best about Christmas.

Shona Nollaig Duit!

Three Strikes of Christmas!

This was a nice Christmas, but a weird Christmas. Everything bad always happens in threes. Kate started it all by moving to Hawaii and not being able to come home for Christmas. That was very upsetting to me even tho’ I got to spend Thanksgiving with her. I decided to make up for missing her by making her a stocking and mailing it in time for the holiday. Now, I am very craftsy, and had made a felt stocking for each child as it came along, but I didn’t want to ship her 1979 stocking out to the Pacific. So off to the store to fetch felt- of course, they are all sold out of red, and limited in colors. I ended up making a green stocking, and on it I put a volcano, a palm tree and the sea with little fishes- all the things we enjoyed together on my visit. I found some paper ribbon that made excellent palm leaves and ocean. I laughed out loud and took a picture when I was done. I also made her a huge felt tree to hang on her door, and glued ornaments and fake lights on it. I filled her sock with goofy stuff- I went on the theme of sight, sound, smell and taste of Christmas at home and so pine potpourri from the Christmas Tree Shop, Hebert Candy Mansion fudge, candy canes, a bracelet with jingle bells, a photo of the two of us all got stuffed in with a few gift cards. I hope to hell she got it in time- the post office said she should but their supplies got held up due to blizzards canceling planes.
We have our celebration on Christmas Eve: it used to be at my parents’ until my mom had knee surgery & we switched to rotating every year at the three daughters’ houses. My widowed Aunt Mae and her son always spent the Eve with us as well.
My dad requested that we have dinner really really early; his health is not great and he tires easily (the “sundowning effect” it’s called in geriatrics). It being my turn to host our family on Christmas Eve, I emailed the family our dinner time. One of my sisters and her family elected not to come; she had said last year she wasn’t coming, so her kids worked on Christmas Eve and they stayed home. Strike two!
Then my mom got really sick- I called one morning and my sister Sue was there. She said they needed to get Mom to the ER, so I hopped in my car, but by the time I pulled up she had called an ambulance. My mom was ashen grey and couldn’t catch her breath, never mind walk. The ER ran a bunch of tests and they figured it was flu (she DID get her shot), so they planned to send her home til they saw her walk to the bathroom for a urine specimen- it took half an hour to get her to the bathroom and she was so sick when she got there we had to get her right back on oxygen. They kept her four days- her culture was positive for a strain of flu that was not in the shot, so I suspect she picked it up at work in the Wang Center (damn those Rockettes!). It took me and Buck, a wheelchair and a walker to get her home- she refused to go to rehab and she really did think she was coming to my house. I put my foot down and said no- and my dad said he was staying home with her. I think he was really relieved because he gets so nervous going anywhere. Strike Three!
We all went in on Christmas Day to see them.

But I have never had a Christmas holiday dinner without my parents, all my kids, and my sisters and their kids before.
:( My family is more important to me than anything, but it just didn't happen for me the way we are used to. SO- we made the best possible Christmas we could, and enjoyed the loved ones who were there with us.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Ohmigod, it is SOOOOOOO good to not be hustling for a few weeks.
I am sleeping well, eating well, and ok, most nights I indulge in a good shiraz.

What the hell- no exams, no rotation... I actually went to a CE course on hyponatremia last night, and yes, Sou, I could follow the whole thing (I wasn't rubbing thighs under the table with cute Greeks!). But the best part was hanging with my homies, Chris and Chris. How sad is this- we spoke very enthusiastically about the benefits of Vytorin. DiPiro rocks!

Today I spent a few hours distracting my pals at the American Cancer Society- I popped in to the office and did one on one with a number of former coworkers, including my sweet boss Z. I came armed with macadamia nut candy, and it was such a great visit-
haven't seen these folks in two years!!!

And now I believe you deserve more pictures from Hawaii. Enjoy, my peeps!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Aloha from Paradise (Mahalo, Sallie Mae!!!)

OK- I got a call from my daughter about the Friends and Family Plan her company offers, and she had a deal too good to pass up for Thanksgiving week. Consequently, I flew out to Hawaii and spent my Thanksgiving week on a cruise ship! This was so cool, but not without stress. I had a short time to plan, so I ended up finishing my rotation on Friday, finishing my abstract by midnight, packing on Saturday and then flying out Saturday night. During my layover in Oakland Ca, I finished all my PEMS work (pharmacy talk for homework) and napping, then off to Honolulu to land 1 pm Sunday. I checked into the ship- I had a luxury cabin with a balcony, the same VanGogh Starry night that I keep on my mantel, and a complimentary bottle of champagne! Kate and I took a walk just to keep me awake, and we saw Diamond Head off in the north. We sailed out in the evening. I had a hard time getting to sleep- every time I turned out the light it felt like someone was watching me, so I left my laptop on screensaver, just dim enough. I woke up in Kauai. Kate rented a car and we drove off to Waimea canyon "the Grand Canyon of Kauai". It was unbelievable. The next morning I headed up to see Wailua waterfall and drove thru plantations and cane fields to get there. We sailed at 1 pm past the Nepali coastline and I took pictures from my balcony as the sun set. It being Formal Night, we dined in the restaurant Crossings in our finery.
I woke up the next day in Hawai'i, the Big Island, in Hilo. We picked up our rental car and headed up to the Kilauea Volcano park, home of goddess Pele. The volcano crater is alive and smoking- you can drive around its 11 mile perimeter. You can hike down if you have more time, but we drove and walked out to the main sights. I had the second worst asthma attack of my life and gave thanks to the albuterol goddess (Thanks Beth!) from the sulphur- you couldn't smell it but the beta cells in your lings knew it was there! The locals leave leis and flowers for Pele to petition her for favours. We went to a lava tube made by water that evaporated out after an eruption, leaving a sizable tube behind. When we left Hilo, we cruised past the active volcanos at night and watched them from my balcony while the ambassadors chanted in Hawai'ian. You could see the lava spurting up on the shore from our vantage point at sea. Kate says it looks different every single week.
The next day we docked at Kona on the other side of the island. We decided to shuttle up to a beach, so we headed to a state park for the afternoon. The sand was black, volcanic sand that I wanted to bring back but was told no-go because of nematodes. I had brought Kate her snorkel gear, so she and Philip snorkelled while I tried to keep my balance on the rocky beach. Tropical fish of all colors swam past my ankes and both delighted and scared the hell out of me. I found a part of the beach that had a sandy bottom and hung there for a long time in the 70+ degree water. I have never been in water so warm without my rubber duckie. A woman standing near me stepped on a sea urchin and got some nasty spines stuck in her foot. We lunched at a restaurant near the ship before boarding. I talked with my family on cell and wished them happy holiday. We had our Thanksgiving dinner at Pacific Heights restaurant on the ship with all Kate's friends, and Leilani regaled us with Hawaiian stories. It was lovely.
Next morning found us in Maui, where Kate had rented us a car for the Road to Hana, a grueling gorgeous road along the cliff-hanging coast: 56 bridges, most of which were one-lane, and 617 curves & turns, most of which are hair-pin. Kate drove like she was playing Pole Position (she was always good at that game), and I gave the Imaginary Brake a good workout. We agreed that if I were driving, we'd probably still be on the road to Hana! I cannot begin to describe the untouched beauty this coastline represents. I understand why the locals don't commute into town! Kate described returning at night, and all the stars on this unlit road- I could imagine the splendour, but am glad I wasn't there in the dark. We got to the town and a kitty was right above us in the beach parking lot. I got some incredible photos while we waded around and stretched. We made good time on our way back.
We rose at 4 am and grabbed the car for a trip to Haleakala Peak for the sunrise; we drove a road that was all twists and turns in the dark. We got into the state park just after the choice parking lot closed so we headed to the next best lot. THEN I learn that we are over 10,000 feet up above sea level. I had on five layers and still I was shivering, it was 39 degrees F at the top. It was cloudy, so we did not get a spectacular tropical sunrise, but it was quite an awesome experience anyway. As the light increased, one could see the striations in the terrain around us; this is a volcanic peak, and the minerals spewed in past eruptions have definitive colors and shapes. You can see the two segments of Maui and the valley connecting them. A tour guide was pretty funny, commenting on taking the Griswolds' Christmas card photo. We had planned to take a short hike, but there was a warning sign stating unusual wasp activity had been noted so beware: without my EpiPen, I was reluctant to chance it, so down we drove for breakfast. On the drive down, I could not believe how high up we were; we went past such beautiful places. After a hearty meal, we grabbed our bathing suits and drove to Lahaina on the other side of the island. Kate knew of a beach that only the locals know about, you park in a lot near construction sites and hike thru a meadow, then come out on this incredible beach. The surf was very strong, but the water was great. Kate took a nap on the beach and I took a nearly-4-mile walk. I saw a couple my age being married on the beach near a hotel, with a Hawai'ian native presiding over their vows, and no one else but other vacationers to notice. Sailboats moored nearby, fishermen cast their hooks, and the sun shone and the waves rolled. We headed to town and did some shopping, Hilo Hattie's and the Crazy T-Shirt shop among others. We got back and returned our car before dinner and made good time.
In the morning we were back in Honolulu on Oahu. I checked out from the ship and we cabbed my stuff up to Waikiki where I had a hotel room reserved. We walked across the city to a mall to get Kate's computer fixed but the Apple store had a reservation policy. We made a reservation, and did some shopping. We had lunch and then I said goodbye to Kate, who needed to be back on board. I walked to Ala Moana beach and took some photos and dozed in the sun, then I kept the appointment and got her computer fixed. I met Kate back at Aloha Tower to return her laptop and enjoy a final glass of wine with her friends. The I walked all the way back to Waikiki beach, which was very enjoyable until it began to thunder and lightning (just before I got to the hotel).
I planned to have breakfast at a local spot, but a bus pulled up for Pearl Harbor, so I hopped aboard. I wanted to visit the Arizona Memorial and get my dad a hat to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the attack. It was such a somber and holy place- it was eerily quiet and you could sense the 1,777 souls around you. I took a lot of photos, and read every exhibit. I got back to my hotal and went online for a shuttle, then headed down to the beach for my last afternoon. I stayed til sunset on Kuhio Beach, and saw the beginning of the torchlighting show they do.
In the morning, the shuttle driver picked me up and was so personable and nice, he gave me a big hug at the airport when I left. My flights went very well- I made my connection in Oakland and caught the red-eye back. I got back the Wednesday morning after Thanksgiving, at about 8 am, and cabbed to my sister's to get my car. By the time I got home and made breakfast, I fell sound asleep watching tv with my tea mug in hand.
It felt so good to be home and sleeping in my own bed. I still can't believe I got to go, it all happened so fast. This was the trip of a lifetime.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.