December started off on the run. The first week I hopped on a flight to Austin and surprised Scott with a visit. Ashley was in on the surprise - that girl can really keep a big secret! We'd planned that trip for a couple of months at least, and Scott never had a clue. Ashley had been away at a meeting for work, and all Scott knew was that she was on her way home. We both walked in, and he turned around and looked at me with a completely blank look. I could tell he was trying to figure out which coworker Ashley had brought home with her. All of a sudden a huge grin came over his face and I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug ever! It was a great surprise - one of the best ever.
I was only there for a long weekend - Thursday evening through Monday afternoon. The first order of business was getting a tour of their new home. And it's a beauty.
I had my own room and bathroom for my stay, and I was completely comfortable. We ate out at a ton of wonderful restaurants. Anyone who has been to Austin knows that there's no shortage of amazing food there, and I think that weekend we put a dent in many of them. Heaven help me. I feel like I ate my way through Austin. Even Sunday brunch - ooooh that was particularly delectable!
I have to say, though, that my favorite activity was helping them decorate their Christmas tree. Scott had just brought the tree home shortly before I arrived and it was enormous! We had to make a big trip to Pier One and also the local craft store to get ribbon, garlands, and all kinds of finery to deck out this wonderful big tree. It was a special time with the kids and I was so happy to be able to take part in this tradition for the first time in their new home. XOXOX to both of them.
Like I said, we had many, many adventures in dining that I am still savoring. Ashley and I were able to pick up our old habit of being Ladies Who Lunch, and I absolutely loved spending that time with her. Scott and I also had plenty of time to spend with each other. One of my favorite things was going to see the bats at sunset at Congress Bridge. Did you know that Austin is famous for their bats? Neither did I. But I can see why. We found our place adjacent to the bridge, but we were careful not to get TOO close. Bat urine really stinks. And exactly at sunset, thousands of bats come pouring out from underneath the bridge. They emit a high chirping sound, which I thought was birds at first. At first. Until I saw them flying in a huge horde into the sky and heading downriver to feed. I've never seen anything like it. I took a video but couldn't get it to upload here.
So here is a still picture. If you enlarge it, you can see the black blurs above the bridge. Those are bats. So many bats. If you go to Austin, you need to go see the bats at sunset over Congress Bridge. They're awesome. A little stinky, but awesome.
So that was the whirlwind trip to Austin. I'm so glad I went. It had been waaay too long since I'd seen those kids in person, and it made me realize how much I miss having them around. Must go back soon...
So back from Austin, and time to put the Christmas Crap up. Out from the garage came all of the boxes and boxes and boxes of Christmas crap. Trees, lights, garlands, figurines, ornaments, candles, and more. So much more. It's funny how getting all of the stuff out is like seeing old friends. I never really get tired of it even though I know what to expect. I find I've missed them over the 11 months they've been in storage.
Shopping, shopping and more shopping. Gifts were wrapped and sent off. Our tree was looking very sad and empty, so L took the hint and filled the space with some very interesting looking packages. His own list was checked off and purchased, but everything he wanted came in a small package. But small packages fill in the gaps between the big boxes that I'd requested so it all worked out.
Christmas Eve was spent at my brother Brent's house. It was kind of a hectic day, as L had to work in order to get the day after Christmas off. Sometimes the publishing world sucks. Always a deadline for something. I spent the day making my decadent Truffled Scallopped Potatoes. I'll just say that between the cream, butter and cheese in those babies they are a heart clog waiting to happen. They are a once a year treat for sure. L got home, we flew to pick up my aunt and off we went to my brother's house. It was good to be together with my family that night. Dad is getting so frail (but still shaking his fist at the big C!) - so it was wonderful to see him enjoy having a bit of each and every dessert item that was there. Even my aunt had a good night. We are learning to adjust to a new type of Christmas Eve now that putting it on is too much for Mom and Dad. Before we were just bums who showed up at Mom and Dad's with our families in tow after they'd done most of the work. Now we're doing the work ourselves, which makes the memories of those past years even sweeter. This year I just wanted to take a snapshot of the evening and hold it in my heart forever.
Eventually Dad was tiring out so we all headed for home. Sort of. We still had L's family to see and so after dropping off my aunt we headed over to his mom's for a little while. It's always fun to see L's brothers and sister, so I was glad we hadn't missed everyone.
Christmas morning dawned... and we slept in. Nothing to really get up for! It was weird to not be expecting anyone to come to our house for breakfast or even a little dinner. We had thought we might go to a movie after opening gifts, but then we decided...meh. We just weren't up for the lines and crowds. L had given me a food processor that I'd been dying for, AND - this is what I really really wanted - a yogurt maker. I know - the older I get, the more boring are the things I want. I've been buying some really delicious sheep's milk yogurt at a local farmer's market for $5 a container. Its' really really good, but that's a lot of money for yogurt! Now I can make my own. I'm stoked.
In the afternoon we headed over to mom and dad's. Dad had asked me to pick up the gift he wanted to give Mom - an iPad and a wireless printer. She was so excited to get it, and we spent the time with them getting everything all set up. And that was Christmas.
Mia and Hayden sitting in the light of their tree in Massachusetts
On the 28th I hopped on another plane to Mesa, Arizona. Katie and the kids were coming out with Zach, who was going to have some interviews for a possible position with a hospital in Scottsdale. The next couple of days were spent playing games of Uno and Candyland, making memories with Mia, Hayden and Drezden, a slumber party in my hotel room, and eating some really good food at Zach's mom's house. One afternoon, Katie and I were able to sneak away for a hair appointment for her and lunch together afterward. We also had a wonderful time bowling with Mia (Hayden wanted to stay home and play with Play-doh). Mia discovered she could bowl with one arm like a grownup (rather than with the ramp or with two hands) and it was such a treat to see that tiny little girl throw the ball down the lane, and watch her dance it off when she threw gutter balls. Love her. Speaking of Mia, I have to share the most awesome letter to Santa I've EVER read. You're going to love it:
So seriously, dude - don't forget about the chewable probiotics when you eat too many cookies. And how would such a little girl know about chewable probiotics? She gets lots of tummy aches (which they are trying to get to the bottom of as we speak) and she knows whereof she speaks. I seriously loved that Santa letter.
On New Year's Eve, Katie flew back to So Cal with me. First thing in the morning. By that afternoon we were sitting in my parents' kitchen having lunch with them. Back in the day she was a social worker who worked with the older crowd in a care facility. She is really really good with that population. And she worked magic on my dad. He's been very resistant to using things that are for his good and for his safety. He views it as giving in to cancer. But things like shower chairs, canes, and even the occasional use of a properly fitted wheelchair are all good choices that will keep him safe as his health declines. And she had him seeing the sense of it all that afternoon. When the rest of us talk to him about such things, he just ends up getting irritated, but he really listened to her. It was wonderful. And sweet.
That evening she went to Knott's Berry Farm with her good friend Michelle. Michelle's birthday is on New Year's Eve, and I think that evening transported the two of them back to their high school days. Or at least back to being college coeds. It was so great to see what a fun time they had together. Best friends are such a blessing, aren't they?
On New Year's Day we went back down to Mom and Dad's for another visit. Actually, they were the main reason she came to So Cal, and she wanted to get in as much time with them as she could. It was sweet to see how much she loves them both. Dad in particular got a lot of special treatment and attention. She's a good granddaughter, and it didn't go unnoticed by them. Again, having her with me for just a short amount of time made me realize how much I miss her. What I wouldn't give to have their family close by... Zach has another interview later this month in Ventura. While Ventura isn't exactly close, it's better than Massachusetts! Better than Arizona. But they will make the decision that's right for their family. And who knows - they could end up somewhere totally unexpected. I've learned that it's best not to count chickens before they're hatched.
And now we're halfway through January 2015. This will probably be a milestone year in many ways for me. I'm steeling myself for some hard things and hard times. Dad's had to go off of the medication that was keeping the tumor at bay because he had a small seizure from it on Thanksgiving Day. Right after dinner.
Mom has her eyes closed, as usual - ha!
Spent the evening in the ER with him. Since being off of that medication the past month, his cancer numbers have doubled. Not good news. At all. But he's still defiant, and will not see this as the end of the line. He's still looking for something to save him. He's a tough old warrior, my dad. But he's getting tired, and I need to make sure I spend as much time with him as I can this year. I need to make sure I help Mom. She's having a tough time too. It's a lot to deal with, and I need to make sure that her health doesn't go downhill as well.
2015 will also bring a new little one: Tim and Autumn are expecting a little boy in April. For now, we call him Not-So-Tiny Norman. Autumn is HUGE! I seriously don't know how she can carry all of that around. I don't want to tell her that my husband was a 10 pound baby. She'd have nightmares. I'm sure the due date can't come soon enough for her! But it will be exciting for sure to welcome that little boy into our family.
Whenever I try to predict what a new year will bring, I find that I'm woefully off base. Life brings the unexpected, it seems. I confess that I'm starting off a little pessimistic, but it wouldn't surprise me to have wonderful things happen, and very little (if any) of the sad. Human beings are delightfully unpredictable, and life is even more so. It's my nature to be optimistic, actually, so I choose to remain hopeful. Hopeful for that rally of health for Dad, hopeful for family gatherings of all sorts, hopeful for my own progression in this gauntlet I'm running.
Hopeful for another year of wedded bliss. Our 15th anniversary is on the 15th. Who would have dreamed we'd have the adventures we've had over the past 15 years? We are two pretty unassuming, quiet people, and it's been (at times) quite the wild ride. But I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have shot the rapids with than my L. He makes the bad times bearable, and the good times extraordinary. So here's to 2015 with all of it's beauty and wonder, as well as it's warts. May we live it well.