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“Okay, take care, aloha”

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“Okay, take care, aloha”

So, we went on vacation. I’m going to go ahead and call it our First Family Vacation, despite the fact that we’d gone to New York/New Jersey in June to visit GP’s immediate and extended family– that first trip, while not a business trip, was definitely not as relaxing as, say, a week on the beach. A week on the beach is exactly what we were in for when we headed to Hawaii, arriving on the day that a hurricane was supposed to make landfall on the islands for the first time in twenty-five years.

Likely due to the power of our crossed fingers, United didn’t cancel our flight, which departed from SFO with plenty of empty seats vacated by those apparently willing to compromise their vacation plans. (I basically wanted to crawl into a hole when I began to contemplate this possibility, and refused to consider what we might do if Mother Nature royally effed up our scheduled trip.) The extra plane space was extra awesome, as it meant that we didn’t have to check Claire’s carseat– giving us a convenient nap spot that meant we got to enjoy SkyMall while she rested. (A plane is essentially a huge white noise machine, right? Naps 4 EVAH.)

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We arrived to a bit of wind and more than a bit of humidity, and made our way to our rental house on Oahu’s North Shore. While I don’t think we’d stay in that exact house again (location and view were awesome, as was the AC in our bedroom, but the oversold “gourmet kitchen” and dim bathroom were definite letdowns), we were thrilled to see that this would be our view for the week:

DSC_2452There were active parts of the vacation, like a trip to the peak of Diamond Head (not the most strenuous hike, but such amazing views of Waikiki) and some scuba for GP and his dad, but mostly we took it easy on the beach and around the house.

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DSC_2093Claire did get a few (small!) bites of Dole Whip and some mostly-ice tastes of shave ice, and was a fan of both.

"GIMME"

IMG_20140811_150108_761The upside of traveling with grandparents is that they’re willing to “babysit” (post-bedtime), so we did get to have a grownup dinner out in Haleiwa, complete with mai tais in commemorative cups. (After two, I was drunk. Let’s say my tolerance is a little lower after nine months of abstention.)

Leis. You're doing it right, lady.

Our return flight, shockingly, was just about as empty as our flight out to the island, so we lucked into a bulkhead row of five seats in front of which Claire had quite the play area– that was sanitized within an inch of its life, because I am not even playing around with airplane germs.

The switch back to Pacific time was not as rough as I feared it would be (way easier than the shift to Hawaii time, which resulted in a no-fricking-way 3:00 a.m. baby wakeup on our first day), and I am now fully ready to accept the change of season into my heart. Is it sweater weather yet?

Christmas in review

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We’re not even done celebrating Christmas yet– have to go to my Mom and stepdad’s tonight, and celebrate with my Dad tomorrow night– but it would be nice to get through all the Christmas-ing before 2012 rolls around, right?

As is our biannual tradition (which the Cambridge online dictionary says is the right way to communicate “every other year,” but I’m still skeptical), we headed to New York to spend the holiday with the in-laws. The day after our cross-country flight, we continued the traditional boys-go-skiing, ladies-go-to-the-spa outings (I think the MIL and I got the better end of that), then packed up the Saab and headed to Rockland for Christmas Eve with my sister-in-law, her husband, their adorable baby, and about twenty other extended family members from both sides. We brought painstakingly-decorated cookies (see the below likenesses of my FIL and GP; please also note that these two men are basically identical) and a whopping eight bottles of wine in our (free!) checked baggage.

We returned home last night with a bottle of champagne, various books about Disney World (where we’re headed in just over a week), some awesome aquamarine earrings (see the below no-makeup-Christmas-morning shot), and assorted other gifts.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to demolish and a cat to molest pet an appropriate amount.

How I’d like to remember him

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Laughing, happy, and probably with a gin and tonic in hand. I miss him already.

Climbed a mountain and I turned around

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In Tahoe last weekend, GP and I hiked up Mt. Tallac, a trek that had been recommended by some friends of ours. It was a little grueling and treacherous at times, but we made it nearly to the top and lived to tell the tale (mostly through our still-sore thighs, three days later). I’ll post pictures later, of course, but I figured I’d go with the bad news first.

Friday morning, I checked my phone to make sure that I hadn’t missed some earth-shattering call (I’m not that important, seriously), and saw that I had a text from my dad that read, “call asap.911” Knowing it couldn’t be good news, I called him and found out that his brother, my uncle and basically additional parent, has cancer. Well, wait: cancers. As of now, we know that it’s in his (failing) kidneys, lymph nodes, bones, lungs, and potentially his liver. The outlook for a situation like this is, as you might imagine, not great.

We visited him in the hospital last night, on our way home from Tahoe. He was asleep when we arrived, and awoke a few minutes later. We sat in his dim hospital room, he with far too many wires and IVs sticking out of him, me on the edge of the bed “so he could look at me,” and GP in a chair in the corner, knowing how hard it was for me to even remotely hold it together. We talked for nearly an hour, in the sort of way that you would hope to talk with someone who has played such a huge role in your life, in what might potentially be the last weeks of theirs. Walking out of the hospital, GP  commented that my uncle and I are “so alike,” which was particularly meaningful (and, yes, completely heartbreaking) because it was proof of my uncle’s impact on my life. The way I choose our words, the way I joke, my wanderlust, and my preference for gin and tonic come cocktail hour? That’s all him. Every single bit.

I want this to be a bad dream. I want to know that my uncle is going to get to be an old man, just like he wanted. I want life to seem fair, and for cancer not to fucking suck so much. Because it does. Even from the top of a mountain, where problems like the bitchy email you got from a coworker, or the fact that you’re going to be walking funny for a few days because you climbed that damned mountain, cancer…sucks.

Where in the world Wednesday: the Grand NY/NJ/DC Tour

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(I like this vacillating between “Where in the world” and “wordless” on Wednesdays– mostly because it’s tricky for me to be wordless, but I don’t go on that many trips. So convenient!)

As June is the official start of “wedding season” (although, how meaningful is that distinction nowadays? I feel like weddings happen year-round), it was only fitting that our second trip east of 2011 was for the wedding of one of GP’s cousins. Like every trip that involves us visiting and staying with his family, there was the inevitable “fly into Newark, drive to New York, run back to New Jersey for any number of things, now back to New York, rinse and repeat” process (flights to Newark are most convenient for us, GP’s sister lives in Rockland County, the wedding was in Jersey, etc). The first thing that hits you when you step off a plane from SFO into a New Jersey summer morning? (We landed at 6:30 in the morning. Yay, red-eyes!) THE HUMIDITY. Pay attention, even though I’ll say it again: I don’t know how you east coast people do it. It’s like breathing through a wet towel, and I’m not a huge fan of being…clammy all the time.

After grabbing a couple hours of sleep in an attempt to recover from a sleep deficit that would only grow as the trip went on, we got to catch up with my sister-in-law and five month old niece (she has so much to say, you guys!), and head to the rehearsal and dinner. Below you will see the only picture of me, GP, my SIL, and her husband from the entire trip (the niece is absent because I was able to Baby-Whisper her into sleep in her stroller)…

That monkey totally disrupted the priest's blessing of the meal. GP and I tried to keep our silent-laughter-induced shaking to ourselves.

The wedding was the next day, and OMG LET ME  JUST TELL YOU ABOUT SOME HUMIDITY. Also, you know, lovely dress, a full-on mass (too long, says the heathen!), an amazingly filling cocktail hour, and…a lot of gin and tonics. It’s summer! (And, ah, I should be too old to overindulge like this. Bad job, me.)

After celebrating Father’s Day with my father-in-law and GP’s brother-in-law, we left the wonders of downtown Newark to take the non-Acela train down to DC. Train travel seems so charming when you’re used to being on planes– you can carry on whatever you like, no one treats you like a criminal when you’re in the process of boarding, and it’s much easier to get up and walk around. Alas, the train infrastructure around here is pretty lacking.

While in the DC area, we stayed with a college friend of GP’s in Alexandria, who kindly shared bus route information as well as recommendations for my day of lone touristing (GP was visiting Six Flags America), which basically consisted of art, humidity avoidance, and a constant loop of the West Wing theme song in my head. I mean, hello, do people get used to seeing stuff like this every day?

Paging Josh Lyman...

On this particular day, I managed to make it to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (which I had all to myself– so blissful!), the American History Museum (Julia Child’s kitchen, yay!), the Natural History Museum (too many kids! OVERSTIMULATION), lunch with a college friend at Zaytinya, the Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum (probably my favorite stop of the day), the National Building Museum (before they began charging admission for exhibits), the National Geographic Society (likely not worth the $8 I paid, especially given that everything else was free), drinks with another college friend at the Tabard Inn, and finally dinner with several other friends at Circa Dupont. Is anyone surprised that I was exhausted at the end of this trip? Because, damn. Oh! Also worth mentioning– we got to celebrate an engagement at our dinner that night, which was particularly wonderful because it was such a close friend with whom I might not have been able to celebrate until…what, her wedding? (Come on, you know that email isn’t the same as squeeing over the ring in person.)

On our last full day in the mid-Atlantic, we visited King’s Dominion, which included a fairly terrifying but still pretty great rollercoaster (one of many that day, to be sure), a metric crapton of humidity (told you I wouldn’t shut up about it!), and a blissful ice cream cone at the end of the day. Finally, on our last day, we managed to fit in one last sight– the Library of Congress! As a librarian, I was a little ashamed that I hadn’t visited before.

Do you think the docents are annoyed that they have to refer to National Treasure on tours now? I bet they are.

Oh– and before our flight from BWI left, I did manage to notch another food-related milestone: my first Crumbs Bake Shop cupcake! Enjoyed on the MARC train, the classiest imaginable setting for such a gourmet experience.

Thin Mint. This sucker was BIG, too. Like, almost scary big.

Before the food coma sets in

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This year I am thankful for…

…a house that has no shared walls with neighbors, a garden that offers more fruit that we can ever hope to eat, and a kitchen big enough to contain all my cooking tools and ambitions.

…a family that, no matter how crazy they drive me, acts always out of love.

…a husband who has “had my number” for more than five years (only one-plus of them married, but you know what I mean). I’m glad he’s on my team.

…a cat who provides both entertainment and warmth.

…a group of friends who, no matter the time or distance, are always there.

…DVR. Tivo more so than the crummy DirecTV ones, but really anything that lets me watch the shows I love and skip the commercials.

…the internets– the source of much of my news, entertainment, communication, and procrastination.

…Amazon Prime, for allowing me to skip the worries of shipping costs and delays, particularly for my Christmas shopping.

…the fact that I have the time and money to cook and experiment to my heart’s content.

…butter. Sugar. Olive oil. Flour. Cheese. Garlic, tomatoes, beans, tortillas, avocados, maple syrup, and all the other ingredients that make the sticky fingers, accidentally Microplaned knuckles, and smoke alarms worth it.

…travel, and the fact that it is possible to wake up one morning and, by the next, find yourself on the other side of the planet.

 

Here’s to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving that is filled with love, laughter, and more food than anyone should reasonably eat in one sitting.

My grownup Christmas list

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I grew up in a sharply divided household when it came to gift-giving. On the one side, I had a brother that began compiling his list of demands wish list around July; on the other, I had a mother that took great glee in tracking down and neatly wrapping the perfect thing that the recipient didn’t even know she wanted. Personally, I was always uncomfortable making a list of items that I wanted for Christmas– I had survived my entire life without That Single Magical Item, so who was I to be demanding things? (Seriously, I don’t know how I had this much guilt about asking for presents as a child.) I was content to be vague (“I don’t know…books?”) and generally be pretty psyched on Christmas morning when I tore into a new set of belongings that had been selected with my tastes and preferences in mind. Gift-giving, to me, was more than fulfilling a wish: it was tapping into unstated wants and showing that the giver really knew the recipient.

Now that I’ve typed that out, I can see that it is at least partially crazy. How am I supposed to know what every single person on my list deeply desires? What if there really is One Big Thing that they really want? (I know that, if I had been a more normal child, I would probably understand this better. Alas.) I’m happy to report that a) I’ve found ways to work with those in my life who are list-makers and expect me to be, too, and b) I’m getting better at making lists myself.

When my parents divorced, I was in the position of having “two” Christmases; what this really amounted to was a semi-elaborate scheme in which my brother and I would spend Christmas eve and the early part of Christmas morning at one parent’s house, and the rest of Christmas day at the other parent’s house (now that I’m married, it’s a whole new…adventure, but that’s another post). Here is a completely unsurprising fact about my parents: they are completely different. In contrast to my mom’s aforementioned knack for picking the Exact Right Thing, my dad had spent most of his adult life working from a list (my mom is a “better happy than surprised” person), and he expected to be able to do the same now that he was shopping on his own. In an attempt to end up surprised when we opened gifts, I would suggest and try on so many things that I couldn’t possibly remember all the possibilities, and did manage to achieve a decent level of surprise when I pried open the Fed Ex boxes that he enjoyed covering with gift wrap. (He gets the packaging materials free from work, and gets a sick amount of joy from watching us struggle with the tricky openings. We earn our Christmas gifts.)

GP comes from a Christmas-list-making family– they even buy things for each other months in ahead of time, call it a Christmas gift, and are done with it. Now, for a “must be surprised!!!” person like me, this has taken some getting used to. MaGP is a great gift giver because she is well attuned to the things I like; she’s gotten me some lovely purses, great books, and one of my favorite kitchen tools. GP, however, requires a bit more guidance, so I’ve moved into the dad-method of gift-suggesting, creating a list so exhaustive that I can’t possibly know ahead of time what’s under the tree. And, so far? It’s working really well. He knows I’ll be happy with what he buys, doesn’t have to give in to what he sees as a crazy “this gift is an indication of how well I know you and how I feel about you” belief system, and I am thrilled and surprised when I get to unbox my new treasures.

Are you a Christmas list maker? How do you pick gifts for your friends, family, significant other…?