Christmas is a busy time for a couple whose parents live 30 minutes from each other. Christmas eve, we wrapped gifts, packed, and gave our neighbors homemade "gifts-in-a-jar" of soup and hot chocolate mixes. Then we loaded the car with Titus and our share of Christmas and headed to Dad and Mom Smith’s.
We had a nice evening with Dad, Mom, Jeremy, a very pregnant Sheila, and Niquelina. There was a holiday spread of smoked turkey and ham featuring fresh cucumbers and onions in vinegar (my favorite!). We played a half-hearted game of Lord-of-the-Rings Risk, but the evening was full of lots of joking and teasing and laughter. About 10:30, everyone decided to go ahead and open presents so that Jeremy and Sheila could return home and be closer to the hospital in case she should go into labor. An hour later, we each sat in a pile of opened presents while little Niqui went a little nuts with the awe of all her new prizes. Among much needed spatulas and stocking caps and other useful and whimsical items, our big gifts were a lovely china tea set with delicate baby blue flowers (for me) and a leather computer chair that swivels and rocks and goes up and down (for James [and me]). Then Jeremy, Sheila, and Niqui went home, and everybody else crashed, including Titus.
The next morning, we enjoyed the comfort foods of cream-of-wheat and toast with butter at a quiet breakfast with James' dad and mom. Then we drove to Wasilla where a second Christmas was underway. Dad, Mom, Brady, Aspen, Isaac, and Adam were opening their stockings. Not only were they stuffed with goodies, but my childhood stocking was replaced by a lovely new stocking made by Mom and decorated in pastel satin and Victorian lace! Among many other wonderful gifts, I got two beautiful colanders (just what I wanted!), and James opened a humongous tool set with more parts and pieces in different sizes than I'd ever guess to exist! In the evening, Aspen's family joined us for a relaxed dinner and games of Farkle and Bananagrams.
After all of the excitement, Titus looked so droopy and tired from avoiding Rown (the Smith's lab) and playing with Niqui, Isaac and Adam, that we finally relented and took him home. He had never looked so happy to sleep in his little bed under our Christmas tree (normally he vies for the couch). Then it was our turn to exchange gifts. Whew! What a Christmas marathon!
Congratulations, Uncle James!
The day AFTER Christmas, Sheila went to the hospital to have her baby! Mom Smith picked me up on her way into the hospital, and after peeking into the hospital room to say "Hi", we sat in the waiting room with soon-to-be-Big-Sister Niqui, and Dad Smith. When I got the news that it wouldn't be long now, I called James who came from his job across town to join us in the waiting room. At 12:48 PM, a little boy was born weighing 8 lbs. 3 ozs. and measuring 20 inches long. We all trouped into the room to look at happy Mama Sheila and her beautiful baby boy, then we all went to lunch! After lunch, James took me to work with him (since I was without a car), and I sat quietly waiting for James to get off so we could go back to the hospital. We did go back, and I spent blissful minutes holding my sweet new nephew, now formally introduced to us as Drake Roy Smith. Welcome to this world, little Drake!
Since late summer, I had been promising the teen girls a holiday get together. We'd been brainstorming and finally decided to have Secret Sisters gift exchange leading up to the slumber party. Every week in December, a little gift was secretly exchanged with another girl until finally our final revealing gift at our December 28th party. We met at the Murril’s at six, and most of us didn’t leave until 11 the next morning. We had a lot of fun and a pretty good turn out too! We each brought ingredients for a big pot of chili and enjoyed a lovely evening of games, gabbing, gift exchange, and girl movies. I stayed up 'til three!
On January 5th, it was my turn to host a Stampin' Up party. Tammie Baker has a neat system where stampers elect to belong to a group that commits to spending $10 each month on stamps so that the person taking turns hosting it can count on receiving some little reward for providing a new location and refreshments. Tammie puts a lot of time and effort into selecting seasonal themes and preparing samples to show us. Then each participant can come together to learn about new crafting ideas and get to take home a few projects. I hosted the party at my parent's house and made bruschetta and Aspen's apple dip for the occasion (yum). Tammie decided to do a literary theme (we stamped bookmarks and book name plates), while we each brought our favorite books to share. It was a lot of fun!
Two Years and Counting
December 31st, James and I reached our 2nd Anniversary. We still haven't figured out how quite to celebrate a day that falls on a major holiday in the middle of the holiday season, but yet is personally unique to the two of us. I guess we need a few more years practice! On the 21st of December, we enjoyed a deliciously romantic night on the town in honor of our special milestone. We went to Orso's, an upscale restaurant downtown Anchorage, where they treated us like royalty and gave us dessert on the house in honor of our special day! Then we went to a special showing of “Cyrano” (an adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac”) at Cyrano’s, a small private playhouse. It was expertly done and both humorous and heartfelt. We left feeling exactly right. What a perfect anniversary celebration to remember!
On our actual anniversary, we enjoyed a relaxed morning at home and planned a in-car picnic and drive out to enjoy the scenery (we love road trips) for the afternoon. But on the spur-of-the-moment, we booked a reservation for Alyeska Resort in Girdwood for the first night of the New Year. After participating in the traditional, New Year’s party and “praying in the New Year,” at the Niesen’s house (only 2 minutes from our home), we took Titus to my parent’s house and took off for Girdwood. It was exactly what we needed. The gorgeous mountain view from our 7th floor room, the soak in the hot tub, and preferential treatment which provided everything we needed from shower cap to slippers, refreshed us and raised our spirits. I think we’ll have to make sure we always get away to somewhere for our anniversary—if just for one night. As a completely unexpected bonus, my wonderful husband surprised me with a pair of beautiful diamond earrings set in gold. Wow! Thank you, Sweetie!
Losing Loved Ones
With all of this good stuff, I can’t sum up this Christmas break without bringing up the loss of my great aunt Ruth, my Grandfather Kuenning’s brother’s wife, and the loss of my great aunt Helen, my Grandmother Kuenning’s sister, who affectionately called herself “Aunt Helen the Great.” Both losses hit deeply.
Aunt Ruth was my friend and cousin Kara’s grandmother and lived in Colorado near her four adopted sons. She lived an interesting and enthusiastic life, although she was pretty weak toward her last days. She died nearly exactly 10 years after her dear husband, Walter Kuenning, who died on Christmas day, 1997.
Aunt Helen, fully Italian and married into an Italian family, lived with gusto surrounded by loved ones in Chula Vista, California. Her death was a shock as she had only gone to the hospital with stomach pains earlier the evening of January 3rdand died as they were attempting to bring her relief. Her loss feels like a slammed door in the face as I had hopes of asking her questions about my grandmother—especially, why did Grandma change her birthday? It hurts knowing that these questions and others will never be answered. The finality of loosing everyone connected to my Kuenning grandparents is heartbreaking, especially to my dad, who officially became the oldest generation in his family all at once.
While Dad Kuenning and Brady were in Colorado for the first funeral (they flew out the day after Christmas), Brady contracted some sort of vicious infection that swelled his throat shut and sent them to the emergency room. The hospital was concerned enough to give him a CAT scan, but sent him home with painkillers and antibiotics. Then my dad caught a 24-hour flu bug which he suffered with on the airplane home and infected the family with on his return. Yikes! Guess how they spent New Years? Mom Kuenning was scheduled for a CAT scan too to see if her blood clots were gone (we’re still waiting on results). I woke up Sunday morning in horrible pain somehow pulling a muscle in my sleep! I’m still working it out with the help of Motrin, heat, cold, and James’ patient massages.
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Whew! So was that a break? You tell me! I think I’m actually ready to get on schedule again, even if it does include getting up at six and hiring a third of my week day out for salary.