Ahhhh, holidays. The time of year we happily trade the hustle and bustle of everyday life for a different kind of crazy. It’s magical madness: a season where the refrigerator is always full and the mailbox is never empty. We silence our alarm clocks and turn on the Christmas music. We shop, wrap, decorate, bake, host, visit. Santa makes his naughty and nice list, while the rest of us make our grocery and to-do lists.
I’m happy to report that Clark’s mom, Nola, joined us for Christmas this year. Having a grandma in the house made the holidays extra special, especially since Covid prevented her from visiting the past few years.
First up: getting a Christmas tree.
Maggie is still recovering from knee surgery, so she stayed near the truck with Grandma while Clark, Sam, and I ventured into the woods. We were on a time crunch and couldn’t be too picky; Sam had to be back to Anchorage by 3 PM for his shift at Target. Thankfully we packed snowshoes, because the snow was so deep we sank straight to our hips without them. It was impossible to accurately assess the trees when they were covered in so much snow, but fortunately Clark flagged a few contenders on his GPS in late fall. Sam led the way and we unanimously decided to harvest the tree Clark marked as “UP” on the GPS since its spruce boughs pointed skyward.
Sam felled the tree in record time. It looked a bit scrawny, but we were confident this 13-year-old spruce would make a fine Christmas tree once we got it home and decorated. It did not disappoint, and lived up to its name. I spent many nights gazing at this glorious tree, and it definitely lifted my spirits “UP.”
The next week is a blur: crazy days of last-minute shopping, and lazy days playing games and putting together puzzles. We dragged decorations out of the attic to get the house ready for the holidays. A family of moose frequented the yard and neighborhood, which was a special thrill for Nola. There was also an unsettling magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which was most definitely not a thrill for me! Fortunately no damage was done to the Captain Cook Hotel’s homemade gingerbread village, which was a fun outing for all.
Grandma and Maggie returned from the gingerbread village inspired to build a gingerbread house of their own. Costco’s kit usually makes for an easy project, but they were on the struggle bus. The roof refused to stay in place, and the frosting proved to be a poor fastener. They decided to break out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean glue guns. Their finished creation was stable, but definitely not edible. (Apparently the dogs didn’t get the memo, as they ended up munching on it a few days later. Sigh.)
The gingerbread project brought much laughter to our house, but that was only the beginning. When Sam got home from work we queued up National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We’ve been chuckling through this movie every Christmas season since the kids were toddlers (admittedly not our proudest parenting decision) and were all shocked when Grandma declared she’d never seen it. As a result, we all saw it anew. She laughed so hard that she had to remove her glasses multiple times to wipe hilarious tears from her eyes. It was classic.
Next up was our annual holiday celebration with family friends. There weren’t supposed to be gifts, but Nancy, Keri, and I all broke the rules. Within two minutes of their arrival we giddily swapped packages in the middle of the kitchen. Keri gave us each a gorgeous canvas bag created by a local graphic designer. Ironically, I gave them each a calendar created by the same artist! Nancy delivered a striking amaryllis, and also gave both grandmas in the house a pack of Steve’s photo cards. The evening was off to a good start!
The kids are all teenagers now, and each invited a friend to join in the fun. They all showed up in matching pajama pants, which is sure to become a hilarious new tradition. Everyone enjoyed the homemade soups, gorgeous appetizers, and the kids proved you’re never too old to decorate cookies for Santa. (Thanks to Keri for bringing the cookie kits year after year!) The most coveted gift during the white elephant exchange was an Alaska State Park pass, which Keri took home. Maybe she’ll let us all pile in her vehicle for summer hikes?
This gathering usually occurs on Christmas Eve, but this year we celebrated early since Nancy and Lia were traveling on the actual holiday. This left December 24th open for new fun. We decided on pizza night, and Maggie volunteered to make homemade dough. The girl has skills, and our pizzas were yummilicious.
Sadly, Sam had to work on Christmas Eve. He’s not a fan of pizza, so he wasn’t too upset to miss our meal. Once he was home, everyone opened the first gifts of Christmas: holiday pajama shirts for all!
Ironically, the shirt I ordered for myself got lost in the mail and didn’t arrive until after Christmas. I’ve stashed it away for next year. Something tells me the sentiment will still be accurate?
I always stay awake into the wee-hours of Christmas, and love the quiet, calm time to pack a little last-minute love into the holiday. There are stockings to stuff, special Santa gifts to wrap, breakfast to prep, and I do my best to help Santa out by forging his gift tags. This year he brought each of the kids a new pair of new shoes, hence the eye-rolling theme to their notes.
I sort of miss lying in bed on Christmas morning, hearing snippets of glee as the kids snoop through their stockings at 5 AM. Then again, sleeping in on Christmas feels a gift. This year it was 10 AM before anyone lifted a stocking from the mantle. Gotta love teenagers!
The big gift of 2021 was scuba lessons for Clark, Sam, and Maggie. They will take classes in January, and then complete their certification dives when we are in Hawaii this coming February. This gift is guaranteed to outlast the fancy new shoes Santa brought.
Christmas was a lazy day. Breakfast turned into brunch, with Clark’s World Famous Cinnamon Rolls and my breakfast burritos. The afternoon included naps, a family FaceTime gift exchange, and a late afternoon stroll with the dogs on the marsh. Clark surprised everyone with a King Crab appetizer, and then grilled the steaks we each selected from Mr. Prime Beef. I added twice baked potatoes and a fresh tossed salad to the meal. We were full, in every sense of the word!
That put a wrap on the holidays, but there was still plenty of vacation left for Nola. She dreamed of seeing the northern lights, even if it meant driving all the way to Fairbanks where the odds were better. Unfortunately, crazy storms hit the Fairbanks area and the highway was shut down. As a result, Clark and his mom kept their home base in Anchorage as they chased the aurora. They ventured out from 11 PM – 3 AM on three different occasions. The first two times they were skunked, but the third time was a charm! They saw a spectacular display near the Knik River bridge on December 29/30:
The next morning I found Nola typing like mad on her new laptop (a Christmas gift being put to good use!) about the aurora. She was downright giddy, recalling the “dancing water in the sky” she had seen the night before. What a show, and I’m so happy her dream of seeing the northern lights came true! As an added bonus, the night she flew out the aurora made an appearance in our own backyard!
The Kitchen Aid worked overtime this holiday, as we made pasta, bagels, pizza dough, breadsticks, and more. But one night we took a break from the kitchen and went out to eat instead.
In an igloo. Because, why not?
On New Year’s Eve we made potstickers and enjoyed a neighbor’s incredible fireworks display. Nola was supposed to leave at midnight, but travel delays extended her trip by a few days. It was a combination of snowstorms in the Pacific Northwest and Covid-related staffing shortages in the airline industry. There were storms in the midwest as well, so it was probably for the best. She was stuck with us for a little longer!
Two days later Nola’s red-eye flight out of Anchorage left on time, but travel delays in Seattle resulted in a brutal six-hour layover. I can only imagine how tired and happy she was when she landed in Omaha and two of her granddaughters were there to swoop her home.
And with that, another holiday is in the books. I’m more convinced than ever that the best gifts of all are shared traditions and experiences. Cheers to 2022!