The kids are all grown and gone. The last few years have been quiet holidays, once we've done the "blended family" meal the week before Christmas. We usually have three or four of our eight kids at these events, plus girlfriends, wives and grandkids. We have Costco lasagna and salad and dessert and we do a "pick a gift or steal a gift" and then we talk and then everyone leaves. Our kids know each other pretty well because of visitation schedules while they were all growing up, but these days, the only time they see each other is at our house the week before Christmas. We usually take off for ten days sometime in December to get away from the month-long festivities. I loved the holidays when I was growing up and when my kids were small, but that really wonderful time passes, as we all know, and it can be a sad time of year.
This year I decided I wanted a special Christmas present - to have just my kids and their girlfriends and my granddaughters for a Christmas ritual that includes a meal together, stockings, and opening of gifts. My granddaughters live in Oregon with their mother, so I've never experienced Christmas with them. And their dad, my older son, lives in Oregon also, and it's been 20 years since I've spent Christmas with him. And my younger son always spends Christmas with his girlfriend's family. So I made a small adjustment for my Christmas present - the date. Here's what Grandma's Christmas Present looks like.
On December 26 my younger son James will drop his girlfriend Keri off at our house and drive to the train station in Seattle to pick up my older son Russell and his girlfriend Amanda and my 11-year-old twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne. They'll come to our house where Grandpa Art will have prepared a turkey dinner (he'll be working on it all day, in perfect contentment). We'll share a meal and, after the girls go to bed, stockings will be filled at our house for the first time in 20 years - I was a little rusty about selecting, but Toys R Us and the Dollar Store had what I was looking for. In the morning gifts will be unwrapped by the girls. I sent shopping money and their dad did all the work of choosing and shipping. I'll just do the wrapping. The 27th will be a quiet family day - or at least an unplanned one. On the 28th, I will take my older son and his girlfriend to the train station. On the 1st, Grandpa Art and I will make the seven-our drive to Oregon to take the twins home.
This Christmas Present has been a long time coming. Everyone has grown up, including Grandma. She's gotten more flexible through the years, and December 26 looks like a tremendous date for Christmas. She's realized that it's perfectly fine to buy six train tickets and all the trimmings for just the right kind of Christmas. She's looking forward to whatever happens this year. And she's anticipating memories will be made.
We've been on the Big Island of Hawaii for nine days. Usually I get restless after this much time away. Not this year!
It's our fourth visit to the Big Island, our third to this two-bedroom condo resort in Waikoloa - six miles upslope from resort beaches, 30 miles north of Kona. It's breezy here in the afternoon. There's a local shopping center and a residential community of about 7,000. No muumuus, luaus, leis or tour buses. Just daily temperatures in the upper 70s - whether cloudy, sunny or pouring rain for five minutes. We leave the sliding glass door open. One day I forgot the screen was there and walked into it! We wear light clothing and no shoes unless we're headed out. We eat in most of the time. We read and chat and nap. We read about the weather at home and we're glad we're here.
A daughter and son-in-law visited for three days last week. They perused our favorite book about the area - "Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed" - and decided what we'd see on our two-day trip to the other side of the island. We ascended Mauna Kea - me to the 9200-foot visitor center, the rest to the 13,200-foot summit. We took a short hike to Akaka Falls, ate at a roadside place with fabulous smoothies, settled into cottages in Volcano, dined grandly at the Kilauea Lodge, paid a nighttime visit to a new eruption inside the park, hiked two miles at the bottom of Chain of Craters Road, visited South Point - formerly a favorite stopping point on the way back from the park, but not so interesting now that the eerie sound of the wind farm on the highway has been silenced by a newer one further from the road - and completed the two-day circle drive in time for a homey meal.
The best part of this visit, though, was spending time with Melissa and Scott as four grownups rather than parents and offspring. They're interesting people - fortunately, our politics are similar because they were certainly discussed! - and we share a fondness for good books, quiet times and out-of-the-way places. Plus, we laugh a lot when we're together. And Scott drove. Wonderful!
On our own, Art and I have taken a couple of beach walks and a short hike to petroglyphs. We've befriended the local animals - especially the turkeys - and watched the golfers nearby. We've explored most of the rest of the island on our previous visits, so this time it's been quiet. That's mostly a good thing.
We get home late tomorrow night, to temperatures about 40 degrees cooler - and Friday is a full day - exercise class and a meeting and a massage and a holiday gathering in the evening. Plus a quick stop at the mall to pick up Christmas gifts for two grandchildren.
It's been a good time away. I think our next trip here will be for longer. I'll miss it.
Our book listed today on Amazon.com! It's called "Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing." If you'd like to order a paperback copy, you can click on the link on my blog and order it now. The hardcopy will turn up in a couple of days and the ebook shortly thereafter.
Here's what "About the Book" says:
Arthur Myers is a Viet Nam veteran with memories. In 2005 he and his wife Linda traveled to Viet Nam with a group led by a psychotherapist who works with veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From the Mekong Delta in the south, to Hanoi in the north, it was a life-changing journey.
Art's story is not unusual. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1968, a radio repairman stationed at Da Nang during the Tet Offensive. He saw only one day of combat, but that day affected every aspect of his life for 35 years.
Many veterans suffer from their memories of their time of war. They may bury them, or deny them, or run from them, or act out in other areas of their lives. Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates are higher than average, as are failed relationships and chronic unemployment.
Art decided to return to Viet Nam, to overlay the memories of a young man during a terrible time with those of a man in late middle age. It was a good choice for him -- and for his family.
About this book, Art says, "I hope that talking about this journey of healing -- and how it has changed me -- will help other veterans and their families. The idea of helping even one other veteran stop the nightmares and gain some peace made my story worth sharing."
It's very odd to see our book on Amazon. Almost like planning a wedding and finding yourself standing, surprised, at the altar. I'd hoped to be very organized with this release -- like preparing an elaborate dinner and having everything ready to put on the table at the same time. That hasn't happened. The marketing materials haven't arrived, nor has the complimentary copy for me to check out first. And the hardcopy version on Amazon has a slightly different name - with Vietnam rather than Viet Nam, so it doesn't show up with the paperback. But since I'm currently on the Big Island, it wouldn't have mattered anyway!
So our story is out in the world, for better or for worse. It might make a good Christmas gift.
We have a Siberian Forest cat named Larisa. We bought her two years ago from a cattery in Oregon; she was being retired as a breeding queen after having produced 26 hypoallergenic kittens in five years. A sensitive princess, Larisa didn't let us touch her for 62 days after her arrival. She is very much at home now, a typical cat. But when we leave her to travel, she freaks out. So for the last couple of years we've had a person stay at our house while we're gone, to keep Larisa company in the evenings.
Recently, one of the catsitters asked if she could rent our basement bedroom for three months. We agreed, since we'll be gone for about seven weeks during that time. We decided that she would pay a small amount of rent for each day we're home, and nothing for each day we're gone.
I can tell you after only two weeks that I am not a good landlord. I didn't set up house rules because I didn't realize what they ought to be. As little things came up, I didn't say anything. But I did start to get resentful, and testy, with the tenant. I don't like confrontation. I got a stomach ache whenever I thought about the situation. Then I talked to a good friend and she told me the only way I'm ever going to get over my issues around confrontation is if I practice being direct when issues come up, rather than dancing around them. She suggested I create some house rules. So yesterday, I did.
1. The kitchen is available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. This one came up after two nights in a row of cooking projects that began at 11 p.m.
2. When the tenant is leaving the house she will turn off her lights, her computer and her portable heater, to preserve electrical use and internet bandwidth.
3. The tenant will pay her rent on time (every four days or so) regardless of circumstances.
I'd like to impose some other rules, but they sound unreasonable. Like:
4. Don't chat with me when you come upstairs in the morning.
5. Don't tell me about your life, past and present.
6. Don't suggest that I buy silver and gold to protect against a falling dollar.
I'm having to look at myself during this time of having a tenant. It will actually only be three weeks or so when we're all in residence. We have the space, and we're glad we'll have her here when we're gone to watch out for Larisa. She is a nice woman, and I have nothing against her personally.
But I am not a good landlord. I'm glad I realized this before I signed a yearlong contract with anyone!