My husband, The Gryphon, and I drove to Central Pennsylvania this past week to celebrate Christmas with my family, driving up on Wednesday afternoon. I'd hoped to arrive in time to attend the Christmas Eve service at my parents' church, but by the time we arrived, the service was half over.
My sister and her husband were already there, and my dog, Una, happily greeted my sister's dog, Emma. Our dogs are also sisters, from the same litter, and are best friends.
Una with the Christmas gifts
The Gryphon and I headed out to get a bite to eat, after first getting an idea from my sister of what might be open. Even though she lives in Virginia now, she did have some useful info, having passed a Chinese buffet that had its lights on. Sure enough, it was open, although we were the only non-employees in the place. Still, there was plenty of food left, and we enjoyed the unusual experience of being the only customers in a place that's usually packed.
Just as we were leaving, another small group arrived. I bet it had been that way most of the night.
When I returned, Dad was back from the Christmas Eve service, so my sister and I could ask him about plans for tomorrow. He told us we would be opening presents at his place, since it was bigger. Somehow, though, he had neglected to get a tree, to our disappointment, probably because it wasn't part of his usual holiday preparation routine, so it had slipped his mind. At this point, though, we figured there was nothing we could do.
The rest of the evening was fairly quiet, since I didn't have to do my usual work assignments. We spent time hanging out, and my sister and her husband retired early to finish wrapping gifts.
The next morning, bright and early, I woke up and had breakfast with my father, sounding him out about possibilities for finding a tree. He told me that he doubted anyone would be open on Christmas Day.
After Dad, who's an osteopath, left to do his rounds, my sister and I called Mom and arranged to visit her, with our doggies, so they could see her dogs. In particular, she wanted them to see her oldest dog, Sunnie, who is dying of cancer but who loves their company.
We spent some time chatting while the dogs played, and Mom loaded us up with ingredients to make two different vegetarian lasagnas, as well as giving us the recipes. She also lent us some Christmas decorations, as well as two potted Norfolk pines, for which she promised to look for the miniature ornaments she owned. In addition, she sent over a small LED Christmas tree, which she suggested Dad keep for future years.
Back at Dad's, my sister, her husband and The Gryphon worked on preparing the two lasagnas, while I looked through a box of Grandma Heritage's Christmas decorations, looking for small ornaments. I found a set of miniature bells, as well as a few smaller ornaments, such as two bright red cardinals that clip to the branches, and a few wooden soldiers made from clothespins. My sister's husband suggested we top the tree with the angel we'd made the previous year, when we'd made homemade decorations for a full-sized tree.
Before too long, Dad returned from his rounds, and Mom arrived with the miniature ornaments. Dad also gave me a strand of white lights, which were a little too large, but I used them anyway. Our cute little tree, once completed, did add to the festive holiday spirit.
We all brought our presents out and placed them in piles according to the recipient. I got nominated to be the Christmas elf who would distribute gifts. My sister normally takes this job, but somehow this year I got the honor. My work was made a little easier by my doggie helpers, Una and Emma, who wore little elf hats I'd bought for them (Una's in green and red, Emma's in white and red). I think Una enjoyed the experience more than Emma.
In our family, we take turns opening gifts, so I distributed presents to everyone, and then we went around the room, opening them. This way, everyone gets to see people's reactions. This year, The Gryphon and I gave gifts that supported the following charities: Orangutan Outreach, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the World Wildlife Federation, Habitat for Humanity, and the rest of our gifts were bought from companies that either support fair trade or the environment.
The only real pause in the gift-opening was when The Gryphon got up to put the lasagna in the oven. Still, it took us a while to get through it, since everyone in my family likes to give each other multiple small gifts, a trend we've developed over time. Another habit is getting the same gift for multiple people, which means that only the first person to open it is genuinely surprised. This often becomes an in-joke: "I can't imagine what this is! Oh, it's a beeswax candle!"
Here are some of the gifts and reactions:
My Mom gave one of these Christmas bottle lights to each of us.
The Gryphon displays a lovely finger painting by our niece and nephew.
They made similar works for everyone.
My sister and her husband joke around while opening gifts.
My sister's dog, Emma, in an elf hat, observes.
My Dad examines a print given to him by my sister and her husband.
I check out my major gift from my Dad, a Canon PowerShot A 590 camera.
A closeup of me with my new Canon PowerShot A 590.
A self-portrait, with Una, taken with my new Canon PowerShot A 590.
Dad, wearing a Santa hat, talks to my brother on the phone.
Una soon figured out the gifts were not for her and lost interest.
My sister's husband gives a thumbs-up to a wall hanging that, amusingly,
came wrapped around a roll of toilet paper!
After we'd finished opening our gifts, we enjoyed some delicious homemade vegetarian lasagna. The only thing we'd forgotten to do was to make up the salad from the ingredients my Dad had provided. We figured we'd have salad the next night, since the lasagna had plenty of veggies.
When I took Una outside later, I noticed the sun was going down, so I grabbed my new camera and got some photos.
I also took a few pictures of the lit Christmas ornaments decorating the street, but only one of them was close to being decent. You can see the dark outlines of a nearby church steeple in the background.
After dinner, Mom returned home, and while The Gryphon and my sister's husband watched a Mythbusters marathon, my sister, Dad and I went through old pictures, looking for some she could have reproduced for a locket her husband gave her. It has spaces for six photos, so she wants to include Mom, Dad, herself, her husband, my brother and I.
We discovered that Dad's photographs are badly in need of organization. Right now they're just in a drawer in his bedroom dresser, but at least they're protected and lying flat, though jumbled. These are mostly photographs he inherited from his mother, Grandma Heritage, and his aunt. At some point, my sister and I agreed we'll help him organize them into albums.
Sadly, we couldn't identify some of the older photos. I'm hoping that somewhere, in Grandma Heritage's papers, there is are some identifications. After all, she was a genealogist. Ironically, her last name was her actual surname once she remarried, many years after my paternal grandfather died.
My sister had a fun time pointing out pictures of us siblings that were either cute or amusing, which she had me take into the living room to show her husband and The Gryphon. I borrowed a few, which I'll share at a later point, probably next week, when the holiday chaos finally ends.
Dogs will only wear elf hats for so long.