The Last Day

12-31-2019

This morning is my cry time. It just hit me hard that this time I looked forward to so much is ending already. One daughter has left already, in the dark, on the trip to the airport three hours away. The other one leaves this afternoon. We have spent a week together, wearing ourselves out with talk, food, and as much activity as we could pack into a week of weird winter weather.

I am not put off by stillness or being alone, but the contrast is so vivid right now that I can’t not think about it. I’m looking at the special things they bought to eat and drink, but didn’t finish. I’m putting away the last puzzle we agonized over before we found out that one piece was missing. I’m trying desperately to think of what adventure I can plan next to mask this feeling of missing people I love.

I want to hug my kids again and tell them how much they are loved, and how much I hope they will always love each other. I want them to see how beautiful they are, how unique, how disarming and precious in those moments when they struggle.

There are always a few struggles even in the coming together. This winter gathering seemed characterized by the words “awkward” and “ bizarre” which we heard a lot, and said a lot in our conversations. Even in our commonness we are awkward and bizarre, and memorable because of it.

We are family, with the chance to display a special kind of love to the world. God help us to do do that.

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels, post 3

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It does not take a fancy hotel name or reputation to impress me. Nice linens, a decent breakfast and cleanliness are my major interests and we had all three at the Super 8 (the price was right too). The clincher was the sunrise they arranged for us. It brought the saying “red sky at morning, sailors take warning…” to mind so we left fairly early. Well fed and rested, we arrived at the coffee house, the site of our Thanksgiving, by noon.

We call it the coffee house because it was one, briefly. Had it been in a better location, and maybe a better time, it would have been a success. My brother still owns it, partly because he lives in the second story, and partly because it hasn’t sold. It is perfect for family gatherings. Perfect in the sense that the whole lower story is made for people having a good time – plenty of seating at tables, a long bar where we line up the Thanksgiving buffet, an industrial kitchen where we cook last day dishes, a cozy (fake) fireplace, and a TV mounted in a corner tuned to the local football station.

Of course, we were half a day early so we unloaded our food dishes into the fridge at the coffee house and went to settle in our lodgings. Here I must mention my niece and her family. They are house flippers, among other things. Conveniently, they had a house they were staging for sale even as we arrived and we got to “test” it out. Seriously, they are like Chip and Joanna, or Tarrek and Christina – they could have a TV show except for the financial backing part. This was the second lovely house of theirs that I had seen and we gladly moved into the three bedrooms ready for us. It was quite brave of my brother to offer to house all of us this year and we were grateful.

The other afternoon event was waiting for everyone else to arrive. I have two daughters and they were coming from opposite ends of the U.S., one from Jacksonville, Fl flying into Detroit, and one from Seattle flying to Flint with one of her good friends.  My nephew, who had arrived earlier from California, drove to Detroit for that pick-up and the others rented a car from Flint.  They trickled in, one group at a time, along with another one of my brothers (I have four) and his wife. By the afternoon, the promised storm had begun, the roads were slippery and we got word that a couple of our invited guests had felt it safer to cancel their trip.  Our Thanksgiving group was in place except for a local couple who would join us the next day.

Our eclectic group, aged from 2 to 84, seven boys/men and six women, Midwesterners, West coasters, East coasters, two different cultural backgrounds, meat eaters and vegetarians, all gathered to be thankful, make memories and eat. Having all arrived safely, we were already thankful.  The eating started that night with soups by Jamie, my niece, and salad. But, of course, the real eating event was yet to come…

Feast of what?!

My nephew Evan, outside Harbor Landing
My nephew Evan, outside Harbor Landing

I am in Destin, Florida which is a beautiful resort island on the Gulf of Mexico. I am staying in a gorgeous four bedroom condo on the 9th floor with a view of the waterway and the city on one side, and a view of the ocean on the other. I am roommate to my Mom, who is visiting from Wisconsin and together we are staying with my brother’s family. I am surrounded by those I love. We are here because it is the Feast of Tabernacles.

It is always a bit complicated to explain to others about Christians who keep the holidays given in the Bible. In the past I have spent many years keeping Passover, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles and the weekly sabbath (which, by the way, means seventh day). I respect, which is the best word I can think of right now, these practices even though I do not celebrate them currently in the same way. I think there are rich things to learn by observing them. And perhaps the most influential thing to me is found in the Bible in the book of Zechariah, chapter 14, verse 16, where it says, prophetically, that every survivor of whatever is ahead will go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, year after year.

If it’s going to be important then, why should it not be important now? I believe Biblical prophecies have an amazing track record of coming to pass, so I want to stay in touch with these days that clearly originated with God and seem to be significant.

Today we went to church and the message was about grace. People who keep anything associated with the Old Testament are always being accused of trying to earn God’s favor by the things they do or don’t do. There are probably some who are doing this. But many people I know from my years in “the cult”, so called, are simply wanting to become more like the Jesus that they know and love. I’m all for that. I also know many people in the Christian circles that I’m part of today that feel the same way even though it does not lead them to keep days like the Feast of Tabernacles. We are all in different places, having differing perspectives. That is God’s problem and he knows what idiots we all are when it comes to faith and spiritual things. I’m thinking he will find a way to get us all together when he wants to.

But for those who are curious and want to know how “average Joe’s” like our family come to stay in a million dollar condo – it is because God set up a system called “saving your money”. People who follow these holidays save up roughly a tenth of their yearly income to be spent in one week. It is also biblically based and represents a future time of abundance of everything good that is also prophesied to come. You might think that this is hard, maybe impossible in the present economy, but people do it. Actually it is not nearly as ridiculous as spending the whole month of December shopping and being in debt for months after paying for what you made Christmas to be about.

As I said, I am here spending some precious time with my mom, and my brother’s family. We are all away from home and our every day responsibilities. We are talking, having meals together, thinking about our faith lives, and being grateful to God who provides these opportunities. I’m just saying that it’s beautiful here and I’m having a really great time.

For travel enthusiasts, this is a really great destination if you love the beach and ocean!  Here are some scenes…

There are hundreds of places to stay within sight of beautiful white sand beaches.
There are hundreds of places to stay within sight of beautiful white sand beaches.
My nephew, Buck, brought his boat for family time on the water.
My nephew, Buck, brought his boat for family time on the water.
An evening ride out to the breakwater.
An evening ride out to the breakwater.
Lots and lots of dolphins swim with the boat...
Lots and lots of dolphins swim with the boat…
Evening sunsets that are amazing.
Evening sunsets that are amazing.
The peaceful view from a balcony. Love it here...
The peaceful view from a balcony. Love it here…

The Family Vacation

Let me say first of all that I am very understanding of people who take vacations and go someplace where they don’t know anyone. That is a very healthy thing (not that it’s my experience but I’ve heard it said…). I, however, am blessed with family, all of whom on occasion choose to give up some “alone time” to bond and connect with other family members. I am also blessed to live in Florida. Like, who wouldn’t want to come visit this?

Yes, I live here.  It's great.
Yes, I live here. It’s great.

Those of you who don’t get to have family vacations with other family members really need to see how it works. One of my brothers and his family decided to escape four months and several feet of snow and spend some time in my sunshine. The five of them arrived for the one week this year when there was fog and grey skies pretty much every day. This is a weather phenomenon that you can expect to happen.

I love my family and don’t want them to get sick on their vacation so I do clean my house (sort of). But I will say that if you don’t have time, just forget cleaning the floor, because after the group arrives you can’t find it anyway. Get people tired enough from their traveling and they will sleep anywhere, on the floor, on the couch, on weird mattresses. “Just find a place that looks good to you”, I tell them. And from that point on, don’t ask people how their night was and if they slept well. Don’t do it.

Refugee camp decor...
Refugee camp decor…
Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.
Blankets, pillows, bags, shoes, stuff X 5 = no visible floor.

Maybe your family will need some down time after being in airports and cooped up in planes for a day, but maybe not. We went to the beach the first day. Nobody came here to sit in the house. The fog was thick but we found our way. The squirrels were plentiful, the waves were big, it was surprisingly warm and peaceful on the beach and we big people might have taken a short nap. There were a couple minutes of sunshine. I had a great time and learned that I can indeed carry two kayaks on my small car. Yay.

At least the white stuff isn't snow.
At least the white stuff isn’t snow.
Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.
Only people from up north go swimming in 65 degree water.
The moment of sunshine.
The moment of sunshine.

The second day of my brother’s family vacation was also his wife’s birthday. She did not mind at all that the activity planned for that day was a zip line/ropes course high above the ground. Wouldn’t you like to test your youthfulness and defy aging in such a challenging way? Of course you would. It was awesome (watching them from the ground and taking pictures). That evening, in spite of terrorist mall threats, we had a superb evening meal at the new University Town Center – to celebrate the birthday and the fact that we had no significant injuries from the day’s activity. A fun, fun night.

Gearing up for hanging from high places.
Gearing up for hanging from high places.
High places.  Yep.
High places. Yep.
More "down to earth" activity - at dinner after an exciting day.
More “down to earth” activity – at dinner after an exciting day.

The third day of family vacation, my daughter and my sister-in-law ran away to the shopping outlet for some quality girl time. The rest of us “elite” shoppers went to the flea market. But on the way, just to make it an educational outing for the homeschooling teens, I took them to lunch at the local Hispanic grocery store/deli. I find that this is one of the most fascinating places to experience a different culture. I will say that most American kids are not used to seeing whole cooked fish, with eyes and scales. It is so exciting to order a meal and not know exactly what you’re going to get. Who knew that “Fajita Mix” was a plate of meat big enough to feed all five of us? At the flea market we had excellent success getting the things on my nephew’s list – a watch, sunglasses and an antique teapot. He is a guy with very eclectic interests. That night we sat out in the yard watching a bonfire and dodging the sparks and smoke. For some reason this is a favorite activity with my family and they ask for it all the time. Go figure.

Humongous plate of meat.  We took it home for another whole meal.
Humongous plate of meat. We took it home for another whole meal.

Day four. Did I mention my nephew has eclectic interests? One of his goals for me (bless his heart) was that I should help him sew a cape that he could wear to the Renaissance Festival. Because he might actually have picked up some sewing skills it was classified as a school activity. So, that day’s drama had a lot to do with floor sweeping, black velvet, hooded clothing. We did however take a break and a ride to Apollo Beach to see the manatees gathered at the electric power plant. The water was full of the large, gentle creatures just trying to stay warm. There were so many of them that I couldn’t help but wonder what they were all finding to eat. It was like a big family reunion where no one planned any food. But maybe I was just projecting some of my own anxieties, yeah, that was probably it.

Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.
Me and my sister-in-law with our manatee friend, appropriately blue with cold.
Brrr... poor manatees.
Brrr… poor manatees.

And finally, the last day of their visit with me was today. We invited some more family over for breakfast, waffles and strawberries, conversation and reminiscing. They packed up their things in their rental car and headed off to spend time with another brother several hours away. They will come back briefly to spend the night before flying back to the cold,snowy north.

I love my family. We plan together, work together, play together and want to stay together. Because we live in such scattered places, sometimes that “family vacation” is the way we do it.

Trucking

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I was waiting out by the road so my brother wouldn’t have to come down the drive. When I saw what he was pulling I understood why.

We started our adventure about 5pm yesterday and drove until 2am with stops only for gas. It turned out well that we were through Atlanta at night and didn’t have morning rush hour to deal with.

The motel was great!  I am highly impressed by any place that has a variety of pillows, that all smell good. Nice, nice, nice. ..for about five hours.

A full day ahead, in which I may attempt driving this thing – but absolutely no backing up (my bro is great at that).

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Catch Up

I put this first just to get your attention.  Read to the end for the story.
I put this first just to get your attention. Read to the end for the story.

Over a week at home since a wonderful trip up north and I still have not had time to write down the memories and reflect on them. It was our Thanksgiving trip and since I think we would all agree that it doesn’t make sense to limit being thankful to one day of the year, I’m thankful again today!  Thanks to Florida daughter Julie, who shared the trip with us and to all our hosts and fellow celebrants in Hayward.  I love you Mom and Dad, Denny and Mary Pat, Evan, Claire, Scruffy and Socks, Bob and Ozzie, Gary, Jamie, Eduardo, Jonathan and the Madison sisters Michelle, Judith and Susan. It might better be done with pictures so here goes…

 

Before the feast - one of our two tables with Mom's birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
Before the feast – one of our two tables with Mom’s birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
During the feast.  Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
During the feast. Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
After the feast.  My Dad doesn't cook.  Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility.  Go Dad!
After the feast. My Dad doesn’t cook. Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility. Go Dad!

And for the second year in a row, the snow fell heavily.  We spent time in the woods, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving the unplowed fire lanes in Brother Bob’s four wheel drive truck. You cannot imagine how beautiful it was unless you live in the north and see it for yourself. 

Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.
Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.

The skiing style is cross country, which is not to say that there aren’t hills, you just have no lift to pull you up them.  An international ski event, the American Birkebeiner, is held in the Hayward area on this beautiful, well maintained trail – 26 miles through forest and field.  We spent some time on a small section of it and warmed up afterward in the shelter, and then, of course, it was time for latte’s and hot chocolate at the Mooselip Cafe.  You saw the moose himself in the opening picture.

Skis on Julie
Skis on Julie
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snow on trees
Snow on trees
Happy snow people...
Happy snow people…
Best place to come after skiing!
Best place to come after skiing!