After more than 16 years of living overseas, I often struggle to remember where we went or what we did for any given holiday. Fortunately, I started this blog to act as my memory (a little too late, unfortunately). Sometimes I find it useful to touch base with the Ghost of Christmas Past. In 2012, I recapped all the holiday breaks since our move overseas in “Twelve Years of Christmas.”
Here’s an update.
During our years in India, we had three weeks off between semesters. 2013-14: We visited my sister, Megan, and her family in Seoul, Korea. Check out those posts here. Then we popped by Koh Chang, Thailand on our way home. Check out those posts here. 2014-15: We explored Jordan. Check out those posts here. 2015-16: We traveled to Florida to hang out with my parents and my sister Kate’s family. On our way home, we spent some time in Dubai. Check out those posts here.
In July, we moved to Santiago, Chile. In this hemisphere, our summer break comes in December, which is really messing with our minds! With seven weeks off school between semesters, we didn’t want to head to Michigan like we usually do in the real summer; it’s winter there. Too busy settling in to our new city, home, and jobs, we never made any plans. And so, for this first summer/winter break, we have hunkered down for a Santiago staycation.
It was nice and everything, but just a little … anticlimactic.
Possibly for the first time ever, we both wished we had some kids around. Not our own kids, of course, but maybe a few nieces and nephews. We missed seeing their excited little faces when they wake up at the crack of dawn to realize Santa had visited and then their disappointed little faces when they’re not allowed to open presents till after breakfast (cinnamon rolls … Dickinson family tradition). We missed playing with their new toys and hauling out our Nerf guns (Christmas War … another Dickinson family tradition).
Anyway, we enjoyed a sunny rooftop brunch with views of the Andes Mountains. And we got some good laughs watching Ella terrorize our Christmas tree. We watched “A Christmas Story” and ate a rotisserie chicken on the balcony for dinner. Really, it felt like just another day – albeit a slightly more special day – in our seven-week staycation.
The mall was a nightmare…just like malls in North America!
Brunch at Hotel Noi.
Ella attacks a Jolly Rancher from my stocking.
She had fun with the wrapping paper, too.
Leading up to Christmas day, we discovered Santiago Starbucks serves up all the traditional holiday coffee treats.
And Santa paid a visit to school on horseback while the preschool kids sang Jingle Bells. Pretty adorable!
For years, we celebrated Tony’s birthday, Dec. 8, by hauling out our boxes of Christmas decorations and transforming our home into a winter wonderland. From Kansas to Turkey to China to Laos, we unpacked our huge Rubbermaid tubs to fill our hearts with festive cheer.
That tradition stalled in India, where our holiday stash never emerged from the storage closet during the five years we spent in Delhi. I can’t explain why we didn’t bother to Christmas-ify our apartment there, but nevertheless, we decided to get back on track here in Chile.
On Tony’s birthday morning, we went for a walk so he could test out his birthday present – new sunglasses. Good thing it was a beautiful sunny summer day! We stopped for breakfast at a little café near our house and enjoyed some chirimoya juice (my latest obsession).
Then it was time to get down to business. Tony uncrated our Christmas tree, while I started digging out the decorations. Ella was keen to help.
As young, broke newlyweds, we filled these stockings (stitched by yours truly).
But they really couldn’t hold the volume of candy and presents we required, so I picked up these beauties when we lived in China (designed by a fellow Shanghai American School teacher out of Chinese silk and maribou).
Since 1995, Tony and I have exchanged tree ornaments every year. Of course, this was my idea, and the intention was to track our lives through representational ornaments: home purchases, vacations, pets, etc. Tony was slow to embrace this new tradition and failed to think about it prior to the holiday season, so he dashed out on Christmas Eve 1995 to pick up this winner at a gas station near our home in Lawrence, Kansas.
Over the years, he has put a little more effort into his ornament selection. Unpacking the holiday boxes, we reminisced about the stages of our life together.
We bought a house in Lawrence in 1995. Tony set up a workshop in the garage to play the role of resident handyman.
In those days, we loved seeing neighborhoods decked out for the holidays, especially the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.
We sold that house when we prepared to move overseas, but we later purchased a rental property in Albuquerque and a summer home in Michigan (our Michigan Christmas ornament is actually IN Michigan).
In 2001, we hit the road. Our ornaments continue to bring back memories of those wonderful places we were lucky to call home around the world.
New Delhi, India
And now, Santiago, Chile.
Other ornaments evoked some of our fantastic trips in the States and abroad.
My sister, Kate, and I traveled to Alaska in 1999 and fell in love with the musk ox.
We visited my sister, Megan, when she and her family lived in Korea in 2013. I couldn’t find a tree ornament, so I gave Tony a luggage tag that year.
Wow, sometimes I can’t believe how much of this incredible planet we have explored together over the years! Here are a few glimpses into our vacation history. Can you guess where they came from?
In addition to the purchased ornaments, we still have shoeboxes full of handmade decorations that adorned our Christmas trees early in this journey. Jingle bells tied with red satin bows, small pinecones with gold glitter, iridescent wrapping paper ribbon curled with scissors … we used whatever we could to create a little Christmas.
We added a new tradition to our Christmas decorating this year. As we settle in a new hemisphere where the holiday season falls in the summertime, it felt right to prop up Santa next to a vase of fresh flowers.
No matter where you are, what you celebrate or which traditions you embrace, may your season be merry and full of joy!
When I told people we were heading to Korea for the semester break, well-wishers told us which sights to see, what food to eat, where to find the best skiing, how to get around on public transportation and so on. I smiled, nodded and thanked everyone for their tips. But there was really only one attraction for me:
I am absolutely smitten with my third nephew, 15-month-old William. He is the son of my sister Megan and her husband Britt, who is stationed at Osan Air Force Base, about an hour south of Seoul. Our three-week winter holiday gave us the opportunity to spend Christmas with them. We’ve been here a week and done a couple touristy things, but I’m more than content to hang around the house with my little lovebug.
When I hear his babbling in the morning, I race to be the one who gets him out of bed. I say, “Good morning, William!” and he says, “Sha Sha.” Can there be a better way to start my day? We let Mommy sleep a bit longer while we eat breakfast and play.
Will’s enthusiasm for life is contagious. He loves to play with balls. In fact, “ball” was his first word, and he says it with a deep reverent voice. Baaaall. His grandparents bought him a mini ball pit, where he rolls around, giggling and tossing the balls in the air. He also loves cars and frequently has one gripped in his little hand, even when he eats (thus, many of his cars experience cheese-related axle problems). Vehicles shooting down his car ramp trigger an excited “Ooooooh!” and lots of clapping.
Another favorite toy is an activity center on a round stand. He smacks one of the buttons to start the music and then marches around the circle in a wiggly dance, slapping a button with each pass to keep the tunes playing. He gets a kick out of it if the grown-ups join in. As a teacher and avid reader, I know that strong reading habits start early. That’s why I’m so thrilled to see William independently choose books over other distractions. Often he pulls books off the shelf and flips through them alone. Other times, he will stop whatever he’s doing, pad into his bedroom and emerge with a book. He’ll hold the book up to me and then plop down in my lap to read. A Christmas gift that we’ve read over and over is Honk, Honk, Beep, Beep (which is so cute that I just ordered it for nephew #5, due in April to my brother Mike and his wife Summer).
Although the weather has been bitterly cold, we all bundle up for long walks through the neighborhood and downtown Songtan, a strip of shops, restaurants and bars aimed at the American community based here. Meg, Britt and Will live on the top of a VERY steep hill, so she actually tethers the stroller to herself when we walk down. We also pop over to the Air Force base to exercise. Meg, Will and I hang out at the Parent & Baby fitness center while Tony and Britt hit the gym.
Christmas morning was a low-key affair. We all had a few presents to open, but Tony and I were mostly excited to give Will his new car ramp, which has provided countless hours of entertainment. My mom sent another surprisingly engaging “toy” – a wooden spoon and small pot filled with red tinsel. William has cooked lots of “spaghetti” in the last few days.
My best Christmas present? Time with my little man. I haven’t seen him since July, and I won’t see him again until next summer. Every day with him is a wonderful gift.
Getting ready for a walk (in front of their apartment).
Ass’s Hair Shop downtown. Ahh, Asia …
Playing with cars.
Bath time. Love that tongue!
Legos from Mike and Summer. Will made his first Lego car.
In the olden days, Santa left Nerf weapons under the tree or next to our stockings in plain sight. After opening our presents, playing with our new toys, loading our PEZ dispensers, and eating cinnamon rolls, we would break out the Nerf guns for a family battle in the wrapping paper wreckage of our living room. We never questioned the idea of a Christmas morning war.
Over the years, this tradition morphed a bit as adult children reunited for the holidays. Sometimes we delayed the war till later in the day or played a more mellow version, such as lining up cans for targets or aiming our sticky darts to fly through an upstairs window.
We often laugh about the year my parents hosted a Sri Lankan college student, Iranga, for the holiday. (When my parents lived in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive, Iranga’s father was my mother’s driver.) Tony and I were living in Kansas at the time, but we traveled to Michigan for a Dickinson family gathering. On Christmas morning, my sisters and I were surprised to find no armaments under the tree. Did Santa think we had outgrown this annual event? Presents were distributed, and as per another family tradition, the youngest child opened all of hers first. Finally, it was my mother’s turn. As she unwrapped her last gift, we began to chatter about plans for the rest of the day. “Oh wait,” my father said. “There’s one more box hiding back here behind the tree.” He passed it to my mom, who gingerly peeled off the paper from a large cardboard box. She opened the flaps, peeked in and then quickly whipped out a huge Nerf blaster and passed a second one to my dad. They both pelted us with ping-pong balls as we dove behind furniture, crying with laughter and howling over the unfairness of being unarmed. Poor Iranga didn’t know what to think.
Although Tony and I moved abroad and skipped 11 years of family Christmases, we kept a photo on our fridge of my sisters in the heat of battle, Kate ducking behind an overstuffed chair and Meg peeking out from under a pile of wrapping paper. Returning to Michigan for Christmas 2012, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we invested in a couple Nerf guns, disguised them with tissue paper and stashed them in a gift bag, just in case.
My sister Kate and her family live a short distance away, but they spent the night Christmas Eve so we could all enjoy seeing Nico and Paul wake up to Christmas. Adults rose first and made coffee, warning the boys to stay in their room until we had set up with our cameras. As expected, the neighbor had left a Christmas cake on the front step. Our fridge and freezer were stuffed to capacity, so we had to leave it out there. Finally, we called the boys and got the morning under way. Everything was normal … for awhile.
I love this shot of their sweet faces!
William with his loot. The youngest kid gets to open his presents first.
“Look, Buddy, you got a new belt!” said Nico. Or, a new collar, maybe.
Nico loading his PEZ dispenser.
Megan and Britt had given each couple, including themselves, a “family present.” They opened theirs first: Dart Tag vests with orange safety glasses. They high-fived, and we knew the game was on.
Suspense built as each couple opened the gift and donned their gear.
John and Kate
Me and Tony – I was trying for gangsta, but my jammies killed the look.
My brother Mike was oddly oblivious. We kept telling him, “Open your gift from Meg and Britt!” but he sweetly and innocently insisted on waiting to open joint presents until Summer arrived on the 28th. We all knew that would be too late …
After everyone unwrapped their presents, my dad brought the Christmas cake inside and asked if anyone wanted any.
However, he still had a couple gifts to open, so I stood up and moved the cake box from his lap to an end table. It felt suspiciously light, and I had a feeling all hell was about to break loose. I quickly set my camera to video, placed it strategically on a bookshelf and stepped away. Sure enough, Dad called Nico over to help him uncover the “cake.” Inside the box, were two Nerf guns. And this is how it unfolded:
Favorite moments from the initial attack:
* Everyone trying to be covert, reaching for their stashed weapons as Nico lifts the “cake box” lid.
* My mom protecting her face with the gift I brought her from India, a papier-mâché mask I found at a handicrafts fair in Delhi.
* My clueless brother shouting, “Hey, where’d you get the guns?” while holding the baby.
* Sidney, the Jimenez family dog, laying still through all the chaos, looking annoyed and a bit worried.
* Britt taking cover behind the sofa with his arsenal of Dart Tag guns. (He and Meg bought five Dart Tag sets, gave the vests and glasses as gifts and then kept all the weapons!)
* My pregnant sister, Kate, shouting, “I think I peed my pants!” followed by, “Watch the ninnies!”
Yeah, we’re all class.
Eventually, the action moved beyond the living room with teams spread out upstairs and downstairs. I claimed to be an embedded journalist, but that didn’t stop them from blasting me with their velcro darts, which stuck to my vest like little badges of courage.
Nice cover, Kate.
Tony reloads while Paul has his back.
Mike, finally armed, and trusty guard dog, Buddy.
Thank goodness for safety glasses, eh Dad?
Eventually, someone called a truce and everyone regrouped in the kitchen to enjoy another Dickinson Christmas tradition: cinnamon rolls. And then there was peace.
I have to admit I was feeling a tinge of resentment about heading to the States for Christmas. (So many destinations on my bucket list and so little time.) However, as our departure date approached, I started to get excited. In Michigan, we could stay at our little lake house, go to the movies, visit the amazing Detroit Institute for the Arts, take the nephews to kid-friendly attractions, enjoy the wonderful nature trails, eat at fantastic restaurants, drink quality wine at reasonable prices, hang out in fun pubs/coffee shops/cafes/etc., hit the sales, and otherwise sample aspects of American life we miss in India.
In reality, I rarely left my parents’ house. The place was so Christmas-y inside and out with over-the-top decorations – miles of twinkly lights, THREE Christmas trees, garland, ribbons, glittery snowflakes, life-sized quilted snowmen and wooden nutcrackers, wreaths, personalized stockings and myriad displays. It was like Santa’s Workshop exploded. Add that to a jam-packed fridge, bottomless pots of coffee and a kitchen table ringed with the people I love most – what more could I want? Somehow the hours slipped away, and we’d realize we had done nothing but sit around and chat, transitioning from coffee to wine as the day wore on. My mom prepared a bunch of family favorites for our dinners, so we didn’t even eat out much. Here are a few shots to set the mood.
(I made this little movie in iPhoto; not sure if I like the format. Does it make you dizzy?)
Tony spent one night at our lakehouse, and I drove out with him to see the lake in its snowy glory, but I couldn’t bear to spend a whole night away from the rest of the gang.
Of course, I was all about the nephews and wanted to spend nearly every waking moment with them.
Christmas morning started off like any normal Christmas. But at the Dickinson Resort, nothing stays normal for long. Stay tuned…
I just dug through 701 email messages and pages of old blog posts, as well as photo albums uploaded willy-nilly on shutterfly, picasa and flickr to reconstruct my memory of the last 12 Christmases. I knew for sure that we hadn’t spent a single Christmas in the States, but I couldn’t remember exactly where we HAD spent them. Now I know. And I’m documenting the details here so I’ll be able to find it easily next time. If you traveled with us and/or think I got some of this wrong, please let me know!
When we lived in Turkey, we didn’t actually get a break for Christmas, so we attended and hosted parties (and even flew to Germany for the weekend once) to rouse some holiday spirit. Here’s the run-down on our post-Christmas semester breaks:
2001-02 – Cappedocia and Ephesus, Turkey, with Koc School colleagues Marcos, Renee, Steph and Sarah.
2002-03 – Koh Samui, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, with Marcos and Amber.
2003-04 – Cairo and a Nile cruise in Egypt with Lisa.
2004-05 – Miami and Carnival Cruise with Lisa, followed by the job fair at the University of Northern Iowa.
After moving to China, our two-week semester breaks coincided with Christmas.
2005-06 – Phuket, Thailand.
2006-07 – Malaysian Borneo with Scott and Amy.
2007-08 – Dickinson family reunion in Ramstein, Germany.
2008-09 – Yangshuo, China, followed by the job fair in Bangkok.
During our two years in Laos, we got a whole month off for the semester break!
2009-10 – Krabi, Thailand, followed by a visit from my sister Megan, who traveled with me to Cambodia and Luang Prabang, Laos.
2010-11 – played host in Vientiane to house guests Scott, Amy and Blake, and then headed to the Bangkok job fair.
So far in India, our semester break has been 3 weeks.
2011-12 – Garmish, Germany, with my parents, brother and sis-in-law.
And that brings me to NOW. After all that, I can confidently say we spent Christmas 2012 in the United States for the first time since moving abroad. Why would we do that?
Here’s the short answer:
His name is William Augustus Warren, and he is the latest addition to my nephew collection. Will, aka Guster, aka Love Bucket, was born Sept. 29 to my sister Megan and her hubby, Britt. The devastating loss of their first son, Benjamin, made William’s arrival all the more poignant and powerful. I simply couldn’t wait till summer to meet this little guy. A bit shy at first, he quickly warmed up to all the Dickinson chaos. I cuddled the stuffing out of him, and my eyes more often than not teared up with love. Tony enjoyed bouncing him while singing inappropriate lullabies (such as “Two Beavers are Better Than One” from the TV show, “How I Met Your Mother”). By the end of our two-week visit, William had changed so much! He gained more control over his wobbly head, and he began to kick and wave with gusto. His wide blue eyes started tracking to whoever cooed the loudest … or to whichever ceiling fan caught his fancy. Best of all, he started smiling! Big, gummy, perfect smiles!
Here are a few more shots of that sweet doll baby.
Of course, I cherished every minute with my other two nephews, Nico and Paul, too. Hilarious, curious, talented and cute as can be, those two little guys rock my world. Stay tuned … I have heaps more Christmas coverage to come …
It’s the last day of the semester, and only a half day at that. You know what that means! Lots of squirrely, excited teachers students. Kids shared their travels plans – from Alaska to Australia and everywhere in between, said their good-byes to children moving on permanently, made play dates with friends who were spending the holiday in Delhi, watched movies and discussed their holiday traditions.
For many international students and teachers, winter break is especially anticipated. Some of us chose this lifestyle for the opportunity to see the world, and this is our longest vacation of the school year – three weeks of travel time. Some of us struggle with living so far away from our loved ones, and this holiday season is a time for reunions. Some of us just need a break from all things unfamiliar and frustrating.
That sappy stuff doesn’t stop kids from being kids, though.
First thing this morning, I went to my usual third-grade classroom where I chatted with the teacher while students arrived. A burst of giggling got our attention, so we both turned to see what was so funny. Two boys had curled into balls, stretched their hoodies over their entire bodies, pulled the drawstrings closed and were now rolling around the floor, bumping into desk legs and eliciting howls of laughter from onlookers. The teacher and I couldn’t help but crack up. Yep, it’s time for vacation!
Later I headed next door to see my other morning group of third graders. Remember those three little boys who had the deep discussion about U.S. presidents a few months ago? During “free choice” writing time this morning, they decided to write comic books. I sat down with them to admire the creative collaboration. Brilliant stuff.
Boy 1: Look! We’re starting every comic book like this, “I was walking down the street when suddenly…” And then something exciting is gonna happen! Boy 2: We’re all different superheroes, but we’re like a superhero team. Me: What are your super powers? Boy 1: I can shoot ice out of my hands. Boy 2: I can jump really far. Boy 3: I can teleport. Boy 1 to Boy 2: Oh! You can be rainbow colored, so when you jump really far, you make a big rainbow and the bad guys will be all “ooooh, look at the rainbow!” and then I’ll shoot ice at them and freeze them. Boy 2 to Boy 3: And then you can grab the bad guys and teleport them to another dimension. Like they could be trapped in Captain America’s shield! Boy 3: Yeah!
In 11 hours, Tony and I will be heading to the airport for our long journey back to the States. This is our first family Christmas in America since we moved overseas 12 years ago! Man, I sure wish I could teleport.
We’re wrapping up a hot and sunny fun-filled Christmas here in Laos. It started with a gift exchange, which was especially exciting with Blake’s pop-eyed, big-mouth gasp of surprise every time someone opened a present. When I gave him a little backpack (made by tribal ladies in northern Laos), he squealed, “My backpack!” You couldn’t pay for a better reaction.
Tony gave me a lovely Lao-style creche that looks just like the countryside homes up on stilts, complete with a hanging basket for the baby.
You know your friends “get” you when they show up with a suitcase full of weapons for the traditional Christmas war. It sounds morbid, but growing up in a military family, we usually received some kind of Nerf gun that shot sticky darts, velcro balls, foam arrows or other harmless ammo. After the last presents were opened, our family would leap behind furniture or take cover under large sheets of wrapping paper for a major skirmish. How special to share that tradition with our wonderful visitors!
Everyone played with their toys and lounged around for most of the morning, and then we jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed to Ban Moon. Barry, an Australian, and his Lao wife, Moon, run a little restaurant attached to their home. (“Ban Moon” means The House of Moon.) They served up a Christmas feast of turkey, ham and pork with roasted potatoes, carrots and pumpkin.
As an Army brat, I lived in many places in the United States and Germany before landing in Kansas for college. Every time my dad delivered the news that we were moving AGAIN, I felt a mixture of emotions – grief (it’s always hard to leave friends and routines), relief (a chance to start over!), fear (what if nobody likes me?), excitement (new people, new adventures), and curiosity (so many unknowns: food, people, weather, school, lifestyle). But I always remember my mother saying, “You’ll see those friends again!” In the military, paths cross again and again.
And so it is with international teaching!
This week, we’re celebrating the holidays with our special friends Amy and Scott Hossack and their awesome little guy, Blake. We worked and played with the Hossacks for four years in Shanghai, so we were thrilled when they decided to spend part of their Christmas break here in Vientiane.
In the taxi from the airport. So excited!
Playing in my classroom.
Blake chillin’ on the daybed.
At the riverfront playground.
Too shy to ask for a swing, Blake hovers as the school-skippin’ Lao girls SMS their friends.