My brother-in-law John has something he hasn’t had in a long time: free Thursday nights! After attending night classes at University of Phoenix for the last couple years, he graduated this summer with a Master’s in Business Administration. The graduation ceremony took place June 21 at Ford Field in Detroit, and John may have had the most fans in the audience. My whole family attended, along with John’s parents and many other family members. We all enjoyed a delicious lunch in Detroit’s Mexican Town afterwards.
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.
Suspense built as each couple opened the gift and donned their gear.
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.
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?)
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?
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 …
The Fourth of July festivities are always a little crazy at our lake. I don’t mean Katy-Perry-Last-Friday-Night-crazy like Independence Day used to be in Lake Orion’s glory days. I mean we light our flares too early and incur the wrath of local residents à la 2010. Or we have a hailstorm that cancels the fireworks display à la 2011. As for 2012, well, Michigan stupidly decided to pump up the economy by legalizing more lethal fireworks for stoners with empty beer bottles to shoot at their loser friends. Which they did.
The best part of our Independence Day celebration was WHO shared it with us! All my siblings were here, as well as two very dear friends from my days at Mannheim American High School in Germany. It’s the first time Tarren, Cami and I have been together since 1998. Tarren and her husband, Jim, flew in from St. Louis, and Cami drove from Virginia with her two kiddos, Quinn (11) and Denison (7).
BTW, I am the Zombie Godmother for Quinn and Den. Cami used to call me their Fairy Godmother, but Quinn and I decided that was lame.
Isn’t it the best when you just pick up where you left off with the special people in your life? That never ceases to amaze and thrill me.
As usual, Lake Orion’s celebrations started with Flare Night the Friday before July 4th. Everyone lit road flares – at 10 p.m. sharp – around the perimeter of the lake. I had brought a bunch of bindis from India for the ladies, but when Nico saw them, he wanted one, too, and before we knew it, he had stuck them on everyone. (Disclaimer: All good photos in this post were taken by Tarren and/or Jim; crappy photos were taken by me.)
Quinn helps Nico with his bindi.
Saturday night, we played with sparklers, snappers, snakes and other low-testosterone fireworks before traipsing to our neighbor’s peninsula for the lake’s fireworks show. For the record, extra-long sparklers are an extra-bad idea.
Here are some other fave photos from our big reunion:
Did you know this was National Pie Week?
Moreover, did you know this is the last day of National Pie Week and I haven’t had any PIE all WEEK?!
Many of you know that pie is my favorite food, so missing out on National Pie Week would have been tragic.
I’m a pie eater, not a pie baker, so I had to run out and buy a selection to celebrate this special week. I purchased mini versions of Michigan 4-berry, strawberry-rhubarb, apple and cherry, as well as Breyer’s Vanilla ice-cream (truly the ONLY ice-cream worthy of sharing a bowl with pie). Tempted to eat them all by myself, I altruistically hauled them to my parents’ house to share.
Next year, I will strive to honor the spirit of National Pie Week with a delectable slice every day instead of a massive pie pile on the last day.
Indian men wear such hats in weddings. I’m not sure if they serve another purpose, but I was smitten. On a whim, I returned to Babu Market the day before our departure and picked up two more hats for my nephews. As I was leaving the market, I spotted some tempting outfits for little boys. They included a stiff shiny lamé shirt, sequined vest, coordinating scarf with silky tassles, and shimmery pants with a baggy bottom and tightly tapered legs. Again, I have no idea why or where boys would wear these clothes. Ceremonies? Weddings? How about a mighty battle in the Detroit suburb of Shelby?
If I were a little boy, I wouldn’t be caught dead in such a thing, so I knew I had to broach the topic carefully while babysitting Nico and Paul last week:
“Hey, did you know that where I live in India, they used to have powerful kings? They lived in big palaces, and they had tigers as pets. They rode elephants and had to fight in dangerous wars to keep the bad guys out of their awesome forts. And guess what? (voice drops to a whisper) I brought some of the king’s clothes just for you.”
Slowly, I pulled the garments out of my bag and touched them gingerly with great awe.
“Can we put this on now?” Nico asked, wide-eyed with excitement.
“Sure,” I whispered.
They quickly tore off their shorts and T-shirts. The Indian tops were impossibly small; we tried pretty hard but had to give up. They pulled on the ridiculous bottoms, which don’t have a waistband, so I had to fold the top over to make it smaller and then tucked the fabric in their underpants. They put on the vests, scarves and hats and TRANSFORMED into Mughal warriors.
“We need swords!” Nico shouted.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t bring swords,” I said.
“We have some!” The boys flew down to the basement and returned with Star Wars light sabers.
“Can we go outside?” they begged.
“Well, heck yeah,” I said, still a bit shocked at the reaction to these costumes.
In their front yard, they fought battles, took turns being the good king and the bad king, hacked their way through the jungles of India, dashed back in to get a big rubber snake to dangle from a low-hanging branch (and then promptly whacked it out of the tree with their “swords”), demonstrated their finely tuned sword-twirling skills, struck yoga poses (?), and otherwise played non-stop for about half an hour.
When Kate and John got home, the boys posted themselves on a loveseat with the light sabers shoved upright into the couch cushions.
“Come see the kings,” they said.
Their parents played along, bowing low and kissing the boys’ hands.
Best present EVER.
Here are some more shots from the Battle of Shelby.
After just a week in Michigan, Tony and I hit the road for a little romantic get-away. We loaded our bikes on the rental car and drove about four hours north to Mackinaw City, where we parked the car and rolled our bikes onto a ferry. The short ride treated us to views of Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east.
At the ferry dock.
Disembarking on the island was like stepping back in time … or maybe more accurately, stepping in to a studio lot for a movie about horse-loving, bike-riding fudge makers. Our hotel’s porter greeted us at the boat and transported our bag to the hotel. We hopped on our bikes for the short ride along the harbor to our quaint weekend home, the Inn on Mackinac.
After settling in, we walked back to Main Street for an alfresco lunch at the Pink Pony, followed by a stroll through the neighborhood.
Automobile-free since 1898, Mackinac Island has retained its turn-of-the-century charm. Juxtaposed against modern suburban developments and their cookie-cutter houses, the island’s homes range from dainty cottages with lace curtains and window boxes of red geraniums to elegant Victorian-style mansions – all turrets, verandas and stained glass. Horse-drawn carriages line the street awaiting fares, and tourists get around on rented bikes.
Home to a flourishing fur trade in the 1820s and later a commercial fishing hub, Mackinac Island’s biggest industry these days seems to be fudge. Since the first “Candy Kitchen” opened in 1889, fudge has been a popular souvenir. We popped in to several shops for samples. My favorite: dark chocolate with cherries and walnuts. (You can join a “fudge crawl” to the 14 candy stores, but that just sounded nauseating to me.)
We specifically picked this weekend to visit Mackinac Island for the Lilac Festival. Someone forgot to tell the lilacs, though. They had already bloomed and dropped their blossoms by the time the festival rolled around. Bummer.
Tony and I were registered for the Lilac Festival 10K on Saturday morning. Fit and raring to go, Tony was looking forward to the run. Flabby and nursing a wonky neck, I was contemplating a big breakfast instead. That morning, however, I decided to do a 10-kilometer STROLL, stopping frequently to take photos and relishing the bright blue sky, fresh pine-scented air, and forest and waterfront trails. About 10 minutes into my walk and after snapping a few pictures, my reclusive competitive spirit suddenly surfaced and I felt the overpowering urge to kick everyone’s butts in this race. Totally out of shape, I knew I couldn’t run, but I speed-walked like a lunatic. By the time I loped across the finish line, I had pulled every muscle from the arch in my foot to my already-debilitated cervical spine.
Much to Tony’s chagrin, I couldn’t possibly visit Mackinac Island and NOT take a carriage tour. So that’s what we did. It turned out to be quite interesting and informative. The island’s recorded history dates to 1,000 B.C., when Native Americans fished there for trout, pike, sturgeon, herring and whitefish. Early French settlers in the region named the hump-backed island Michilimackinac, which allegedly means “place of the great turtle.” The name was eventually shorted to Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-aw). A French military outpost on the mainland was moved to Mackinac Island in 1761 when British soldiers took control. The fort and island became U.S. territory after the American Revolution, but the British recaptured the fort during the War of 1812. Peace negotiators restored the island and Fort Mackinac to the United States two years later.
We opted to end our tour at the fort, which I LOVED! It sounds crazy, I know, but almost any military fort reminds me of my upbringing. The various buildings featured excellent interpretive displays with plenty of photographs, artifacts and stories from the 1800s. We visited the one-room schoolhouse, soldiers’ barracks, officers’ quarters, the quartermaster’s storehouse, the post hospital and the post bathhouse, which was constructed in 1885 during a “hygiene fever.” The post doctor implemented a revolutionary policy requiring soldiers to bathe at least once a week in the cast iron bath tubs.
I am more than a little fascinated with medical history, so one of my favorite characters from Fort Mackinac lore is Dr. William Beaumont. Here’s the story, well told on Wikipedia:
On June 6, 1822, an employee of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island, named Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach by a discharge of a shotgun loaded with a duck shot from close range that injured his ribs and his stomach. Dr. Beaumont treated his wound, but expected St. Martin to die from his injuries. Despite this dire prediction, St. Martin survived – but with a hole, or fistula, in his stomach that never fully healed. Unable to continue work for the American Fur Company, he was hired as a handyman by Dr. Beaumont.
By August 1825, Beaumont had been relocated to Fort Niagara in New York, and Alexis St. Martin had come with him. Beaumont recognized that he had in St. Martin the unique opportunity to observe digestive processes. Dr. Beaumont began to perform experiments on digestion using the stomach of St. Martin. Most of the experiments were conducted by tying a piece of food to a string and inserting it through the hole into St. Martin’s stomach. Every few hours, Beaumont would remove the food and observe how well it had been digested. Beaumont also extracted a sample of gastric acid from St. Martin’s stomach for analysis. …Beaumont used samples of stomach acid taken out of St. Martin to “digest” bits of food in cups. This led to the important discovery that the stomach acid, and not solely the mashing, pounding and squeezing of the stomach, digests the food into nutrients the stomach can use; in other words, digestion was primarily a chemical process and not a mechanical one.
In early 1831, Dr. Beaumont conducted another set of experiments on St. Martin’s stomach, ranging from the simple observation of normal digestion to the effects that temperature, exercise and even emotions have on the digestive process.
Beaumont published the account of his experiments in 1838, as Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice, and the Physiology of Digestion. He and St. Martin parted ways, with Beaumont eventually going to St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Martin to his home in Quebec province, Canada. Off and on for the next twenty years, Beaumont tried to get St. Martin to move to St. Louis, but the move never occurred. Beaumont died in 1853 as a result of slipping on ice-covered steps.
(OK, the “entire island” is only eight miles…)
After breakfast, we put on our grown-up clothes and walked to the Grand Hotel. Built in 1887 for summer visitors, the hotel exudes posh nostalgia (especially if you squint enough to blur the bored teens with saggy jeans and dads with bellies hanging over their cargo shorts). The movie “Somewhere in Time” was filmed at the Grand. Remember? Christopher Reeve’s character goes back in time and meets the woman of his dreams, played by Jane Seymour, but then he finds a modern-day penny in the pocket of his 1912 pants and is transported back to the 1970s. Of course, I felt compelled to re-enact the penny scene for Tony more than once. He loved it. Not really.
After our visit to the Grand, we decided to head back to reality on the next ferry. Maybe we’ll try to catch the lilacs in bloom next summer.
Every day in India is an adventure of emotions. That’s not hyperbole. Some adventures are small and giggly, like riding home from a restaurant in a tuk-tuk with hot pink vinyl upholstery, disco lights and “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring from the stereo. Some adventures are vast and spiritual, like strolling the prayer path around the Dalai Lama’s residence or standing in line with ecstatic Sikh pilgrims at the Golden Temple. Some adventures are ongoing and frustrating, like explaining to the plumber that he is nuts to think the lack of hot water is because the water has to come from far, far away and cools off along the journey (right, Nancy?). Some adventures are gut-wrenching despite their predictability, like shaking your head at tiny, dirty street children with outstretched hands. Some adventures are mesmerizing in their outlandish implausibility, like smearing psychedelic colors on your friends for Holi or watching a two-story effigy of Ravana explode in fireworks on Dussehra, or really anything that happens on any Indian holiday.
That’s all to say that Tony and I are quite content to spend a few weeks in a relative adventure-free zone. Although we love our international adventures, we also really, really, really love coming back to Michigan for summer vacation and …
So bring on summer vacation!
The low temps in Delhi are higher than the high temps in Michigan.
Does anyone have a parka and some woolen socks I can borrow?