In Kate’s family, little boys get their first haircut when they turn one, so it was Jack’s turn! It also provided an opportunity for him to have his first lollipop. The rainbow-haired young beautician was patient and sweet with our little lovebug.
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.
I made this video at the beginning of the summer for Britt, who is stationed in Korea. We are totally over the moon for his little guy, William, and we feel so fortunate to have this time with Will and his mama, Meg, before they head to Korea to be with Daddy.
On July 9, my nephew collection increased by one fuzzy-headed 8.6-pound little bundle of love, John Morton Jimenez aka Jack. Congratulations to mommy Kate and daddy John!
A few days earlier, I went with Kate to her final ultrasound. I thought her other two boys, Paul and Nico, would be excited to see the baby on the monitor. Instead, they acted like ding dongs and had to sit in time out. By then, poor Jack was crammed in there so tightly we couldn’t really make out many of his features anyway.
The next day, Megan played hostess for a little baby shower dinner.
My sisters timed their previous babies without any consideration of my schedule, so I was particularly excited to be in the States for Jack’s arrival. My mom and I visited Kate in the hospital a few hours after she was induced, but there wasn’t much going on, so we went home for a dip in the pool.
My other sister, Megan, handed off her own baby to me and dashed out, determined to be present at the birth. Later, she reported sprinting down the hallway at the hospital, arriving at Kate’s room seconds too late. From outside the door, she heard Jack’s surprised wail as he entered this world.
Brothers and cousin, Emma, check out the new baby. Paul wasn’t too sure about this at first, but he has since warmed up to the idea.
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 …
Shortly before leaving Delhi for the summer, I bought a fancy Indian hat for my dad, whose birthday was June 1. Doesn’t he look dapper?
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.
I just wanted to kiss their royal little tummies, but I didn’t want them to break character.
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.
Our special friends Scott, Amy and Blake Hossack made their second annual pilgrimage from Canada to Lake Orion today. We taught with them in Shanghai and love them to bits. When my mom and sister visited us in Shanghai, they also got to know the fabulous Hossack family, so they joined us for a little lakeside reunion.
The Hossacks came to Michigan last summer and spent Christmas with us in Laos, so we had planned to return the favor before leaving for New Delhi. Unfortunately, I still don’t have my passport back from the Indian consulate, which means I can’t cross the border into Canada. Drat!
Despite the heat advisory, we did the usual stuff: fed the fish, waded in the lake, floated around on the raft, and took the paddle boat out for a spin. Such a nice day with such wonderful people!
The boys head out on the paddle boat.
Kate and the kids throw bread to the fish and try to attract some ducks.
Cooling off with freezy pops.
Blake and Paul play basketball with the fishnet.
Tony falls asleep while watching a show with Blake.
My little nephews love to swim – at my parents’ pool or at our lake. Nico wears his swim mask in and out of the water. And Paul, who will be 3 in September, has started tossing off his floaties to get serious in the water. Summer vacation … ahhhhh!
Kate made a surprise appearance modeling our mom’s water aerobics gear.
Michigan may struggle to get its economy back on track, but this state should take pride in its fantastic parks and trail systems. I can ride my bike from our lake house to my mom’s house (30 minutes by car or an hour on beautiful wooded bike trails), or I can hit the trails to reach almost any other town in the state (not that I HAVE, but I COULD). The parks are clean with plenty of picnic tables, toilets, shade, well-maintained playgrounds and – more often than not – a body of water. What a perfect way to spend a morning with my little guys!
Paul gives me a tour of the playground at Rochester Park.
Paul mostly threw rocks into the water or splashed.
Nico built a big canal system with dams, bridges, and lakes.
This squirrel got a little too close for comfort. I was having PTSD flashbacks to my youth, when a squirrel bit my hand when I fed it some sunflower seeds.
We kicked the soccer ball around for awhile, and I taught Nico the concept of kicking the ball into the goal. (I know, you’re laughing at the idea of me kicking a ball and/or teaching anyone anything about any sport. Go ahead, enjoy it. I understand.) Mostly, I taught him about the theatrics AFTER you make a goal. Eventually, Katy kicked the ball into the creek, and despite chasing it downstream with Paul’s walking stick for awhile, she lost both the ball and the stick. Paul, who struggles to pronounce consonant blends, said, “Hey, where’s my DICK?!”
We had so much fun that we did it again a few days later when our other sister Megan arrived. This time, we picked a different spot at Paint Creek. The boys did a lot of digging.
Meg and Nico looked for tiny shells and fossils.
Potty break. Did I mention the park has a wonderful, clean bathroom? Nico couldn’t be bothered.
Paul and I threw a lot of rocks.
We took turns playing “football,” which really meant throwing the ball and then racing to get it, except when the boys changed the rules to be a standard game of chase.