Tag Archives: family

Summer? Winter? Vacation! Part 1: Christmas in the USA

Now that winter is summer and summer is winter, our school vacation schedule is upside down. For the last 15 years in Turkey, China, Laos, and India, we followed a North American calendar with a couple weeks off at Christmas and a longer summer break. In Chile, our “summer break” occurs now – from December to February.

To kick it off, we joined my sister Kate and her family at my parent’s house in Florida. Check out my last post about The Villages to get the scoop on this unusual place.

Christmas usually explodes all over my parents’ house, but my dad was under the weather and my mom couldn’t tackle the job alone. They put up a naked tree, and Kate’s three boys made cute decorations.

The first few days in Florida were cool but sunny. Kate, Tony, and the kids even went for a swim. I just dipped my legs in the hot tub.

On Christmas morning, we all opened our presents. Tony had just one gift left, marked “Open last!” He ripped off the paper to find a box of Cheez-Its, his favorite snack. Everyone leaned in to have a laugh, but it was a ruse. Even Tony didn’t know that I had wrapped up two Nerf guns and extra ammo. We pulled out our weapons and started pelting everyone. The kids shrieked and dove behind the furniture. The Christmas Nerf War is a Dickinson family tradition, so we were shocked that nobody else was armed. Kate quickly ran out to her van, where the boys had coincidentally left a couple Nerf archery sets. The kids holed up in the kitchen to load their bows. Eventually, Tony and I ran out of bullets, and we were too lazy to get off the couch, so we called a truce.

The boys wearing their silly knitted hats from Chile.

I also gave them each a little leather coin purse from Atacama, which Nico said was his favorite present. What a love bug.

The day after Christmas we ditched my parents and took off for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The entrance featured the word “Explore” in huge letters with a rocket garden towering in the background. “This really is a dream come true for me,” said my brother-in-law John.

Visiting the various “mission zones” was like stepping through time, from the early days of America’s space program to the space race and moon landing to the ongoing efforts to get man to Mars. Most attractions featured videos with footage from the time period, NASA personnel commenting on their work, and astronauts reflecting on their experiences.

I had just watched the movie “Hidden Figures” on the flight to the States, so it was fun to put the true-ish story in context at the place where it all happened. One of the most fascinating take-aways for me was those first rockets launched with less computing power than we have in our cell phones today.

Gearing up for a 3-D movie about NASA heroes and legends.

Perhaps because I have such vivid memories of the space shuttle program, my favorite mission zone was “Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other.” I remember the pride and awe I felt over the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, both made possible by shuttle missions. I also remember gathering in a friend’s dorm room at the University of Kansas to watch the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger and its horrific explosion that killed everyone aboard. According to the Kennedy Space Center website, “A ship like no other, the space shuttle launched like a rocket and landed like a glider while transporting astronauts to space and back for thirty years.”

At the space shuttle mission zone, the shuttle Atlantis was suspended from the ceiling, and exhibits demonstrated life on board for the astronauts. Atlantis flew its last mission – and the last of the shuttle program – in July 2011.

Nico and Paul check out a Mars rover concept vehicle.

On the Kennedy Space Center bus tour, we saw the insanely enormous gas-guzzling crawler-transporter that moves spacecraft from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building to the launchpads (which takes about five hours at a speed of 1 mph!). It is the largest self-powered land vehicle in the world. We also drove by the SpaceX building, where we glimpsed the Falcon Heavy rocket, the world’s most powerful operational rocket. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he plans to die on Mars, “just not on impact.”

At the IMAX movie, “Journey to Space,” we got a 4-D overview of NASA’s accomplishments and future plans. Four-year-old Jack fell asleep, but the rest of us were absolutely blown away. Such an exciting reminder of how far we’ve come and space adventures that await! NASA’s research and development in preparation for a Mars mission was straight out of a sci-fi movie.

We had expected to spend a few hours at the visitor complex, but we got there shortly after it opened and we left at closing time. It was an incredible place!

A few days later, Kate and her family packed up the van and drove back to Michigan, and Tony took off for Kansas to meet up with his sisters. My other sister, Megan, joined me in Florida for a few days to hang out with Mom and Dad, and then she and I flew to her home at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas.

As soon as we pulled up to the house, these two cuties – Annesley and Will – ran out to greet me. So much love!

We went to the base library and checked out a bunch of books. I must have read Where the Wild Things Are 25 times. Stories and snuggles on the sofa? I could do that all day! We also played Headbanz, which was hilarious. At five years old, Will is surprisingly savvy at asking the right questions to guess the picture on his card. Annesley just tells you your picture, which essentially ends the game. I logged quite a bit of time pushing Annesley on the swing in their backyard, which was wonderful because she chattered the whole time.

Another highlight was Annesley’s tea party with her fancy china and stuffed animals. She fed them grapes and Scooby Snacks (dog bone-shaped graham cracker treats) and entertained them with ring-around-the-rosie and duck-duck-goose (tricky when your party guests can’t run).

Britt played ball tag with the kids in the backyard after work. They looked forward to it all day!

I got to visit each kid’s school. Here’s Will’s classroom.

One day, Megan took us for a hike in the Seminole Canyon State Park. The kids were good little trekkers, and Will genuinely listened to the tour guide, even asking a couple questions. (Maybe he’s the next generation Guide Hog?!) We walked to the Fate Bell rock shelter, where 4,000-year-old pictographs decorate the canyon walls. Our guide, Tanya, explained the ancient artists used minerals, plants, animal fat, and other natural resources to produce their paint. What do the pictographs mean? Nobody knows for sure, she said. According to the Texas State Historical Association:

The Pecos River style is a polychrome style that is considered a manifestation of the shamanic cult. The central characters of the pictographs are faceless anthropomorphic figures, elaborately dressed and often holding a variety of accessories such as atlatls, darts, and fending sticks. The figures are often depicted with their arms outstretched, and in later pictographs the anthropomorphs’ arms are increasingly stylized and seem to be more akin to wings than arms. At one end of the shelter there are also examples of Red Linear figures-a Late Archaic Period style characterized by very small stick figures engaged in various activities.

Tanya shares some details about the site while I marvel at the weathering and erosion that has sculpted the rock.

Looking out at the canyon from the rock shelter.

Some of the pictographs.

Megan checked out a Junior Park Ranger backback for the kids, which included binoculars, a sketchpad and crayons, a magnifying glass, and wildlife guides. So cool!

A prehistoric sea left fantastic fossils embedded in the rocks.

On another day, I got to combine two of my favorite things: my sister’s kids and horses! My brother-in-law, Britt, works with Ms. Jill, who recently broke her ankle and needed help keeping up with her five horses. Britt and I mucked out the stalls, which was much harder work than I expected. I actually only mucked out about half a stall before my body gave out on me.

The highlight, though, was this little guy. About four months old, he was 50% pony, 50% horse, and 100% loco.

One night, Megan took me to the Del Rio Civic Center, where the Lions Club offers bingo a few nights a week. I had no idea what I was in for. Bingo was serious business to this crowd. I’m guessing there were more than 100 people in the room, and many had their dauber collection on display. I bought a bright orange dauber and a bunch of bingo cards and then prepared to hit the jackpot. I was just two numbers away from winning $750, but alas, we both walked away broke but amused. And it was a great way to practice my numbers in Spanish! The bingo ball always appeared on the video screen before the announcer called the number in English and Spanish. I tried to say the number in Spanish in my head before she said it aloud.

Although my visit was too short, I felt grateful to experience a slice of life with my sister and her family.

Now, farewell to winter and hello to summer back in Santiago. We still have another month off work!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 5 – Parents Visit!

After United Airlines fixed their computer system and delivered my parents to Chile a day late (Jan. 24), we hit the ground running!

Or not … The first order of business for my mother after an international flight is always a foot massage. Reduces ankle swelling, she says. So I led them on a quick tour of our school – The International School Nido de Aguilas – before heading down the hill to Sala Ananta, a lovely Thai spa.

School is pretty different with no students around!

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped at the neighborhood supermarket, where my mom went bananas over this giant corn. Husked, it didn’t look very appealing. Not sure how the locals eat this, but I doubt they gnaw on the humongous cob.

The next day, Wednesday, we drove about an hour to Casablanca Valley to visit the Emiliana organic winery for a tour and tasting. I had been there in late August (see that post here), when the weather was cold and dreary and the vines were naked. On this visit, the sun shone brightly, and rows of lush leafy grapevines displayed plump bunches of grapes. We had the same friendly and informative tour guide as last time – Ramon.

At the tasting, we were served two whites (2016 Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Novas Gran Reserva Chardonnay) and two reds (2014 Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere-Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 COYAM). Tony, not much of a wine connoisseur, said, “Watch me mix all mine together and make a rosé!”

Afterwards, we drove next door to the Tiraziš winery for lunch at House-Casa del Vino. Remembering the lip-smacking pink ravioli I enjoyed on my first visit, I ordered it again and was not disappointed.

On Thursday, we all boarded city bus 517 to check out La Vega Central produce market. As predicted, my mom went bonkers over the giant corn and bought another ear (with healthier looking kernels than last time). We stocked up on peaches, strawberries, mangoes, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. Like me, my mother gets giddy over fruit or vegetables she’s never seen. So we bought a pepino dulce and some physalis.

I didn’t get a picture of the pepino dulce, which translates to “sweet cucumber” but lacks the crisp crunch of the more common veggie by that name. The outside, greenish-yellow with purple stripes, looked more like a small eggplant, and the inside was soft and pale yellow. Mom and I agreed the flavor was icky. Thumbs down.

The physalis looks like a tiny tomato in a dry husk and tastes like a cross between a tomato and a kiwi. Thumbs up. Here’s a photo of one I encountered earlier this year as a garnish on my ice cream.

We spotted this guy selling produce outside the market. Mom tried to explain that we lived in Michigan, but I don’t think he realized the word on his shirt was a place.

Mom was pretty confident that we could eat the dried peaches the same way we would eat a dried apricot, but I knew they were meant to be reconstituted in a traditional drink (see mote con huesillos, below). I think I won that argument.

A few market shots taken by my dad …

After a big salad for lunch at home, we ventured forth again. Time to tackle the hill! We took the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, and although I have done this countless times, I always underestimate how many steps lead from the gondola station to the very top. But we did it!

Most of the way up, we paused at the church.

People leave fascinating prayer offerings at the small chapel.

Smoky haze from forest fires limited the view of Santiago.

The Virgin Mary statue is the cake topper.

The reward was another “first” for all of us: a traditional Chilean summertime drink called mote con huesillo. Mote is cooked husked wheat, and huesillos are dried peaches. Those ingredients are added to a sweet sugary liquid. After our sweaty little hike, the drink was refreshing and surprisingly yummy. The wheat adds a strange chewy experience to what otherwise tastes like syrupy fruit juice.

We took the old funicular back down the hill to Barrio Bellavista and caught a taxi home. Dinner was at one of our favorite restaurants, Tiramisu. Mom and Dad enjoyed their first pisco sours, Chile’s delicious signature cocktail.

I really wanted to take my parents to the coast, but they didn’t want to bother with staying overnight. I also wanted my artsy mom to see the murals of Valparaiso, but it’s a hilly city best seen on foot and she has a wonky hip that precludes taking long precarious walks. Friends had warned me that traffic was out of control at the shore, where holiday-goers from Chile and Argentina flocked to frolic in the surf. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about how to make this day special without overdoing it, and I think it worked out!

On Friday, we drove just under two hours to Valparaiso and parked at the Ibis Hotel, which also houses the metro station. We left the car and rode the metro a short distance to Viña del Mar, a resort town on the Pacific coast.

The walk was longer than intended, but we ultimately arrived at Tierra de Fuego, a beachside restaurant. (Every mistake is a learning opportunity, right? For future reference, get off at the Miramar stop, which is closer to the beach.) After lunch, we hopped across fiery sand to stick our toes in the icy water. Glorious!

Mom insisted on picking up a piece of driftwood as a souvenir, but then she left it at our apartment when she returned to the States, much to the chagrin of Tony.

We returned to Valparaiso by metro and walked a short distance to the El Peral funicular, which took us up 52 meters to Plaza Yugoslavia on the hill called Cerro Allegre. I didn’t want to make my mom walk too much, but she was lured by the art on the walls and the artsy products in the shops. We strolled a bit and then rode the funicular back down and drove back to Santiago.

On Saturday, we spent the whole day at Los Dominicos, an artisans market spotlighting arts and handicrafts from all regions of Chile. Mom was in Heaven. Tony bailed after about 30 minutes. Dad and I had fun … for the first few hours. Finally, just as Dad and I were about to sneak away, my mom experienced the ultimate shopping buzz-kill: She ran out of cash, and the vendor wouldn’t take a credit card. But do you think that stopped her? Heck, no! My dad and I walked out of the market, across the plaza in sweltering heat, and down the metro stairs so I could withdraw money from my peso account. We’re such enablers.

For their last day in Santiago, we took a quick driving tour through some historic parts of town, including Plaza de Armas, and then stopped for lunch in Barrio Italia at a quaint restaurant called Le Jardinera.

And, just like that, they were gone. My dad always says, “Fish and houseguests start to stink after a week.” So I guess it’s just as well they didn’t extend their stay. Still, I miss them already and hope they come back soon!

Summer 2016: Short but sweet

As we transition from India to Chile … from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere … from summer to winter … from a 9.5-hour time difference to NO time difference … from Hindi to Spanish … it’s all kind of blowing my mind.

I could have spent our short summer break stressing about it all, but there was no time! We had a shorter-than-usual holiday because (a) “newbie teachers” at the Nido de Aguilas International School have to show up to school a couple weeks early for orientation, and (b) it’s winter in Chile, so our new school’s long “summer break” actually starts in December.

Besides, I was distracted by a whole bunch of cuteness in the form of nieces and nephews. I also wanted to catch up with all three of my siblings and a couple sib-in-laws (reunited from Michigan, Texas and England); my parents, who drove up from Florida; and one of my dearest friends, who visited from St. Louis.

Tony and I didn’t have time to enjoy our summer activities as much as usual: biking on the trails, kayaking, grilling out, walking around the lake, etc. But we also didn’t have time to stress about the huge transitions about to turn our world upside down.

Cocktails with Tarren, who is more like a sister after 30+ years of friendship.
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After she returned to St. Louis, Tarren sent Cardinals teddies to all the kids (and tasty treats for the adults).
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My sister, Megan, and her two munchkins stayed with Tony and me at the lake. We read a lot of books.
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We pretended the fan was blowing us over so we could bellyflop on to the cushions.
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We tried to stage a couple photo shoots. Impossible to get this group to cooperate.
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We took a boat ride with our neighbor, Kim.
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We took out the kayaks and the stand-up paddleboard a couple times. I remember when Nico and Paul were too little to paddle alone, and now they’re taking passengers out for a ride!
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We played at the nearby mall, always a fun destination with the kids. The Bass Pro Shop’s fish tank and taxidermy extravaganza, the carousel, and the Lego store were big attractions.
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We found a new trampoline park with a ninja warrior course. So fun!
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Meg battled a little boy and knocked him into the foam pit for a chance to face off with Kate. Ha!

We had a pool party at Kate’s house.

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Ella mostly lounged in a sunny spot and tried to stay clear of all the children.
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But she had a hard time escaping from this one.

Our last night in Michigan was Flare Night, when lake dwellers line the perimeter of the lake with road flares and light them at 10 p.m. According to the Oakland Press News, the tradition started in 1945 to celebrate the end of World War II. Our neighbors always have a blow-out party that night, so it was a fun way to wrap up our short summer break. In a rite of passage, Nico lit our flares (with help from Tony).
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Family Traditions: Ocean City, New Jersey

Some of my earliest memories place me in a small house at the end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, looking out the window at the beach while Great Uncle Herb offered me half a banana … listening as Great Aunt Iris reported on the newspaper’s tide and current tables … walking clumsily through deep sand full of prickers from the dune bushes … rinsing off sand and salt water in the cabana shower outside.

During my trip to the shore in July, I rode a bike along the boardwalk to that house. It’s still there – although no longer in the family, and it’s avoided the fate of many older homes that have been demolished and rebuilt as large multi-unit rentals. We actually rented one of those homes for our weeklong visit. I shared one floor of a house with my parents; my sister Kate, her husband, and three young boys; and my sister, Megan, and her two kids. My brother, Mike, and his wife and baby rented a nearby house to share with his in-laws.

In the grip of nostalgia, we tried to do it all: beach time, boogie boarding in the ocean, sand castle construction, early morning bike rides, breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, arcade games and rides and miniature golf on the boardwalk, ice cream and cheesesteaks and sticky buns and pizza and crab legs, beach combing for shells, crabbing off the 34th Street dock, and cramming the whole family onto a rented surrey (for a short ride on the boardwalk, but mostly for the photos).

I can’t count how many times during this week I paused to tell myself, “Remember this moment,” especially when my little nephews expressed unrestrained joy at being in this place. My face ached with laughter while boogie boarding with 8-year-old Nico or splashing in the surf with dare-devil Will, who is not yet three. My heart swelled when little Max danced to the boardwalk band and 6-year-old Paul rode his first roller-coaster with his adored cousin, Jake.

My brother always makes the ridiculous just a little bit more so, as evidenced by our surrey ride. “Let’s pull up next to random strangers and sing ‘Surrey With the Fringe on Top,'” he begged. And so we did.
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Mamas and babies on the boardwalk (photobombed by my mother).
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Early morning walk on the beach with my dad.
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The Ocean City, NJ, boardwalk.
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Beach time!
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Our highly unsuccessful crabbing attempt yielded one crab. We used traps baited with hot dogs. We learned a different technique from a fellow crabber, who hung a chicken neck from a string and then scooped up the crab with a net. Later, Mike and Summer’s family reported catching piles of crabs that way!
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At Corson’s Inlet, we found many large clam shells, a live horseshoe crab, a couple jellyfish and hundreds of hyper-clawed fiddler crabs.
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I have been wanting a picture of all five nephews and the one baby niece, but a normal family photo just wouldn’t cut it for this crew. I brought home costumes from India and staged a photo shoot one morning at the beach. Nico immediately morphed into a Mughal prince and chose regal poses rather than frolicking in the water like the other boys. The toddlers were surprisingly compliant, keeping their turbans on for the most part. Baby Annesley slept through the whole thing, unfortunately, and awoke just when the boys were too riled up for more group shots. All in all, pretty successful!

Bollywood at the beach!
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A serious drawback of living abroad is that gatherings with extended family are rare. I have relatives scattered around the world, and there’s simply no time to see them all regularly. And so I felt deeply grateful for visits from my mother’s side of the family, who all live in the Philadelphia area.

Sisters: Aunt Iris and my mom.
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Cousin Amy with her husband, Billy, and their three boys, Jake, Dylan and Alex.
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Cousin Karen and her two boys, Robbie and Mario, spent the day at the beach with us. Here she is with my nephew Jack.
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Uncle Bill and his friend, Judy, also hung out with us that day. Seriously, nobody took any photos of them? Geez.

Funny how nostalgia and family connections can make you love a place. I’ve been to nicer beaches, cleaner boardwalks, and classier coastal towns. But my heart belongs “at the shoo-wah” in Ocean City, NJ.

Christmas War 2012

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.

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I love this shot of their sweet faces!
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William with his loot. The youngest kid gets to open his presents first.
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“Look, Buddy, you got a new belt!” said Nico. Or, a new collar, maybe.
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Nico loading his PEZ dispenser.
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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.
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Suspense built as each couple opened the gift and donned their gear.

John and Kate
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Me and Tony – I was trying for gangsta, but my jammies killed the look.
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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 …
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After everyone unwrapped their presents, my dad brought the Christmas cake inside and asked if anyone wanted any.
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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.
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Tony reloads while Paul has his back.
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Mike, finally armed, and trusty guard dog, Buddy.
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Thank goodness for safety glasses, eh Dad?
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Eventually, someone called a truce and everyone regrouped in the kitchen to enjoy another Dickinson Christmas tradition: cinnamon rolls. And then there was peace.
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They’re heeeeeeere!!

Without a doubt, the hardest part of living abroad is being so far away from my family. Many of you know I’m just a wee bit obsessed with my nephews, Nico and Paul. Maybe obsessed is an understatement …

Today, Tony and I were shopping at Kohl’s when my sister, Kate, called. “We took a wrong turn and headed towards Pontiac instead of Utica,” she sighed. “We’re gonna be another hour and a half at least.” After I told her how stupid she was, she shouted, “Just kidding! We’re almost there.” Tony and I bolted to the check-out and raced to the car.

On the way back to my mom’s house, I told Tony, “Don’t freak out Nico by attacking him right away.”
“I know, I have to let HIM come to ME,” he said. I love that Tony adores those boys as much as I do (almost).

Of course I didn’t follow my own advice. I ran into the house and nearly knocked over my sister and her husband with big hugs. Nico laughed, so I scooped him up and gave him a noisy kiss. When I put him down, he ran off and yelled for me to chase him. Unfortunately, Kate’s cattle dog, Sydney, came flying around the corner at that moment, sending Nico airborne. The poor kid did a total WWF flip and slammed down on his back. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. And everything was OK again.

We only spent a few hours together today, but there were so many adorable moments. They drove to our lake house, and I gave 3-year-old Nico a personal tour. He was hilarious.
“This is Aunt Shari’s bedroom,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” he said. “Hmmm… and what’s this?”
“That’s the bedspread,” I said.
“Oh, OK,” he said.
When I took him and his brother to the basement-cum-playroom, they shot some Nerf hoops for awhile and then Nico said, “S’cuse me, where’d a lot of toys go?” Apparently I hadn’t bought enough.

The boys took stale hotdog buns to the dock to feed the ducks. At first, we tossed bread chunks to a couple of disinterested waterfowl, but soon the ducky grapevine spread the news that we had snacks and no customers. Ducks came paddling at top speed from all over the lake and knocked each other out of the way to get the bread. Two-year-old Paul could barely contain himself. Every time a duck gobbled a piece of bun, Paul screamed with excitement.

I hated to send the gang back to Mom’s for the night. (On the other hand, I’m sure I wouldn’t have time to write this if they were still here.) Can’t wait to see them in the morning!

Paul scopes out the ducks.
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“Here. Here. Here. Here.” Nico tossed the bread like it was his job.
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Looking at fish.
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