This year I did something different for Christmas. I went to Florida for Christmas week, the week that ended with Christmas Day and the beginning of the Christmas Season. My step-daughter's husbands' family has a condo in Sarasota, which they are planning on selling, and on this, their last family trip, she invited me and her brother's family to join them. And so we did.
It was a mixed blessing for me. Sarasota was unseasonably warm, as has been most of the eastern United States, and 86 and very humid was not kind to my bronchitis. In fact I was much worse, aggravated by my mold and mildew allergy I'm sure. Even in this there is a blessing in that I am now fairly certain that I am not destined to be living in Florida.
Things were much better out at the beach however. The breeze and the salt air cleared my lungs and I could actually breathe, at least until I crossed the threshold into the vegetative interior. Wednesday evening we took a sunset cruise. It was fairly overcast, and the clouds dampened the sunset, but it was lovely anyway. In the top photo we are looking back at the gulf, in that little gap between the two keys, and the photo above, is of downtown Sarasota as we head in to port, the almost-full moon beckoning with promise of light and joy to come.
There were adventures I missed, like a trip to Myakka park, simply because I could not breathe everytime I stepped outdoors in the interior, and it seemed like a trip to misery from my perspective. But I happily stayed indoors, wrapping gifts, drinking tea, and reading some light fiction. Perhaps someday I will return, at a time of kinder weather, without dragging bronchitis around.
And there were moments of great joy as well. One such time involved sneaking back into my step-daughter's condo after Owen had gone to sleep on Christmas Eve, in order to populate the area under the tree with gifts and brightly wrapped packages, and fill stockings. I wanted Owen to wake up that to moment I have always relished, of seeing all the gifts under the tree, that moment of immense hope and joy. (but I forgot to take a picture of the tree fully loaded). Besides one of my grandmotherly duties was to see that Santa's gift arrived.
Even though I did not still believe in Santa by the time I was 9. I have always believed in the joy of Christmas, and in gifts, in the joy and hope of Christmas morning, and the promise and love that is symbolized by gift giving. We give gifts, hopefully out of love and joy, not obligation, as both a reminder and a promise. I still love the Christmas Day rituals, seeing the gifts under the tree, and the joy of opening the gifts. I am still often the first one up on Christmas morning, even if I have been up late at midnight services. Apparently, one mile apart, Owen and I were both up at 5:30, filled with joy. He staring at the tree and reading a book, me singing Christmas carols as I took Tikka for a walk and puttered about in the kitchen, making coffee and browning meat for the Christmas Pot Roast. Cooking and the rituals of preparing food, setting tables, and celebratory meals, the rituals attached to the meal, all of this is a kind of service, a sharing of joy and love, and it is true that I was singing and dancing in the kitchen as I cooked.
I arrived early, before everyone else was up. I still don't understand it, to me the joy is palpable and I cannot sleep. I turned on the tree lights for Owen and we took Tikka for another walk. And then, of course, there was the great unwrapping. I adore watching everyone's faces, and the flurry of paper and ribbon, the anticipation and joy of it all. In fact I want to watch everyone else, more than I want to unwrap my own gifts, although my gifts were all wonderful and included a couple of books I might not have found on my own, but which I will thoroughly enjoy reading, and a photo of my handsome grandson. Then we had breakfast and trooped off to the beach to join the Christmas throngs, where everyone had a good time.
On Saturday I packed up my condo and met with two friends who have each relocated to Florida, in different cities, having lunch with one, and dinner with the other and long fabulous conversations with both. I was reminded that I have been remiss, and it is long past time that I begin making a greater effort.
Then on Sunday we drove to Atlanta for a couple of days, returning home yesterday. We stayed in midtown, where I had not stayed before, and it was a perfect spot for us. We were two blocks from Piedmont park, where Tikka and I took long walks every day, and 5 blocks from the High Museum, in an area that was lovely to walk in with a very people and dog-friendly mix of business and residential areas and a variety of restaurants as well. Even though it was still unseasonably warm, the cooler temperatures were better for both of us, and Tikka seems to enjoy these brief forays as a city dog. But yes, we are also happy to be home. Tikka couldn't wait for a walk around "her" neighborhood, and I was happy to once again sleep in my own bed.
(sunrise from our hotel room in Atlanta)
And there were more presents. We came home to a big box from my aunt which contained two beautiful red glass vases, which I already know how I will use in next year's decorations -- promises of Christmas future.