Christmas 2008 Part I
A little summary of our Christmas break. It’s gotten long so I’m dividing the trip in half. If nothing else it provides a historic reference. Hah!
We flew 9.5 hrs to Chicago. Somehow in Dusseldorf we lost my second boarding ticket so we had to scramble to figure out where to go withing Chicago airport. When you have a connecting flight and something goes wrong, doesn’t it feel like your life suddenly turned into an episode of the Amazing Race? Turns out it was United ticketing we needed, even though we booked through Lufthansa. Our flight from Chicago to Tampa was over-booked and United was offering free flights but we didn’t go for it – there was an ice storm about to hit the area and we had a rental car and a hotel waiting for us in Tampa.
We arrived to a balmy (humid) Tampa around 9 p.m. and picked up a G6 midsize car from Alamo, which is a little tradition for D and me. For the last 3 years we have used this rental agency and always go for the G6 if it is available. Our G6 had satellite radio this year though, which was a bit of a bummer because we just wanted to listen to the local Tampa radio. hah.
After we got checked into the Chase Hotel,
which turns out to be a pretty nice suite hotel with a workable kitchen,
we walked across the parking lot to the Bahama Breeze just next door. We split the Calypso shrimp – it’s so GOOD there. Basically it’s shrimp and linguine in a spicy cream sauce. MMMmm. It was late, maybe just after 10 p.m. when we arrived. Once again, we were amazed at the difference between European and America dining experiences. The whole meal took a total of a about 20 minutes.
St. Petersburg, FL
Friday we slept in until around 9, got breakfast at the hotel, and headed to St. Petersburg, to my grandmother’s house. We arrived while she was still at the church, where she volunteers on Friday mornings, so we let ourselves in. We immediately met my grandmother’s new Yorkshire terrier, Annie:
She’s a ball of energy but sweet. We dropped our stuff in the guest room and I checked out the packages I had shipped there. Shortly after, my grandmother arrived and we decided that D and I would go to the bank to take care of that errand and then we’d all go for lunch at Gulfport beach, my grandmother’s stomping grounds. We ate at a place called O’Maddys. Surprisingly it’s not Irish. We had sandwiches at an outdoor table to enjoy the sun. Florida in December is really a-w-e-s-o-m-e. To think, I spent my whole childhood not realizing this fact.
Later, around 5, we all visited my grandmother’s dog park, also in Gulfport. This was D and my first dog park experience. This dog park is basically two fenced in areas, one for the big dogs and one for the small-medium sized dogs. To enter, there is square, fenced-in area, with a double gate, so the dogs inside can’t get out while new dog-and-dog owner’s enter. We were there for about 1.5 hours, and the peak, which was around 6 p.m., there were ~20 dogs. Wowsa.
Everyone on my dad’s side got together at my grandmother’s around 1 p.m. for the official pre-Christmas shindig. We had ham, salad, corn casserole (which has become the traditional side dish for this family), green beans, baked beans, rolls, etc… I brought out some German desserts that were well received also. We saw my cousin’s son, Jackson, who was born earlier this year, and he is a wide blue-eyed cutie. D always finds my grandmother’s yard a wonderland – since within it resides a key lime, tangerine, AND pink grapefruit trees. The key limes either ripened earlier in the year or never came, but there were beaucoup de tangerines and big fat grapefruits galore.
After the party, D and I drove to Tampa to drop the rental car and continued to Inverness, Florida where we’d spend the week at my mother’s house.
My aunt and uncle arrived from Georgia, they were staying the week at my mother’s house with us too. They have bought property about 20 minutes from my mom and my maternal grandmother, and want to build on it eventually. We all admired my mother’s newly remodeled kitchen
and living room, then went shopping for food for the week.
On Monday, D, my sister Liz, and I went to the nearest mall, about 35 minutes away in Ocala. We didn’t get an early start and then our stop at Olive Garden for lunch took quite a while. Waiting for lunch at Olive Garden? Yes, it happens. There was so much traffic though, that we deemed the wait reasonable. Later, after my sister Amanda got off work, we all went to see the movie Twilight. Twilight was okay. It was a little intense in a strange way. I think someone watching it that had not read the book would think it disjunct. By far, the most annoying thing to me was Jacob’s bad wig job, right?!?! They really thought they sold that look? Meh.
After some back and forth about when we should go to Orlando to see my sister’s place, we decided to go on Tuesday but just for the day. Her aparment and the complex is nice and centrally located. It was a blue sunshiny day, and though it was a bit chilly, the mulitple pools and the hot tub looked refreshing. We also toured the on-site restaurant next to the pool, the community gym, and the indoor sports courts. After lunch at BJ’s,
we dropped D at the apartment’s basketball court, for which he was thrilled, while us girls went for another round of last-minute shopping.
I’d rather play basketball than shop on a normal day but spending time with my sisters was fun.
Once the shopping was accomplished we picked up D and headed downtown to Total Wine. Think a giant store of just wine. We bought 4 bottles: three reds and one Chardonnay, and again I saw the wine glasses without stems. This is the new trendy thing?
Wednesday 24th Christmas Eve
D and I made baked salmon for the family Christmas Eve dinner. Publix generally has good quality fresh salmon by the way. We were expecting 9 for dinner so we bought 3 lbs of salmon, to go with farfalle (bowtie pasta) and pesto, and a salad. My sister Liz made this spinach artichoke dip recipe for an appetizer. If you like cheese, you will love this. We ended up having 6 for dinner because my mom’s friend couldn’t attend, my grandmother was tired, and my sister Amanda had to work, but we still managed to finish ALL the salmon. Hah.
Thursday 25th Christmas
We proceeded to open presents once all were awake.
Everyone got cool stuff. Discussing the gifts would take too long but everything was well-received, yay! Then we commenced with cooking a turkey and all the sides. I wanted to try the upside down baking method I’d read about at Simply Recipes. Success! Even flipping the turkey for the last 20 minutes went off without a hitch.
Crystal River, FL
Friday was our last full day in Florida. Liz, Amanda, D and I drove West, in search of manatees. Instead, we found a closed manatee refuge (just closed for the holidays I think). We drove West again, to the marina where I know you can rent boats by the hour but we were turned away again. The rental shop said the tide was too low for renting boats and that we’d probably run aground unless were were headed directly at the spring head for diving, which wasn’t our mission for the day. Sigh. So instead, we drove even further West to the beach in Crystal River. D had the foresight to bring along his swim shorts so he went swimming while the rest of us just waded.
It was hot outside and there were hundreds of seagulls in the air.
Ended up borrowing an extra small suitcase from my mother, to make it a total of 4, to carry all this stuff! Then we drove to Tampa International to depart for Canada! Continued in Christmas 2008 Part II.