Happy Holidays 2005

These notes record the events of the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. 


Alex had planned a gathering of the clan in Glen Mills, but our granddaughter Sarah from Atlanta was sick and couldn't make the trip. We still had a pretty big crowd including 3 granddaughters. We had plenty of help for the preparation of the stuffing and the turkey flew on schedule and was in the pre-heated oven at 12:15 PM. We walked, cooked, set the table, and played games until dinner time, scheduled for 5:00 PM. We had picked up a "fresh" turkey at Giant Markets on Wednesday, and the turkey was clearly marked "FRESH" on the outside. Also, it was soft on the outside. However, the turkey must have been frozen on the inside, because after 4½ hours of roasting, followed by another ½ hour at a higher temperature, the turkey wasn't cooked properly. We salvaged some of the outer breast slices, but had to discard the stuffing and the rest of the turkey - no turkey leftovers for us. The rest of the meal was excellent. Rachel bellied up to the holiday table and enjoyed sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes from the big people's meal. As we were enjoying pumpkin and blueberry pie with whipped cream and ice cream, the electricity went out due to a tree blown over by the heavy wind. We broke out candles and flashlights and finished dessert; rumor has it that some people continued to eat in the total darkness, but this is unconfirmed. We all huddled near the gas log and read children's books until bedtime. Alex broke out some heavy comforters because the electricity was still out when we went to bed. At 4:00 AM when it was 19° F. outside, the electricity came on.

Thankfully, I didn't have to be involved in any heavy shopping on Black Friday. The closest I came was a trip to Borders. Saturday was a great football day, almost culminated by a victory by Stanford (my old home team when I was a cub scout) over Notre Dame (never my home team, but used to be part of my home religion). On Sunday, Cathy and I attended St. John's, a small Episcopal church in Concordville. The service was excellent in that "tithing" was not mentioned at all. The after church snack of Chex Mix was especially enjoyed by our granddaughter Bridget. I held out for a Starbucks treat followed by lunch at Moe's. Cathy and I spent the late afternoon walking 6 miles in the King of Prussia Plaza and Court (we know how to do it in two passes through the two malls, one heading to the right and one heading to the left). We topped (or bottomed) off the evening with a mediocre dinner at TGI Friday (TG I don't have to eat there often).

We started the week after Thanksgiving by designing a collage for a Christmas card from Snapfish. If you are not on our list, feel free to click here for a look at what you are missing. The message that you won't get is "Seasons Greetings from Our Home to Yours"; this was the only card that fit our photo without extensive cropping. If you study the photo, you'll see a secret message from Katie's daughter to her brother Bill. The insert for the card is here.

We walked the towpath along the Delaware River between New Hope, PA and Stockton, NJ, traveling north in NJ and south along a suddenly empty canal in PA. Someone sent two dozen beautiful roses to Tom and Katie, anonymously. If this gift was not meant to be a secret, please let Tom and Katie know. Cathy made me spend a long afternoon at the Montgomeryville Mall doing some serious Christmas shopping; sometimes it's hard being a nice guy.

On Friday, December 2, we had to attend the annual dinner for the Cape May County Pollution Control Financing Authority. It was a cold and blustery night, but a good dinner in front of the fireplace at the Blue Claw restaurant did wonders to remove the chill. We had a lot of fun and had a great dinner. On Saturday, it was cold and windy again, so I watched college football games all day. On Sunday we walked our usual 6 mile route along the Bay; the temperature went up to 50 in the sunshine as we walked. The next time we walked along the canal near New Hope, there was snow and ice.

Our annual dinner with Jim Sosna and Linda Keech found us at the Harbor View restaurant in Cape May on Saturday, December 10. We had an excellent dinner with a view. Earlier we had walked the beach from Cape May to Cape May Point and saw the sailboat that was heading for California when it got hung up on the sand near the Cape May Lighthouse. The next day we went to a luncheon in Ventnor organized by Cathy's former teaching colleagues. Afterward, we took a 9 mile walk on the boardwalk and then enjoyed dinner at the Crab Trap in Somers Point. I brought my skis to Doylestown and had a good time skiing at Peace Valley; the Doylestown area received about 8 inches of snow the previous Friday. Katie and Tom had done a beautiful job decorating for the Yule season and the snow only enhanced the appearances. In the same spirit, Rachel's daycare sent home a photo that they made into a Yule tree ornament.

We heard from Phil that, thanks to his generosity, we will be going to the Orange Bowl on January 3. I made a reservation for us at the Aqua Hotel in South Beach Miami, an area that we've wanted to explore. On Thursday, December 16 I went skiing at Peace Valley. I worked up a good sweat in spite of the 14° F. air. I believe that if one has to endure the pits of winter, one should embrace it with outdoor activities. On Thursday, December 15, we had a winter storm, which produced a pretty RADAR picture, but amounted to a few flurries, and an overnight of wind and rain.

On Friday, December 16, we ate a holiday dinner with our neighbors, Jim and Fran Lewis, at Alfe's Restaurant in Wildwood. We had a good dinner and good conversation. Saturday was a beautiful December day. We celebrated with a nice walk along the Bay with the last mile on the beach. I found several interesting stones and 3 pieces of sea glass that had been stirred up from recent storms. We tried the Pier House in Cape May for dinner and were surprised at how good the meal was, surprised because the restaurant is on the site of the old Water's Edge Restaurant. Our waiter, Carlos, had been laid off by the Lobster House after their devastating fire. On Sunday, we drove to Alex and Phil's home to enjoy a holiday celebration including presents exchange (pics: 1,2,3,4,5). The house was decorated festively, and with 3 granddaughters (pics: 1,2,3) on the scene, it was a lively party. Tom used his engineering expertise to help Erin assemble a Star Wars Lego set. Bridget received a Disney dress-up chest. Rachel now has a Pillsbury Poppin' Fresh doll as did her mother when she was a child. We also enjoyed watching Rachel in her beginning efforts to eat Cheerios. I presented a St. Bridgid's Cross to Bridget as an early Imbolc gift. Cathy and I stayed for take-out pizza.

Monday, December 19, was Katie's birthday. We roasted the traditional chicken with oranges inside and supplied a Carvel cake for dessert. A highlight gift was a necklace from Tom featuring 3 vertical diamonds. On Wednesday, we celebrated Yule on the Winter Solstice. Katie and Tom left to take a train to NYC which was in the midst of a transit strike. Cathy and I took Rachel to the Montgomery Mall we walked around with her in the backpack and ate lunch in Starbucks. Cathy liked the style of Rachel's shoes and bought a pair just like them to wear on New Year's Eve in South Beach. While Katie and Tom were in NYC, they saw the Producers and were part of the crowd outside at the Today Show.

After Katie and Tom returned back home on Thursday afternoon, Cathy and I headed the XTerra toward the south. We were both a bit tired, so we only drove a short distance to Harrisonburg, VA, home of James Madison University. We stayed at a very comfortable Holiday Inn Express and enjoyed dinner at Pano's Restaurant nearby. On Friday, we drove the remainder of the trip to Bill and Stacy's home in Cumming, GA. The temperature was a balmy 61° when we arrived around 4:00 PM. We were happy to see Sarah and her parents again after too many months. She was now very actively crawling and climbing up on things. The last time we visited, Bill was just wrapping up his MBA from Indiana University. This time, we were able to see his diploma. We ate take-out Chinese and Thai for dinner. On Christmas Eve we did some major league food shopping. After lunch I walked 2 laps around the neighborhood at 2 miles per hilly lap while Cathy and Stacey did some last minute gift shopping. Later, Cathy and I took Sarah in her stroller for a last lap. The rain started around 5:30 PM. We watched "Chirstmas Vacation" while Sarah dressed like Cosette from Les Miserables. Bill read "The Night Before Christmas" to Sarah before "she nestled all snug in her bed with visions...". In Pennsylvania, our other granddaughters were enjoying similar readings (pics: 1,2). We had a wonderful meal: squash soup and shrimp etouffe. Then it was time for Bill to find out what Daddies do on the night before Christmas. Sarah came down on Christmas morning to enjoy her first Christmas. We had a good session of present opening (pics: 1,2,3,4); my best toy was a pair of picture-taking binoculars from Bill and Stacey. We enjoyed Stacy's waffles for the traditional Christmas Brunch. Then we turned our attention to preparations for the Christmas feast. I had so much help that I had to employ two levels of management and found myself in a directorship. The turkey flew at 1:10 PM. We sat down to dinner at 6:00 PM and enjoyed Sarah's company along with the great food.

On the Monday after Christmas, Cathy and I walked two laps of the neighborhood. Then I went out and shot a few pictures around Bill and Stacy's backyard with my new binoculars/camera. We babysat Sarah while Bill and Stacey went out to dinner and a movie. On Tuesday, after a couple of laps of the neighborhood, we all drove to the new Atlanta Aquarium in Bill and Stacey's "I'll never get a" minivan. Stacey had arranged for reservations for us, so we handled the crowded conditions easily. The aquarium is truly awesome (pics: 1,2,3,4) (videos: 1,2,3,4). Sarah had a great time looking at the aquatic displays and the people. After a very interesting visit to the aquarium, we walked to the CNN Center under a beautiful blue sky and ate a good late lunch at McCormick and Schmick Restaurant as we did in 2004. On Wednesday, I had to put in 5 hours of work on a client project. Later, I walked 3 laps of the neighborhood, joined by Cathy for 2 of them. Sarah had her first professional babysitter, Lauren from her daycare, take care of her while the 4 of us went to dinner at Atlantic Seafood in Alpharetta. We had fabulous meals. Thursday morning, Cathy and I took the XTerra to Alpharetta to get an oil change and lub job. We also got a car wash since it was included in the price of the other services. When we got back, we helped to take down the lovely big tree. After lunch we took Sarah out for a short walk. She looked like one of the Russian beauties in the movie, Spies Like Us. I walked a full 3 laps of the neighborhood.

We reluctantly left Cumming on Friday, December 30, but we had to get to Miami to attend the Orange Bowl football game. We left at 10:00 AM and suffered through some slow traffic south of Atlanta. We stopped driving a bit after 6:00 PM at Winter Garden, FL, near Orlando. The outside air was beginning to feel like Florida, with a touch of balminess. We stayed at a Best Western motel and ordered pizza for the room as we watched the University of Miami embarrass itself against LSU in the Peach Bowl football game. Miami even lost the fight after the game, an activity that they used to excel at. We got going before 8:00 AM on Saturday morning and experienced light to moderate traffic to our destination of South Beach. We stored our luggage at the Aqua Hotel and then parked the XTerra in a nearby parking garage. We couldn't check-in until 4:00 PM, so we walked on the beach and enjoyed the sights and the 85° air. We saw several thongs, a couple of them on women, and lots of interesting characters on the beach. I noticed that the beach and the hotels lining it looked almost exactly like South Padre Island, TX. After we checked-in to our room (pics: 1,2), we changed into our New Year's Eve attire and headed out for the evening. We walked around for a while and then accidentally chose, as our third choice, what must be the worst restaurant in South Beach, and maybe in Florida. We paid $178 for a mostly inedible meal, served by a haughty waiter who informed us that there was a 2 hour limit on the table. It was interesting to have a table right on the edge of Ocean Drive, allowing a close-up view of the sights and sounds of holiday reveling, but the food was unbelievably bad. We started with fried calamari, probably fresh out of a Mrs. Paul's box, and insalata Caprese with mushy tomatoes. This was followed by an average serving of fried shrimp, laid on a bed of heavily chlorinated rice, and a overly rich serving of crab and lobster ravioli, which seemed mostly like a few ravioli covered with heavy cream. My bottle of mineral water cost $10 and was by far the best part of the meal. The coup de grace was the addition of an automatic 20% gratuity to the already inflated bill. The name of this horrible restaurant is Ocean's Ten , on the corner of Ocean and 10th streets in South Beach. Tell your friends to avoid it under all circumstances. I haven't had a meal this bad since one in Plymouth, MA in 1978. After dinner, I enjoyed a triple Cappuccino at Starbucks and then we viewed some nice fireworks (videos: 1,2) on the beach at midnight. This was the first time we were awake at midnight on New Year's Eve since the end of 2003, when we were camping in the Keys. Thus ended another eventful year, the year of the grandchildren. Our adventures continue with "On the Road 2006".

William G. McArthur