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Christmas - Including Mamo's 97th Birthday

December 22-25, 2016
Written December 23+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

d161222_02_santasletter.jpgd161222_04_polarexpress.jpgREAL Christmas starts when grandkids arrive or, in other years, when we arrive at their houses.  For 2016, Gabby brought Ava and Sam to Fresno, starting with a stop at our house.   In no time at all, Ava discovered a letter from Santa explaining why some of their presents were in Fresno, but more would show up back home on Christmas Eve.  She could hardly hold inhere excitement and soon Sam had to join in on the reading stuff with a recitation of his self-made copy of "Polar Express".  Fun and signs that both are getting older every year.
We also managed a couple of staged family pictures.  Nice for our memories and proof that this year's tree made it as long as it had to.  (Actually, it is still quite fresh.  I think our tree seller told the truth when he said it had just been cut the week before we bought it.)

The little family then left to pick up Mamo for the traditional drive through Christmas Tree Lane.  (Not my thing, so I begged out.)  This is a 94-year-old Fresno tradition and normally pretty crowded, but Marianne has figured out how to be first in line.  Christmas smarts.  They shared their pictures with me and I am sharing with you.
d161222_20_pizzaparty.jpgd161222_22_diffstyles.jpgAfter Christmas lights, they went out for pizza, always a favorite of Ava and Sam and Mamo.  Others ate salad as they prepared for over-eating in the next couple of days.

Back at Mamo's, her little tree had been flooded with Christmas packages, contributing to Ava and Sam's continuing excitement. 
Gabby settled things down by providing drawing material and miraculously the noise and chaos was replaced with quiet concentration.  These kids will avoid coal-for-Christmas after all.

Friday the 23rd was a combination birthday and Christmas party over at Mamo's house.  The celebration of a 97th birthday should be special and it was.
While waiting for Henry, Scarlet, and their boys, the rest of us relaxed over hors d'oeuvres. Ava and Sam played Old Maid, one of their favorites.
The kids had the first seating at dinnertime.  Everyone under 10 enjoys mac & cheese!  It was a beef buffet and blessing for the rest of us.
With kids waiting patiently, Mamo gathered her daughters and we started birthday presents.  I think the little givers were as interested as the recipient.
Then there was the chaos of normal Christmas presents.  Fun. 
The evening finished with dessert and four very tired little kids.  In fact, everyone was exhausted, except Mamo.  I think she would have continued for hours, but the rest of us were fading.

d161224_02_breakfast.jpgI started Christmas Eve Day with my normal visit to Starbucks for coffee and "office work", our reference to writing these diaries.  This also gave the rest of the crew an extra hour or two to sleep in, as one probably should do on Christmas Eve.  When I got back, we all settled down for breakfast.  More food, just what we need!
From then, it was no time at all before Gabby took Ava and Sam off to their next Christmas celebration.  (The trip was slightly delayed when Gabby noticed her four tires had gotten a bit deflated in our "cold" weather.  No matter, with some help, she was on her way.)

The rest of the day was quiet, probably too quiet.  Having the celebration and gift-giving early was nice, but that brings the end of the festivities pretty quick.d161224_18_mcdermotts.jpg

Our Cambridge neighborhood has a very nice tradition for Christmas Eve, one that reportedly has been going for decades.  The kids and grandkids of the McDermott's, one of the longest-established families, has a charity fund-raiser each year where they sell luminaria kits ($7.50 a dozen). Folks up and down the block light their walkways and sidewalks.  Last year it rained, but this year the evening was perfect: clear and cool.

I included pictures of the dozen houses that participated because everyone will look for theirs, of course. (Despite my best efforts, I probably missed one or two.)
d161224_40_freyatree.jpgd161224_42_freya.jpgThe neighborhood candle-lighting also serves to get people together, although by the time we were done, everyone else had either run off to church or inside to warm up as best they could.  We decided to drop in at John and Rosemarie Guglielmino's, friends whose name pronunciation we still have to practice. (Hint: it is four syllables and has a couple of silent letters.  No one but they get it right anyway.) They shared their wine and we all played with granddaughter Freya -- something all grandparents need on Christmas Eve.

d161224_50_ourtree.jpgThen it was back home to our own Christmas living room, very quiet indeed.  Ironically, this may have been our best Christmas tree yet, and it never hovered over presents.  Our boys and their three kids were together in Maryland and, of course, Gabby and her pair were back in Los Gatos with their other, larger, family.  Somehow, we need to figure out a way to fill the house better at Christmas next year, or go to a fuller one!


On Christmas Day, Marianne and her mom went off to Saint Anthony's church.  Mamo doesn't get many chances to go to mass, so she values these holiday special events.

After church, the three of us went to Denny's for that other excursion tradition, breakfast out.  She enjoys this too, especially when the place is full of lively customers, as it was this Christmas Day.  It helps too when we can ask for Carmine, her favorite Denny's server.   It also helps when we are in no hurry since Mamo enjoys her food and can put away more than one would think her tiny 97-year-old constitution would demand.  Good for her!
In fact, our only other Christmas Day activity was dinner, so after  few hours break, it was back to Mamo's house for stuffed cabbage.  Apparently, the dish is a Hungarian tradition for the Christmas Season and two family friends had brought over a supply that would last the whole week I think. 

The food was good, but better yet was the time spent listening to Mamo's stories from sixty or seventy years ago of her young life in Budapest.  I am always amazed at how positive her tone is of her 1940s experiences, despite the air raids, bombs, and forced evacuation from Hungary to Austria to Germany.
Marianne also gave a lesson in how smart phone "selfies" are taken.  I'm not sure Magdalena will ever take up the practice, but she did appreciate learning something new that she had been hearing about on TV.  This is proof of that old saw about old dogs and learning!

And that was the end of our official Christmas season, except for taking down the tree and packing up ornaments for another year.  Not picture or story worthy.  I don't even think we have to return any presents, so we will just move on to New Year's preparation.  Later this week, we start with a dog sitting stint in Monte Sereno followed by a few days at Lake Tahoe watching grandkids skiing.  Should be fun.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne

ps: I am working on our 20-year Christmas history, from Shanghai to Fresno, with stops in between.  It isn't done yet, but here's a start.


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