We were on schedule when I decided to make a quick pit-stop to visit my G-Ma. We were completely exhausted, but you can see her house from the road and I know it makes her day when she is our first stop in Sconnie. We only stayed for 15 minutes, but it was great to give her a hug and say hello. We headed on to my parents house and it was wonderful to be greeted by hugs and smiles.
The next day, we slept in and woke just in time to receive a call that my parents new exchange student would be arriving in a few hours. We helped my Pops and littlest sister settler her in. My newest exchange sister is Italy and a total sweetheart. J and I shared with her our stories of our trips to Italy and she seemed to enjoy them. We asked her a few questions about her culture, but tried not to pester. That afternoon brought a rousing game of Spinner (if you haven't played it - you should!) and we all had a blast.
After the game, we were all sitting around and I was overcome by the joy of being back with my family. I actually had the leave the room because I didn't want them all to see me getting choked-up over something as simple as their laughter and smiles. Looking back, I wish I had shared this moment with them because I don't think they know how much I truly miss them. It was a special moment that I will never forget.
Christmas Eve was upon us and our trip was sadly nearing its end. Eight days seems like a long time when planning, but the reality is that it is just never enough time to spend with those you love. Of all the days together over the holidays, Christmas Eve is my favorite and has me itching to get my hands on some of my Mom's cooking. Mom does her final baking (cookies and fudge don't last long with all of us there) and then makes a few pies for the extended family gatherings on Christmas day. Us kids then set the table with the good table clothes and china (doesn't happen often in our house) and help Mom and Dad finish making dinner. We always say a prayer and then dig in.
After dinner we all get ready to head to church. Christmas Eve has always been extra special for me as I was born a week before Christmas and haven't missed a Christmas Eve church service in 28 years. My favorite part of our local church service is singing Silent Night in the candle light. It is always so magical. We always end our night with a family board game and then it is off to bed so that Santa can visit.
The next morning my Pops prepares a huge breakfast that my G-Ma and aunt give us as a thank you for all the errand running during the year. If you can imagine it, we pretty much eat it... pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash-browns, etc. It is one of my favorite things about Christmas morning. This year, we were blessed not only to have a new exchange student at the table with us, but my sister's boyfriend of five years, his sister, and his grandma join us. Her boyfriend and his sister lost their father earlier this year in a horrible accident and are now parent-less (their Mom died of cancer a few years back). Their maternal grandmother moved in with them and they are now even more intertwined into our lives. It was truly a blessing to have such a full table.
We continued our festivities by opening gifts among those who were there for breakfast and then headed over to the Miller Christmas. My Mom's family is a blast. We ate and ate and ate, then we opened gifts and you may remember that I previously wrote about a photo restoration project I was working on. I am happy to report that both G-Ma and her sister loved the framed photo for their father and his siblings. My Mom was happy to report that G-Ma has repeatedly called it "priceless" and there is honestly no better compliment! We ended our time with the Miller family by playing BINGO. This is the highlight for us younger generations because everyone chips in gifts (gift cards, trinkets, toys, $50 bill, etc.) and we have a blast playing. There must have been 40 gifts this year!
I then rounded up the siblings and gave a little genealogy update. I made a binder for each of my Mom's siblings and put their family tree in the front cover. Inside were the results and detailed information we received from our Y-Chromosome and mtDNA testing. The family was excited to see this information, but had a lot of DNA questions that I tried my best to answer. I also included the 3 ancestral spotlights I had previously done for this blog and an additional one so that each sibling had one on all four of their grandparents. They were a hit to say the least! I hope to add one or two spotlights a year to their binders.
We ended our night with my Dad's family and had good chats with the relatives that I hadn't talked to in months (sometimes years). It was busy and it made me happy with our choice to stop down before the festivities to visit with my Grandparents. We cut out after a few hours and went back to my parents to pack for our 6 am departure.
All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas.