Relief is probably the thought uppermost in most people’s minds–relief that this year is finally drawing to a close. Relief and hope that 2021 will be an improvement. Thanksgiving for our family is always an opportunity to remember our many blessings (and to eat lots of food). We feel fortunate that our extended families are healthy <knock on wood!> and that we are weathering the shocks cheerfully and with resilience (mostly).
Thanksgiving was a quiet one for us this year, but that did not mean the meal was going to suffer in any way. Here is our menu for the evening:
With a menu like that, prep sheets are necessary:
The meal turned out well. The smoked turkey looked especially beautiful this year:
The deep-fried turkey is generally the most popular to eat:
The velociraptor (aka the son) is always a fan of the gougères:
And the spread looked impressive, even for a small group.
No Thanksgiving is complete without dessert. We went with our traditional desserts this year. A chocolate-pumpkin cheesecake, representing the traditional pumpkin requirement:
An apple pie
And a blackberry pie (the blackberries are from Lewis County, Washington)
We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive (in a pandemic, surreal kind of way). Happy Thanksgiving!
What’s the best way to get rid of the winter doldrums? The answer is to travel to the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld), run a 10K during princess half-marathon weekend, and then luck into being able to ride the newest ride at Disneyworld, The Rise of the Resistance.
This is the second year that Jim and I have run the Princess 10K. It’s the perfect distance for us. First, it’s not a real race distance, so there are fewer hard-core runners in the race. Second, it is the perfect psychological distance because you are done once you hit double digits. And, third, I don’t have to train for it because Jim sets the pace during the race. 😊
The unexpected obstacle we hit this year was the unusual cold in Orlando. At 5:00 am the morning of the race (which started at 5:30 am), the temperature was 47 degrees and windy. This is perfectly good running weather. This is horrible wait-for-the-race-to-start weather. I don’t think I thawed out until the next day (when it was 72 degrees and sunny). But the race was good, and Jim did much better this year than last year. This year, no one asked him on five separate occasion whether he was okay in the 100 yards between the finish line and the bus. Progress.
The Rise of the Resistance is the newest and most popular ride at Disneyworld. Conventional wisdom says that you need to be at Hollywood Studios by 6:30 am, be in the park at 7:00 when it opens in order to obtain a boarding pass to the ride. There is no shortcut (well, I am sure there is a shortcut, but not one we could find, and we looked). The three of us decided it wasn’t worth getting up that early to try to get on the ride since we knew we’d be back soon, and we were leaving that day. However, we were at Hollywood Studios by 8:00 am and decided to try and get a boarding pass just for fun. While we did manage to get a boarding pass, it was a waitlist boarding pass. Disney only kinda sorta guarantees groups 1-63 (and not even that), and we were boarding group 132. So we thought not only was it unlikely we would get to board, but it was even more unlikely we would get to board before we had to leave to catch our plane.
We were in EPCOT when it became clear that our boarding group was likely to be called around 5:00 pm (we had to leave at 6:00 to catch our plane). We rushed out of EPCOT, drove to Hollywood Studios, arrived at 5:00 at which point our boarding group had already been called. We power walked through Hollywood Studios, arrived at The Rise of the Resistance at 5:09, and were through the ride by 5:50 pm.
In case anyone is interested, the ride (really, an experience/ride) was beyond description!! It was a totally immersive experience, the special effects were incredible, and we walked out of the ride thinking it was one of the most amazing theme park experiences we’ve ever had.
We have marvelous friends (more like family) who, for some unfathomable reason, decided to host a New Year’s Eve dinner and invited us to help cook (the unfathomable part of it was letting us help cook). What that really meant, of course, is that they allowed us into their kitchen to create a gigantic mess. Who does this, other than family?
Anyway, the huge mess we created did actually result in a delicious dinner. The menu was as follows:
Apple Rutabaga soup (served with 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal)
Royal Petrossian Caviar station
Tuna Fire & Ice (served with Mountain Field Treasure Junmai Sake)
Foie Gras on brioche (served with 2017 Bouchard Père & Fils Chassagne-Montrachet)
Uncrab Cakes with Crab (served with 2017 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay)
Wagyu and Marrow Bones (served with 1998 Rudd Estate Jericho Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon)
Bûche de Noel (served with 2003 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes)
New Year’s Eve itself was celebrated with a bottle of 2006 Pol Roger (Winston Churchill’s favorite champagne)
I wish I could say that I didn’t eat after that for a month, but, alas, that is simply not true.
Our son goes to a private high school in Washington, DC where the academics are excellent, the kids are (mostly) affluent, and the pressure can sometimes be intense. This is especially true during the last week of October when the seniors have Early Action college applications due (November 1 is the actual due date). Marcus (on his own) decided that the high schoolers all needed to relax, have some fun, and remember to be children again. So he decided that Halloween week needed to be celebrated. He proposed his idea to student government, who were enthusiastically in favor, and then to the administration, which gave him permission to move forward. Monday, 10/28, was the first day. Marcus managed to convince a group of his friends to show up to the school at 7:00 am (an hour before school started) to help him decorate the high school. And so it happened.
He also held a photo scavenger hunt (e.g. take a selfie with something orange, take a selfie with someone from every grade, etc.). His first winner emailed him the photos at 8:07 am. (He decided to award 3 prizes that day instead of 1.) Tuesday, 10/29 was Halloween trivia contest day. And Wednesday, 10/30 was a pumpkin hunt (like an Easter egg hunt, only for pumpkins) and a mummy wrap game. But Thursday, Halloween itself, was the highlight. A costume contest was held, with winners awarded from each grade. In addition, a faculty and staff costume contest also took place. To Marcus’s delight, the hallways were filled with costumed students and faculty alike, all excited about Halloween. Trick-or-treating with student government staffed stations and some faculty during class also took place. And, at the end of the day, faculty and students alike had some fun, remembered their inner child, and celebrated Halloween together. As the Head of School said, “It almost felt like a real high school.”
To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.” If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary. The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.) Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.
Well, more accurately, the 2nd summer trip, this time to Hong Kong and Tokyo—a quick trip as we were gone just over a week. Jade has been in Hong Kong this summer on an internship where she is developing a curriculum to teach disadvantaged Hong Kong kids how to code. (As a math/computer science social conscience Chinese-speaking person, this checks all of her boxes.). She’s had a great substantive summer and also has a great first-hand experience in how democracy should work (i.e. the importance of the right of assembly under the 1st Amendment). The first items the organizers hand the protesters are a mask (to defeat the excellent facial recognition software China has) and a bilingual sign asking the police to stay calm.
It was all quite civilized and British until the Chinese raised the stakes. It still is very safe as long as you avoid the areas where the protesters are (which are generally published ahead of time—did I mention that this was all very civilized?). However, with 10,000 Chinese troops garrisoned in Hong Kong, there is a very real risk of all of this going sideways quite quickly. In fact, I kind of feel like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity Wars when he says he’s looked at 14+ million futures and only sees 1 where Thanos is defeated. I can’t picture that many scenarios, of course, but I don’t see one where it ends well for Hong Kong.
That being said, we had a lovely several days wandering around Hong Kong, including a trip to Hong Kong Disney with the four of us.
There is nothing quite like Disney to restore one’s faith in human nature. Perhaps our family chronicles can be marked solely by meals, trips to a Disney park, and trips to Hawaii.
Tokyo was our next stop. This year is the 20th anniversary of the US-Japan Leadership Program and the last year of George Packard’s leadership of the US-Japan Foundation. The celebration was festive and filled with gratitude and appreciation. Jim and I saw people we hadn’t seen in years as people came from all around the globe to help celebrate this milestone. There were people from every year of the program in attendance. It truly was an amazing experience.
By now, there isn’t much more that I can say about this little bit of paradise than I haven’t already said.
So let me just mention the highlights of this trip, which include the following:
Continuing our 4th of July tradition of spending it with Dianne, John, Benjamin and Isabelle (this time in Honolulu)
Getting to spend the 4th of July holiday with our former exchange student, Yinan
Unsuccessfully going deep sea fishing (not a nibble!) and having the entire group overdosing on Bonine, much to the dismay of the non-deep sea fishing group who discovered the Bonine-overdosed group was useless for the rest of the day
Parasailing, which was a really fun experience (it is eerily quiet 400 feet up in the air and, of course, incomparably beautiful)
Meals at our favorite Honolulu restaurants—Chef Mavro and The Pig & the Lady (let the record reflect that I am the “lady”)
We were once again fortunate enough this year to have our college-attending daughter share a spring break with our high school son. After some consultation with the entire family, we decided to spend spring break at the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld). It has been many years since we spent an entire week at Disneyworld, and we were looking forward to an opportunity to do some things that we had not done in a long time or had never done before in and around the parks. Our dual missions were accomplished successfully, as we all had a wonderful time and did things we had never done before (an encounter with Kylo Ren, anyone? He’s a bit scary up close and personal).
Highlights included meeting up with friends whom we had not seen for 20 years who live in Orlando (I know, shame on us); meeting up with friends whom we see regularly but who loathe Disney in an attempt to brainwash them otherwise (our attempt met with modest success);
and the velociraptor consuming a large pizza meant for 2-3 people by himself at Via Napoli (in Epcot) for lunch (I am incredibly envious of his metabolism). The parks were crowded, but we rode all the rides we wanted multiple times and even saw some shows that we hadn’t seen in a while (including Festival of the Lion King and, despite the reluctance exhibited by the daughter, It’s Tough to be a Bug). We ate well, played well, and spent some quality family time together. As the velociraptor said, “This was one of the best spring breaks ever!”
Before you get the idea that we’re runners or anything, understand that we don’t run races, we run/walk them (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking). That method pretty much rules us out of any runners of the year type of awards. That being said, in the winter, Jim needs a motivating exercise event. When the weather is nice, he can play tennis forever. But he hates exercising for the sake of exercising. (Exercise relaxes me and gives me peace of mind—I like it.) So we came up with the idea of signing up for a race. There were multiple factors in deciding where and what to enter. First, wherever it was, the weather had to be pleasant—not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. (Yes, we are high maintenance runners.) Second, while we ran a half-marathon several years ago, it wasn’t an ideal distance. Mentally, you’re done when you hit the 10 mile mark, and you still have 3.1 miles to go. And, third, the destination had to be one of the rewards for doing the run. We found one race that fits all of the criteria—the Disney Princess Enchanted 10K. First, Orlando in February is usually lovely (it wasn’t this time, but more on that later). Second, a 10K is perfect as it requires training but not a lot. And, third, what better place to go to race than Disneyworld? (I know, I know—reasonable minds disagree on that last point.) In the end, it was unseasonably hot in Orlando last weekend, but, fortunately, the race was held at 5:30 in the morning, and there was a breeze, so the temperature wasn’t a problem. (What was a problem was that we had to get up at 3:00 am to get to the race on time—it was not this non-morning person’s favorite part of the race.) The 10K is also a great distance because it’s not considered a “real” distance by serious runners, which means the bulk of the runners were doing it for fun and not taking it too seriously. There was wonderful camaraderie on the shuttle bus as we were waiting for the start. And the Princess Marathon weekend itself is a hoot. For those of you familiar with the Bay-to-Breakers race, think costumes along those lines but without the sexually inappropriate ones. For those of you who are not familiar with Bay-to-Breakers, a large number of the runners are dressed in variety of elaborate princess outfits, tutus, tiaras, and other Disney costumes. The race itself included live music and characters along the route, and many runners stopped to take photos with the characters. We were more concerned about being able to finish so did not succumb to the distractions as we wended our way through Epcot. We both finished in 1:14.42 and are quite happy with our time and finishing the race without any trips to the emergency room (my threshold for a successful trip of any kind!). It was so much fun that we might even do it again next year!
We are creatures of habit, even if we prefer to call them traditions. Tradition dictates that during Presidents’ Day weekend, we join our ski-loving friends in Deer Valley for a weekend of skiing. To be sure, our family can best be described as 2 non-skiers, 1 reluctant skier, and 1 enthusiastic skier. The enthusiastic skier (the 17 year old boy) has now skied a total of 1 weekend a year for the past 5 years and tackled his first black diamond slope on Sunday with control and skill. See below:
Despite the 1 in 4 skiing enthusiast ratio in our family, we thoroughly enjoy the weekend. Deer Valley is the Nordstrom of ski resorts, with excellent customer service and friendly staff (not to mention good skiing). Park City has a cute and fun downtown to walk around (we are particularly partial to the Park City Jewelers.) 🙂 Our contribution is to cook dinner (this year it was cioppino one night and make-your-own-pizza one night). Most importantly, we love spending time with our friends. We have known them for over 25 years, and we appreciate the relatively quiet time over the holiday weekend to re-connect and form new memories together.