Two joyous events, especially in a year like this one.
In mid-June, we celebrated our daughter’s graduation from Stanford (total brag: she graduated with a degree in math, with distinction, and phi beta kappa). The graduation was a limited in-person event (two fully vaccinated guests per student). Issa Rae was the graduation speaker, and she did an excellent job. In addition, we had two VERY lovely friends who opened their home for a reception after the ceremony for Jade and her friends and their families. It was a truly celebratory day, and I think everyone appreciated the moment even more than they usually would.
Our summer trip was to Honolulu a few weeks later. We rented a house and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. There was a beautiful ocean, there were many beautiful rainbows (Hawaii isn’t called the rainbow state for no reason), there was fabulous food (fancy and not fancy), and there were wonderful guests who stayed with us. It really was a perfect time to relax, eat, and have fun.
I cannot tell you how wonderful Hawaii is. I can feel my blood pressure going down after landing at the Honolulu airport. My east coast friends wonder why we don’t go to the Caribbean for sun and ocean since it’s so much closer. I’ve concluded that it’s best to smile and keep the magical island paradise of Hawaii as a west coast secret. 🙂
In an act of foolhardiness, we decided to go to Hawaii for Christmas. This was foolhardy for several reasons: first, Hawaii has imposed some stringent covid testing requirements in order to be permitted to come; second, there were no non-stop flights to Honolulu due to the lack of flights, which added another wild card to the equation; and, third, we would have to be masked for the entire set of flights.
We decided to rent a house, feeling that it would be safer, especially for Jim’s mom, who was coming as well. It was a beautiful house in the Portlock area, right on the water, with plenty of space for everyone.
Hawaii’s testing requirements were that you have to have a negative covid test within 72 hours of your departing flight to Hawaii from an approved partner. We ended up taking 2 different tests from 2 different partners. Jim received his negative test on Thursday morning, but the rest of us didn’t receive our test results until late Thursday night (our flight to Honolulu left Friday morning). It was rather stressful. But at least we were all negative!
It was a very different trip to Honolulu than any of our others. We rarely left the house, other than to exercise or go grocery shopping. Jim and I did our traditional 7 mile walk around Diamondhead every morning at oh-dark-thirty. (Hawaii is the only place where I am a morning person, and that’s only because we don’t generally bother to change time zones.) We “rented” surfboards (and it’s in quotes because the surf shop actually just lent the surfboards to us without charge), and Marcus went out surfing every day.
Yinan and I taught everyone how to play mahjong, and we now have mahjong addicts as children. Yay for parenting!
The weather was sunny and 80 degrees every day except for the day we left. Not a bad way to spend Christmas!
As with everything this year, Thanksgiving was a little different than usual. Instead of the usual 20+ guests crowd, we had 11 people total, 9 adults. Everyone had tested negative before they arrived. (The new prerequisite: don’t bring a side dish or flowers—bring a negative test result.) Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 11 is barely cooking Thanksgiving dinner at all. It was a surprisingly unstressful experience. We actually ran out of things to do at around 4:00 pm that day. Our Thanksgiving menu is as follows:
Whatever the constraints, it is still a holiday that celebrates thankfulness and gratitude. We are indeed fortunate in our lives, and in this year of all years, we feel grateful for our many blessings.
Because Marcus (wisely) decided to take a gap year instead of attending college in the fall, we decided that his birthday needed celebrating and what better place to celebrate someone’s birthday than at Disneyworld? Disney felt very safe with hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations everywhere, socially distanced lines, and everyone masked. (And when someone—usually an adult—wasn’t masked, a cast member was always quick to remind them.) There were some constraints (no park hopping and no Fastpasses) and not everything was open, but we rode all of the rides we wanted to ride and then some. We even managed to get on The Rise of the Resistance our first day there. And, of course, a Darth Maul lightsaber was a must have as a birthday gift. Marcus even discovered the perfect Magic Band for himself—it’s a Stitch in Hawaii band, combining two of his favorite things. Disney, even under the constraints it was operating under, is still the happiest place on earth.
We had a high school senior last year, and graduation in June happened virtually, as it did for so many others. The school did its best by having the high school administrative team personally deliver our son’s diploma and by putting on a lovely virtual graduation. But we were determined to have some kind of celebration for him in August. We decided, of course, that the best place to celebrate such an accomplishment was at the Inn at Little Washington. We had 21 people at 3 different tables, with families generally sitting with each other. Marcus selected the menu, so it included his favorite dishes at the Inn. (This was consistently pointed out by Jim, who noted that not all of his favorites were on the menu.) The event was beautifully done (it was the Inn, after all), and the food was amazing. Jim gave a lovely toast, Rem (his best friend) gave an amazing speech, and Jade actually gave a lovely off-the-cuff speech as well. Marcus, not surprisingly, rose to the occasion and gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech, mentioning everyone there by name and explaining why he was grateful to them. It was all pretty perfect, under the circumstances. And while it wasn’t necessarily the party we would have had for him if we could, being Marcus, it was more than enough.
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.