Holiday Travel

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children.

Allow me to share with you our experiences between Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their traditions. Every family has that house they visit to celebrate the Holidays. Some families may even be that host who welcomes friends and relatives into their home.

A very Merry Christmas!

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children. We just told Lovie, who has been in charge of laundry, to make sure that everyone has enough clean clothes for the week. She didn’t seem too suspicious about it but went about her chores.

We went to my in-laws on Christmas Eve, went home, went to bed, and woke up on Christmas morning. We exchanged presents and had a quick, light breakfast. As the children ate, Wife presented them with a slide show detailing what the week had in store for everyone.

Everyone packed bags. We took snacks for us. We weren’t sure what would be open for meals on Christmas Day. Everyone loaded up the car and piled in. The Gaggle, Slick, Slugger, Lovie, The Oppressed, The Boy, Wife, and me. We hit the road, always a favorite hobby of mine. We drove through towns. We drove on highways. We stopped where we could to buy snacks. After hours of driving, we finally reached New York, and not long after crossing the line into the Empire State, we arrived at the urban jungle known as New York City.

Stop 1: New York City

All things considered; the traffic wasn’t that bad from our home on Massachusetts’ South Shore to the Big Apple. Even driving through NYC was relatively easy in terms of traffic. Like everything else with life: meals, travels, coordination, this trip presented its challenges which we met and…. Well, we met the challenges.

Our base for this trip was the Hilton Garden Inn on West 54th St. We parked on the street, which was utilized as a street for traffic, a bike lane, and a loading/unloading zone for those staying at the hotel. The loading zone was already full when we got there. Wife got out and got to check us in. I manned the driver’s seat just in case someone came by and said we needed to move the car, which may or may not have been blocking a fire hydrant when we first got there.

The Christmas tree lit up at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

I patiently waited in the car with seven children, some of whom wanted to go into the hotel with Wife. We said no. There was no way we were letting the kids split up in NYC before we got rooms squared away and luggage out of the car. I kept looking in all directions, hoping to find a better place to park and making sure no one was saying we couldn’t be here. Wife came back out and informed me we were good to go. We unloaded the car and got it parked out of everyone’s way. On to see our rooms, which weren’t adjoining. That’s alright. I’m sure we can make it work. The boys are on the 10th floor and the girls are on the 30th. Okay, we can meet in the hotel lobby, out front. Meet in someone’s room. Oh yeah, there are three elevators in the hotel, and one doesn’t work. Oh…

The day we arrived was a little low-key. After all, it’s Christmas Day. We chose to eat dinner in the hotel. We did some walking around the city. Back to the rooms for some rest and sleep.

The next day was the start of two full days in the Big Apple. We walked around Central Park. We took a bus tour of the city. We took a boat cruise and went past the Statue of Liberty. We ate bagels, pizza, and all kinds of unhealthy food that you would expect someone to eat while they’re on vacation.

A man standing outside a coffee shop in the city.
I have coffee every day. This time I let everyone know.

Oh yeah, pizza. Slick and I went to get pizza for everyone one night. There was a place not far from the hotel. It was late. Everyone was hungry, but no one really wanted to leave the hotel. Three pizzas should cover everybody for dinner. We ordered the pizzas and then we are told it’s cash only. No problem. We had the cash. We pay for the pizzas and wait for them. I realize I never bought drinks and have to make another order. The manager, who took our order, then informs us they take cash or credit cards. Would we like to use our credit card? Slick and I looked at each other and I told the manager we had cash. We’ll use cash.

There were sidewalk artists. Kids got paintings and drawings. Everyone got souvenirs. Wife told me you could get a Rolex for $10 in NYC. I didn’t know Rolex was going out of business. There’s also a question of authenticity with said “Rolexes” and I guess it’s not just the Rolexes. The same thing happens with certain designer bags and clothes. I’m in my 40’s and I’m still learning things.

A sidewalk artist wearing a mask as he spray-paints on canvas.
Sidewalk artist
The Statue of Liberty
A view from our city cruise.

We took a bus tour. We went around the city and listened to a recorded tour. We learned things about New York City, how things got their name, and the history of buildings and streets. We went down 42nd Street. No miracles. Then again, six went to NYC and we made it back with all six kids alive and intact. Maybe there was a miracle.

A street sign marking West 42 Street at night.
The home of miracles.

West 44th Street. I was on West 44th Street. There just happens to be a recording studio on that street. The Record Plant, aka “The Plant” was where John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimi Hendrix recorded. Aerosmith recorded there. It was one of those places I had always heard of. I tried to get The Boy to walk down the street with me. He declined. We were also on the far end of the street. I never made it to The Record Plant.

There was plenty to see in New York. There always is. Unfortunately, we had to get home. We needed to unpack our bags and trade dirty clothes for clean clothes, unload souvenirs, get some rest in our own beds and get ready for the second trip of the week.

Stop 2: Mystic, CT

We got home from the urban jungle of NYC and I took a shower and shaved. It was nice to be in my own bedroom. The past four nights with Slick and Slugger challenged my nose and lungs. I think housekeeping wore hazmat suits when they cleaned our room after we left.

A main reason for stopping at home was an earlier-planned meeting with my parents and siblings for lunch and exchanging Christmas presents. Unfortunately, one of my parents came down with Covid and plans for lunch had to be scrapped. Still, it was nice to get home and unload some of the dirty clothes that were sitting in our bags in the car, especially clothes from Slick and Slugger. We hit the road. A shorter trip this time. We arrived at a nice hotel situated in a nice part of town. We were near shopping, restaurants. We were near the Mystic Aquarium. The rooms were nice, the pool was heated. I was waiting for something to happen: some type of infestation, there was a mistake, and our rooms weren’t actually adjoining. Nothing. Accommodations that seemed too good to be true were the real thing.

A turtle in a glass case
The favorite part of the trip for The Oppressed.

Dinner and a quick dip in the pool with The Oppressed and The Boy. We fell asleep in our new room, the third in as many nights. The next day was spent at the Mystic Aquarium. The Oppressed got to see turtles. She loves turtles. The Boy got to see dinosaurs. He and I were both glad to see that. We had to leave the aquarium, though. We had dinner plans with Wife’s cousin at his family’s house. It was a nice house, and, when we pulled into the driveway, I reiterated my death threats if anybody didn’t behave themselves. It went well. All children were able to occupy themselves. Wife and I were able to have intelligent conversations with adults.

The next morning began with breakfast at a local diner. We did some shopping before getting on the road and making our way home. We got home. More dirty clothes were unloaded. We said goodbye to 2021 and welcomed 2022. It was a year with challenges, kids, lots of kids, and moments that made for interesting stories and reasons for drinking. What mattered was everyone had a good time. We got to do and see things with the kids.

Daddy’s Christmas Carol Part 5

Stave 5: Christmas at Last!

It was a blanket, and I had it wrapped tight around me as I lay next to Wife. I could tell it was cold outside, baby; but thanks to the blanket, Wife’s love, and Kitty sleeping and purring by our feet, I had plenty of love to keep me warm.

I opened my eyes just a little to check on Kitty, who had lifted its head and started to look around. We both heard footsteps heading in our direction. They got louder as they got closer to our fortress of slumber. Kitty got up on all fours and leapt off the bed. Just in time as The Boy made his appearance. He had a smile on his face and air underneath his body before crashing down on the bed between us. I think Kitty still has PTSD.

Wife jolted awake. She was ready to kill him, but the boy gave her a big, tight hug and said, “Merry Christmas!” This festive greeting reminded us that we needed to be extra vigilant in controlling our homicidal urges in the spirit of the season.

“Merry Christmas,” I said as I rolled over to give The Boy a hug. He pushed me away and resumed hugging my wife. The Oppressed came into our room with a smile. Wife saw her.

“Merry Christmas,” Wife said to her.

“Merry Christmas,” she said back as she ran to our bed and hugged me.

“Merry Christmas, Daddy,” she said.

“Merry Christmas,” I replied. I asked The Boy if I could have a hug, reminding him it was Christmas. I saw the back of his head shake, indicating, “No,” and continued hugging his mother.

Lovie then entered our room. She had an even bigger smile than The Oppressed.

“Merry Christmas,” Wife said to her.

“Merry Christmas,” she said. “Can we open presents?”

“Can the adults have coffee, first?” I asked.

“How about we make coffee first?” I suggested “Then, we can open presents while it finishes, and we can drink coffee while you kids open presents?”

“How about we open presents and then you can make coffee?” Lovie suggested, ever the humanitarian.

Wife told her to wake her other brothers. I took this opportunity to go downstairs and let Doggie out of her crate. As Doggie raced to the door to answer the call of nature, I heard what sounded like a drug raid taking place upstairs. Lovie flew the door open to the boys’ room unannounced. I heard yelling from the room.

“Wake up! It’s time to open presents!”

“Oh my God, what time is it?”

“It’s time to open presents. Stop sleeping!”

“Shut up! I’m tired.”

“Sleep tomorrow!”

I was in the kitchen at this point making coffee. After a few minutes, I answered the scratching on the door, signifying that Doggie had finished what she needed to do outside. The love and spirit of Christmas continued down the stairs as Lovie led the charge into the living room to see the loot Santa Claus had left for everyone.

“I want to give my presents to everyone first,” Lovie announced to everyone. The rest of the children stumbled into the living room, including The Gaggle, who was staying with us for the week. Wife was the last to come downstairs, barely able to keep her eyes open. We hugged each other and wished each other a Merry Christmas. The pot of coffee had just finished brewing, and I poured her and myself a cup before entering the madness that was unfolding in the living room.

Lovie was arguing with Slugger, who, apparently, had taken her seat. Lovie wanted the seat closest to the tree so she could supervise the handing out of Christmas presents. Of course, presents from her had to be opened first, and if anyone else was handing out presents, there was a chance hers wouldn’t be opened first.

Slick made his appearance and took a seat on the couch. He didn’t care whose presents got opened first. All he cared about was someone rudely woke him from his slumber, and it was Christmas Vacation.

The Gaggle took a seat next to Slick. Lovie was able to muscle Slugger away from the tree and assumed her role of gift-giver. The Boy sat next to Wife and The Oppressed sat with me. Presents were exchanged and opened. It was a nice Christmas morning filled with secrets that had been protected for weeks. Packages that had been smuggled into the house and locked away from prying eyes were finally allowed to see the light of day. Children were excited to try their new presents. Wife and I thanked each other for our presents. I got some nice clothes and, after a shower, I was eager to put on my new clothes and continue the celebration of Christmas.

After a few hours at home, we rounded up the cohort, packed the car with more gifts, and drove to my in-laws. There we handed out presents to relatives and shared in the joy of the Holidays. Dinner was then served, another fantastic spread put out by my mother-in-law, who is always cooking incredible food, especially during holidays.

Dinner. Dessert. My diet went off the rails again and it was going to be back to carrots and protein shakes soon enough. But for today, I partook in the feasting and festivities.

We went home that night. Children resumed playing with new gadgets and toys. Occasionally, one child proudly approached us to show us a gadget and what they learned to do with it. It got later into the night, and one-by-one, children started to go to bed. It was Christmas, but I still had my Daddy Duties. I read to The Boy and hung out with The Oppressed, who briefed me on the joy she felt on this most wonderful time of the year. She fell asleep, and I left her room. I made my way through the rooms of the house, shutting off lights as I made my way into the living room to turn off the Christmas tree. I surveyed the mass of Christmas goods strewn about the floor. More things around to test my agility as I try to negotiate my way from one room to another.

I made my way to the Christmas tree. Something caught my eye before I made it. It was a bottle of beer, much like one of the bottles I saw when The Ghost of Daddy Present haun- I mean – visited me. It had a nice red ribbon tied to it and a tag tied around the neck of the bottle. The tag read “The Christmas Spirit” and I smiled. I wasn’t going to drink it tonight. It was late and Daddy needs his beauty sleep. I would put it in the refrigerator and chill it proper for the following evening. After all, we should all keep the Christmas spirit year-round, right?

It’s time to open presents. Stop sleeping!

Lovie

A car slowly made its way past my house. It looked like Mr. Farley’s car. A horn sounded as it drove by. I smiled and waved just before the car disappeared from my sight. The Christmas tree went dark as the car disappeared.

I went upstairs, turning lights off as I made my way to my room. Wife was already fast asleep, as were the rest of my children. I head Doggie snoring in her crate. Kitty was curled up at the foot of my bed. It was just Wife in our bed until I climbed in to join her. I wondered how long this would last before another child decided to join us. It didn’t matter. I was tired and I was going to fall asleep fast. I would know someone else was in the bed when I wake up and try to look over at Wife.

And just like that, another Christmas came to an end. Mr. Farley didn’t visit me again, which I thought was rude. None of the spirits visited me again, but between the love my family has for each other, there’s plenty of the Christmas spirit to go around. And between all of my children, there’s enough haunting without ghosts.

Oh, well. That’s the life of a parent. You understand, I’m sure. Thanks for reading this irrefutably true story of the Christmas I shared with ghosts and spirits. I hope this story found you well and kept you company as you made your way through your own madness of preparing for Christmas at your home.

Oh, yeah… And God Bless Us, Everyone!

Daddy’s Christmas Carol Part 1

(With apologies to Dickens)

Stave 1: Farley’s Ghost

Everything was in place for Christmas morning. Wife was going to bed. I wanted to finish my drink before following her. There wasn’t much left, so I wouldn’t be long. I sat on the couch admiring the tree and all of its ornate glory. The decorations on the bottom of the tree came from The Boy, who was the smallest of the family and could only reach so high. Ornaments were hung here and there, almost haphazardly. Anyone who met The Boy wouldn’t be surprised by this display of roughshod decorating.

A Christmas tree with ornament and garland.

I took my last sip of Holiday Cheer. I needed to get to bed. It was after midnight. It wouldn’t be long before wife and I would be met with the giddy screams of children who live for nothing else but to ruin our peaceful slumber. Children who would come crashing into our bedroom and use our bed for some type of trampoline or gymnastics mat. I stood up and made my way to the Christmas tree. I turned it off. I was about to leave the room and head upstairs when I saw a car pull up to my house and stop with a lurch. It was an old car whose door creaked open and a silhouetted figure stepped out of the car. I couldn’t make out the person but I had an eerie feeling they could see me in the dark room and they knew I could see them.

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The figure made its way up my driveway. As it came closer to my house, the tree lights somehow turned back on. They were dim at first but got brighter with every step the figure took towards my house. I couldn’t move. I stood there looking out the window, unable to take my eyes off of it as if it was silently commanding me to watch him.

A man looking around after he thought he heard something.
Sitting by myself. I thought I heard something.

Soon it was at my doorstep. It’s arms didn’t move, but I could see the door unlocking, like Wife had installed one of those early-adopter apps she likes to use and she was using such a thing to remotely lock and unlock doors. The door opened and the figure I saw leaving its car and approaching my house presented itself to me. It was a ghostly figure in the form of a man.

“Who are you?” I asked him, or it, not even sure he could understand me.

“Ask me who I was,” he answered.

“Okay,” I said. “Who you was?”

“In life, I was your high school teacher, Jack Farley.”

Mr. Farley? I remembered him. He was my Psychology teacher in senior year. I remembered hearing he had passed away years ago. I was tired, but he just got here and I didn’t want to be rude.

“What brings you here, Mr. Farley?” I asked him.

“It is required of every teacher that they should walk the earth and see that the students they taught are doing well with their lives,” Mr. Farley said. “That they are leading good lives and setting good examples for the children they raise and the children they meet.

“I’ve been out of high school for over twenty five years, and you decide to look in on me now?” I asked.

“You weren’t my only student,” Mr. Farley reminded me. “I have other students to check on and it’s not like they gave me a new car to do this.”

I looked outside. I could see the outlines of Mr. Farley’s car. It looked well-used when I was in high school, and that was a long time ago.

“Well,” I said, “I can tell you that I have five children under this roof. Each and every one of them could use a dope slap every now and then, but for the most part, I think Wife and I have them on the straight and narrow. Look, Mr. Farley, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s getting late and my kids, especially The Boy are going to be up long before the sun with tomorrow being Christmas, and all. I appreciate you looking in on me. Things are going alright for us. I can tell you I’m doing well and things are good.”

That wasn’t good enough for Mr. Farley. I could tell by the look on his face he had more to tell me. Honestly, I was hoping he would save it for another day (a day. Like daylight when I was up and awake and didn’t need to go to sleep) and let me go upstairs to bed.

“Tonight, you will be visited by three ghosts,” he said.

“Tonight?” I asked. “Halloween was two months ago. Why do I need to see ghosts tonight?”

“Expect the first tonight when the bell tolls one.”

We were really doing this. I could see it didn’t matter to Farley how tired I was or what I had going on tomorrow.

“Bell tolls?” I asked him. “Look, Hemingway, we don’t exactly toll bells around here. Even phones ‘ringing’ don’t sound like ringing bells anymore. No bell, no tolling, no ghosts. Sorry Mr. Marley – I mean – Farley, but this house isn’t going to be able to accommodate that.

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Expect the second when the bell tolls two.

Again with the bell tolling. What is it with this guy – ghost?

“The third will visit when the bell tolls three.”

“One, two, three,” I said. “Simple enough.”

“I tried to keep it simple for you, Gregory. Math wasn’t your strong suit.”

“Gregory?” I asked. “And when did you become a math teacher?”

He wasn’t listening. He had already turned and walked through the door. At least I didn’t have to worry about him closing it, like I do with my kids. He walked down the driveway. The lights on the tree dimmed with each step he took toward his car. He looked at me one last time as he opened the door and got in. I’m wondering when and why he chooses to open some doors and walk through others. His car started and drove off. I stood there alone in the dark room, trying to figure out if what I thought I had witnessed had actually happened. Whether or not it did, it was a good enough reason for me to pour a quick one and process the supernatural events that had occurred. Once again, it had happened with no one else around, so if I decided to tell Wife about it. She would just tell me that I had interesting stories. My kids might believe me. Then again, they might not.

Next: The Ghost of Daddy Past

A fireplace with garland hanging on the mantle over it. There is an elf next to it in front of the tools.

The Family Meets St. Nicholas

(Based on “A Visit From St. Nicholas/’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house. Kitty was purring. She’d just killed a mouse.

My glasses were cleaned and laid out with care in hopes that bourbon and beer would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of more screens danced in their heads.

Wife on her side of the bed. Me on mine. Wondering how long ’til a child climbs in.

When down in the kitchen there was such a clatter. I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Turned on the light. Blind from the flash. Hand over face to see who it is.

The moon outside shone on the snow gave a luster of midday to objects below.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but The Gaggle, The Boy, The Oppressed in good cheer.

They poured out some eggnog, so lively and quick. I shooed them to bed. Here comes St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came. And I shooed and scattered as I called them by name.

Now Lovie, now Slugger, now Slapshot and screwball. Junior and Dearie, make haste down the hall. Go to your rooms. Get in your beds. Make not a peep. Just rest your heads.

I wanted to throw them, to make them fly.

There was a lack of hustle. They just rolled their eyes.

Meanwhile, I heard a sleigh slow to stop

Eight not-so-tiny-deer resting on top.

A Christmas vision

The sleigh-driver hopped off. Claus and bag, too

I hoped that bag had a bottle, brand new.

Something nice, tasty and strong.

Something enjoyed after homework gone wrong.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

Kitty was watching. She just had to look.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

Toys for everyone. Jills and Jacks.

His eyesβ€”how they twinkled as gifts were dispersed!

He sung to himself a nice Christmas verse.

His droll little mouth carried the tune

As the Christmas Star rose high over the moon.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

Made me grateful he wasn’t vaping. What a relief

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was gen’rous and kind, a right jolly old man,

With a bottle of single malt scotch in each hand.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

I asked him to stay for some Christmas cheer.

He politely declined, then waved to our Dears.

The children had been right there standing behind us.

By the time I looked back, Santa had left us.

The Miracles of Christ stood there and smiled.

The Boy pointed and asked, “Is this one my pile?”

But I hope you enjoy your own Christmas night.

Happy Christmas to all. Daddy’s tired. Good night.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Spirits… and Wine… and Beer

As you know, I take my drinking very seriously. I fancy myself to be somewhat of an expert on beer. I am still learning about scotch and bourbon but I’ve always thought learning is fun.

During the Christmas season, I always try to read “A Christmas Carol” and one or two other stories of the Season written by Charles Dickens. Christmas in Victorian England seems like a fascinating thing to me and Wife. The Spirit. The decor. One time wife had to go to London on business not long before Christmas. She returned with mini mince pies, Christmas pudding, and some catalogs that featured some dinners you could order and pick up in time for Christmas dinner. Turkey. Goose. Beef. I asked wife if they shipped international orders.

Okay. Back to the drinking. I like drinking and I also like history. I have a book on what they drank during Colonial America. Colonists took what they had and turned it into delightful and delicious concoctions. Everything organic and made from scratch. Ever have a Rattle-Skull? Delicious.

One of my favorite recipe sources.

I first learned about a drink called a “Smoking Bishop” the first time I actually read “A Christmas Carol”. I was intrigued enough to look it up. It looked interesting and easy enough. I made a batch and it was wonderful. I try to make some every year. There are lots of variations on the recipe. I don’t know if there is one “original” recipe but this is the one I use.

Photo: toriavey.com

Speaking of “A Christmas Carol”, Fezziwig served Negus at his Christmas party. I’ve looked for a recipe to this drink. The easiest one calls for a mixture of port wine and boiling water. Add some nutmeg and cinnamon. A little lemon juice. Some suggest you mix the nutmeg and wine and let it sit for an hour or so. I make it and serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

I’m always looking for new things to try. I don’t need to look for reasons. The Miracles of Christ give me plenty of those by themselves. What do you like to make and drink? I know a lot of people like egg nog. Wife has a special recipe for that that has been handed down for generations. I like to sample some of that to. After all, ’tis the Season.