Sunday, December 30, 2007

Staker/Bice Family Christmas!

I got to be Aunt Erin this weekend. Hooray! Brooke hardly remembered me at first, and Courtney didn’t remember me at all. Slowly but surely, I won them over…mostly by reading stories and through shameless use of pets. Taking them to see Scooter, Hooligan or Mac was an express ticket into their good graces. Brooke gets a little nervous around Mac because he’s big and a bit hyper, but Courtney doesn’t mind at all. Courtney is also more enamored with Hooligan.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with the cat. He’s not very social, but he put up with the toddlers admirably. At first Court would meow at him loudly, which would make him flinch. I encouraged her to be softer, and pretty soon when Courtney wanted to see the cat, she would come up to me saying, “Shhhh… Shhh.” Heh. (P.S. Someday, she will be so mad at me for taking the photo at left.)

I was excited to see everyone. Unkie and Helen came, as did their daughters Carla and Karen, her husband Lynn and their kids, Connor and Hannah. I got them sketch pads and oil pastels for Christmas. I like getting them artistic presents. Hannah made me a drawing and they got me a poetry book I really wanted. Unkie and Helen gave me a comfy travel neck pillow, and I gave them the same ornament I made for all my grandparents. I didn’t have money to spend this year, so I hope they liked their crafty, homemade gifts.

Great Uncle Bud and Lorene also came, as did their son Wayne, his wife Alysha, and their kids Alyssa and Alex. All the kids went downstairs to color with the oil pastels. Brooke felt very grown up because I let her use my oil pastels, even though they’re breakable and for grown-ups. She informed her little sister, “You can’t use these crayons until you’re a grown-up. You can’t use them until you’re three.”

Uncle Jay and Aunt Dea were also there. So were my cousin Jenny; her husband, Sam; and their baby, Jack, and my cousin Megan, her husband Josh and their sons, Logan and Landon. It was a full house, but everyone had so much fun. We all talked and laughed. The kids played with Mom and Dad’s musical Christmas decorations. We also chowed down on Mom’s famous soup. This year she made chicken noodle, chili and vegetable beef. She’s such an amazing cook!

After the extended family left, we opened presents with the Staker grandparents and Staker cousins. Our grandparents had us save some small boxes for last. They often do this, because the cousins and I often get matching presents. Well, this year as we opened the boxes, we gasped, and Megan exclaimed, “My jellybean ring!” As children, Grandma let us pick the rings we would like to inherit someday. Megan loved the opal, which she thought looked like a jelly bean. Jenny liked a ring that was chocked-full of diamonds and I liked one with eight tiny rubies arranged into flowers which Grandpa gave Grandma for their 40th anniversary.

I had accidentally received the diamond ring, and as such had gasped when I opened it, but Jenny and I instantly realized the mistake and without a word traded boxes, causing the family to laugh. “I couldn’t quite remember whose was whose,” Grandma said. She and Grandpa had decided they wanted to give us the rings while they’re around to see the looks on our faces. It was quite moving, but now I’m terrified. I lost a beloved ring in college (I think it was stolen when I was on stage), and more jewelry in the tornado. Well, I’m going to keep this very special piece safe, I can tell you that much.

Then when the cousins left, we had another session of opening presents with just Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, J.B., Erika, the girls and me. I had gotten Dad a Yankees mug and a subscription to Hawkeye Nation Magazine. For J.B., I got a subscription to Runner’s World Magazine and a book on running. I got Erika a subscription to Taste of Home magazine and some scrapbooking stuff. Mom had asked for amber jewelry with an insect inside. I went from store to store and couldn’t find it. In the end, I turned to the good old internet. I found her a piece of amber guaranteed to have an insect in it and a pretty amber necklace. I couldn’t find both qualities in one piece, so I got her both. I think she really liked them.

I got so many lovely gifts, including pictures of my nieces, a beautiful bracelet (J.B. and Erika are great at picking out ones that match my style), nostalgic videos (Hello, “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.” Long time no see! Oh, how you rule) and amazing books.

It was so much fun to see the girls with their presents. Brooke flipped for some things Mom and Dad got her, especially a Belle doll, complete with a pony which Brooke offered to share with her sister. It is indeed a lucky thing that a pony was included, because Courtney started trying to get at the present. Brooke got nervous that Courtney wanted the doll, but in the end the pony was what Courtney wanted, so the tantrum was averted. Heh.

Soon all the presents were opened and I needed to tear myself away to pack. My nieces wanted to come with, so I let them, but they got bored. They would take me by the hand and pull me away to find the cat or the dogs or read them a story. Courtney wanted me to carry her everywhere. I was torn, because I needed to pack, but I wanted to spend time with the girls. Sometimes I get jealous of their aunt April because she gets to spend so much time with them, so they’ll probably grow up closer to her. Then I remind myself that it’s not a contest. It is about giving support and love freely.

This morning was a bit stressful. We had a yummy breakfast together, but then I was running to finish packing, say all my goodbyes and get my stuff in the car in time to meet with my college pals. We were running late, so the goodbyes were rushed. Dad put some money in my hands as he left me at Jenny’s apartment. Jenny, Jessy, Kelly and I exchanged gifts and jokes while watching The Royal Tennenbaums. I think they liked their boxes. Jessy actually made a sweater for my iPod! Then Jenny took me to the airport, and it was off to NYC. Now I’m in Milwaukee, waiting for my next flight. Tomorrow night, we’ll ring in the New Year. The last one was a year of stress, love, loss and change. I wonder what the new year will bring.

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