Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Year of Travel!

I think we have taken more trips this year than any previous year in my past half-century plus lifetime.  There was a trip planned almost every month of the year and sometimes multiple trips in a single month.  While some of this travel was for business, only on one trip was it not combined with pleasure or solely for pleasure.

Our travel year started out with a trip to Boone, NC where some friends of ours have a cabin.  We drove up a few days after Christmas to spend New Year’s Eve with them.  While we had a bit of snow—always a real treat for my wife—it had mostly melted soon after the sun came up.

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So rather than snowy activities, we enjoyed hiking around Linville Falls before settling down to ringing in the New Year.

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Our next trip was one that came up rather unexpectedly when I was asked to travel to Istanbul, Turkey in February to teach my course.  What made the timing even more intriguing is that our daughter and son-in-law had just been there in the fall of 2012.  I was scheduled to teach over the weekend so we managed to get in some sightseeing before and after the course.  In just a few days’ time, we were able to squeeze in a large number of the major sites and enjoy some delicious foods.

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We skipped the month of March but were then back on the road in April when we were out in San Francisco teaching again.  For this business/pleasure trip, we were fortunate that our daughter could fly up from LA and spend the weekend with us in the city.

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On Saturday, we drove up to wine country where our eventual destination was eating at a gourmet restaurant where our daughter’s college friend was the chef.  Before dinner, we explored the town of St. Helena where I found a most interesting VW bug.

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Dinner was fabulous and all of the staff treated us as royalty.

April was followed up with two trips in May, one at the beginning of May and one at the end of May.  The first was strictly for business when I was in Washington, DC to present a talk at a national meeting.  While not for pleasure, this trip was still important as I was moderating and presenting along side of FDA on a topic of extreme interest in our industry.

The second trip was to New York for our daughter-in-law’s graduation from NYU with her Master’s.  On this trip, our youngest son came along for his first trip to NY.  After graduation, we were able to get in a few days of sightseeing.

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Along with a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, a project our oldest son is involved with.

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June was another month with two trips.  First, I travelled to Amsterdam to teach the course.  Due to the high cost of airfare, I travelled alone on this trip—my 25th to Amsterdam.  For the pleasure portion of this trip, I visited Madurodam, a favorite of mine and for anyone who loves models, as it is Holland in miniature.

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After the course ended, it was a treat to visit the Rijksmuseum, one of the major ones in Amsterdam and one that had been closed for renovations for over 10 years.

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And then less than 24 hours after returning home, I was on a plane to Las Vegas for a family reunion.   I have one word for Las Vegas in June—hot.  In spite of being jet-lagged from the nine-hour time difference between Amsterdam and Las Vegas, it was a great family reunion, the first I had been to in over twenty years.  And we even managed to find the time to visit the Hoover Dam.

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In August, we travelled to Seattle where our daughter was able to join us.  This was strictly a vacation all about family time together, drinking great beer, and having fun.  For this trip, my daughter and I planned all of our activities and my selections were touring the Boeing plant,

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The Chihuly Glass House and Gardens,

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and the Space Needle.

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In October, we realized my wife needed one more trip to maintain her frequent flier status and so I found us cheap tickets to Baltimore.  This was our first time there so we as typical tried to cram as much into the weekend as we could.  We stayed in downtown so walking to the Inner Harbor would be easy where we had numerous good meals.  My favorite excursion was visiting the B&O railroad museum.

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but managed to get in some good beer tasting as well.

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November found us back in New York after I finished teaching the course in New Jersey.  The weather was much cooler than when we had been there in May and so mostly sought out indoor activities.

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Then two weeks later, I traveled to Los Angeles for the LA Auto Show.  This was my second visit to the show and one that may become an annual event as I get to combine it with a visit with my daughter and son-in-law.  On this trip, we went to the Griffith Observatory, a wonderful museum for a scientist made all the more enjoyable through technical explanations from my astrophysicist son-in-law.

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Then last weekend, we traveled to St. Louis to celebrate Christmas early with our daughter and son-in-law who will be spending Christmas with his parents in Illinois.  And then ending the year, we will be travelling back to Boone, NC to once again ring in the New Year with our friends—where our year of travel all began.

All told, it was a year with 12 trips.  On reflection, I must say this much travel made for a busy year with all of the trips added on top of a full time work schedule.  But it was enriching visiting with distant family members and full of new experiences.  I don’t know what our travel schedule will look like in 2014 but the year will be filled with wonderful memories of this year of travel.

34th Wedding Anniversary

Today is our wedding anniversary, 34 years since the day I married the love of my life.  Yes, we got married just three days before Christmas.  And if it wasn’t difficult to plan and hold a wedding right before Christmas, celebrating our anniversary every year since then has proven to be an ongoing challenge.

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Little did we know as we settled into our hotel room after the wedding reception and captured this shot of my wife in front of the curved window—a unique feature of the round hotel we stayed in—how problematic it would be to celebrate it each year.  Each year as it came close to the time to celebrate our anniversary, I really wanted to be able to celebrate our anniversary on the actual day.  However, frequently other Christmas parties or events would interfere and we would either have to skip the social event or move our anniversary celebration to another day.

Our first child was born a few months before we celebrated our second anniversary and our second child arrived a few months before our third anniversary.  But actually having children gave my parents a ready excuse to drive over and see their grandchildren before Christmas and they would sometimes babysit on our anniversary so that we could go out for dinner.

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For our 5th anniversary, the date just happened to coincide with my work Christmas party that was being held in the ballroom of the same hotel where we spent our wedding night.  Thanks to grandparents again, we were able to attend the Christmas party, celebrate our anniversary, and spend the night out at the hotel where we had been exactly five years previously.

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For the next 10 years, we would either get my in-laws to watch the children or we would drive over to Arkansas so my parents could watch them. For the years when we would stay in town, I would drive us in a circuitous route so as to avoid revealing our destination until the last moment.  For during those years, I would be the one to make the hotel reservation so it was always a surprise to my wife until we arrived.  And on one occasion, I checked into the hotel earlier in the day so that I could leave a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine in the room to surprise my wife.  Then once we arrived together, I had to pretend I was checking in at the front desk while my wife perused the lobby Christmas decorations.  Thankfully the desk clerk played along with my little charade and passed a blank piece of paper over for me to sign in case my wife was watching.

These types of local celebrations continued until our 17th anniversary, when we drove over to my parents’ home in Hot Springs, AR where we celebrated Christmas early and then got to spend the night out at the Arlington hotel.

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For our 25th anniversary, my plan was to return to the same hotel we had stayed at the night of our wedding and where we had also stayed for our 5th anniversary.  Only Mother Nature didn’t cooperate as Memphis had an ice/sleet storm that day that paralyzed the city.

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Due to the weather, we couldn’t celebrate our anniversary until the day after Christmas but even though it was four days late, I still wanted to get a picture of my wife in front of the same curved window.

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That year our three children also surprised us with a 25th anniversary dinner on New Year’s Eve that they had prepared for us.

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Once we became empty nesters, even more opportunities opened up for us.  Not being tied to celebrate at home, I planned a trip for us to fly to Atlanta for our 28th anniversary.  As in previous years, the destination was a surprise—I just told my wife to pack for cold weather.  It wasn’t until we arrived at our gate that she learned we were flying to Atlanta.  But it wasn’t until we came out of the MARTA station and began walking to our hotel that I revealed I had booked us in Atlanta’s own round hotel, The Westin Peachtree.

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In addition to getting the now customary photo of my wife in front of the curved glass window, this year we snapped one of me as well.  We had trouble with our cameras capturing the city lights in the background without blurring the image of ourselves but nonetheless we captured the traditional shots.  It was this year that we also celebrated our anniversary a week early, an experiment that proved successful for the future.

For our 30th anniversary, certainly a significant milestone, I planned an even bigger trip—one to the Bahamas.  And to accomplish this, I needed a four-day weekend.  Knowing that it would be impossible to pull that off before Christmas, I suggested we celebrate our anniversary in mid-January.  This time I told my wife to pack for warm weather and to be sure and bring a swimsuit.

The day before we were to travel, I went to check us in for our flight only to learn that I needed our passport numbers to check in.  I made a quick dash from work to home to get them and I know my wife must have become suspicious when I just so happened to pass her leaving the house for work as I was turning onto our street.  But undaunted, I continued on my secret mission.

When we got to the airport the next morning, I told her we couldn’t get a direct flight to our ultimate destination and so we would have to fly through Atlanta.  Once in Atlanta, my plan was to wander around to several different gates before arriving at the one to Nassau.  Only my plan was foiled.  As our boarding passes were swiped at the gate in Memphis, the annoying beep-beep-beep sounded and we were pulled out of line.  As the gate agent pulled up our itinerary, she exclaimed, “Oh I see the problem, you are going to the Bahamas, I need to check your passports.”

Once we were on the plane to our final destination, keeping my secret continued to be a challenge, as you had to list your hotel destination on your tourist entry card.  I told my wife to leave hers blank and I would fill it out for her.  Once we were in Nassau and were making our way to the door for ground transportation, I saw a poster for Atlantis and finally revealed that was our final destination.

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But my frustrations over trying to keep a secret were mysteriously overcome when we were pulled from the line waiting for the hotel shuttle and escorted to a stretch limo.

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Whether it was a case of mistaken identity or anonymous generosity I will never know but it made our trip to the hotel most enjoyable.  And even though we didn’t have a curved window to look out from our hotel room, the view was most pleasing as we discovered the next morning when we began our celebration.

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This year, we are actually in St. Louis celebrating Christmas early with our daughter and son-in-law.  As I look back over the years of our marriage and the anniversaries we have celebrated, I am pleased at how we have retained the specialness of that date.  For me, the 22nd of December is now and forever will be a special day.  And to me, celebrating our anniversary around Christmas every year has always added a magical festivity to the celebration—as if others around us were joining in the celebration of our marriage.

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This past weekend I did something I haven’t done in a long time and something probably few people do: I spent the entire weekend with my brother.  My siblings and I have a unique relationship with each other, we actually like each other and like to spend time together.  And so Friday afternoon, I picked up my brother at the airport shortly after he arrived from Philadelphia.

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It was actually an unusual turn of events that ended up this way since it was supposed to be a weekend with my brother and two sisters.  Ever since our parents died, we have been getting together just the four of us at least once a year (with just a few missed years early on)—a challenge since we live in three different parts of the country.  We call this weekend for the four of us, “Sib Sab” an abbreviation for “sibling sabbatical”, a name our creative sister coined.  This was to be our second Sib Sab of 2013 since we had previously gotten together in May 2013.

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A bitter cold winter storm even before winter officially kicked off prevented our two sisters from driving over from Northwest Arkansas.  Fortunately the storm in Memphis was much less than expected so my brother was able to fly in although it was a bit of touch and go flying through snowy Cincinnati.

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The reason we had gotten together was a desire to talk, listen to music and drink beer (a passion he and I both share).  My brother’s birthday falls early in December and each year, I send him money to take himself out for lunch and a beer or two at one of his favorite restaurants.  We always talk about how nice it would be to get to enjoy those beers together so this year, we decided to do just that.  And both of us being scientists that make a lot of lists, we made a list of all the things we wanted to talk about so we wouldn’t forget and leave an important topic out.

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On Friday night I actually took this list with us to dinner so we could get started on our discussions (We later figured out I could take a picture of it on my phone so we wouldn’t have to carry the entire pad with us).

We both have a love for India Pale Ale (IPA) beer, a love I credit my brother with introducing me to and one in which I have written about before (IPA).  Since trying craft beers was to be a big part of our weekend, many of our meals were taken at brewpubs and the first night was no exception.

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The next morning over coffee, we started checking topics off our list by telling each other the latest news of each of our own family members.

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As we talked our sisters began texting us pictures of the accumulating snow outside their windows.  We soon realized our two sisters wouldn’t be able to drive over later that afternoon as originally planned.  So I suggested we Facetime them so we could at least digitally connect.  Since they were snow bound at their own homes, I Facetimed one sister while my brother Facetimed our other sister.

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With all four of us together, we discussed getting together for Sib Sab 2014 in warmer weather.

With those plans made, my brother and I switched our attention to beer (I considered using “All about beer” or “Brotherly Love” as the title for this blog until my brother came up with “Bro Go” for when just the two brothers get together).

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Our first stop was a new establishment that just opened up—in fact it was their opening day.  We got there about 1:00 PM, less than 2 hours after their first opening.  They boasted of 24 beers on tap and we knew we were in a beer heaven.

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Our next stop was for lunch at another establishment known for its large selection of beers.

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Fortified with food, we were ready to make our third stop at another new microbrewery, Wiseacre Brewing.

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For a couple of guys in their 50s (me being the oldest), we quickly realized we were probably the oldest patrons in the building.  But in spite of the noise level that younger adults must not mind, we enjoyed our beer.

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Our final stop of the evening was dinner at another fairly new establishment.

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With our list of topics on my phone, we were able to carry on our discussion after having enjoyed a day of trying great beers at four different locations.

The next day we started out with breakfast at a great local place.

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Since it seemed too early to start drinking beer right after breakfast, we headed back to the condo to check a few more topics off our list.  In no time, we were ready to head back to Growler to try more of their selections.  With beer in hand, we sat down and watched the Philadelphia Eagles play in the snow, the city my brother would be flying back to in the morning.  The snow was so heavy on the field; they had to go for two-point conversations after a touchdown, as the ball would be buried in the snow if they tried to kick a field goal.

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They were only open until 3:00 PM that day so we walked across the street to another restaurant with a large beer selection on draft.

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What scientist wouldn’t want to have a beer at a restaurant named this?  Since they didn’t serve dinner on Sunday night, they were closing at 4:00 PM, but it was just enough time for us to have another great beer.  We left there satisfied not just from the beer but the knowledge that we had closed down two separate bars in one day—admittedly it was in the afternoon but we probably had not closed down a bar (in the wee hours of the night) since college.

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That night was the eve of my brother’s birthday and so I took him out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, one of his favorite types of food, and of course, another beer.  Driving back to the condo, we got one last chance to see the beautiful Christmas lights near the condo.

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Back at the condo, we checked off the final topics on our discussion list

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and then as any proper scientist would do, additionally documented the libations we had also enjoyed there.

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While the weekend didn’t work out for the four of us siblings to get together, it was a most enjoyable time for the two “Bros” to “Go” for beer and brotherly conversations.  We had successfully turned the idea of celebrating that birthday lunch and beer together into an entire weekend event.  And we tapped off the weekend by making plans for the two of us to repeat for Bro Go 2014, in a much warmer climate.

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Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with lots of family time and relaxation.  Ours was relatively quiet but still most enjoyable.  Since we ate our Thanksgiving meal out in a non-traditional style—a buffet lunch at an Indian restaurant—I had time to reflect on Thanksgivings past rather than spending the day in the kitchen helping to prepare a Thanksgiving feast.

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Growing up in Louisiana, I can recall getting the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school.  Since at the time all of our relatives lived in Texas, we would travel there to spend Thanksgiving with them.  On one these trips when I was probably 8 or 9, I remember going to school one day with my cousin right before Thanksgiving.  I guess it must have seemed novel for someone to come to school that didn’t have to as I seem to recall being the star of the classroom that day.  For me, these early Thanksgivings were all about getting to see cousins and having fun playing together.

By the time I was in high school and our family had grown with my two sisters married, Thanksgiving was celebrated at home with my mom doing almost all of the cooking.  My mom was a great cook and she would outdo herself with the choices she made for us.  While it was great for our family to get together, it seemed these Thanksgivings were more about the meal and so I did my very best to pig out—something I could do at that age without fear of any repercussions on the scale the next day.

After I married and started my own family, Thanksgiving would be spent mostly at my in-laws.  My mother-in-law was also a good cook and would prepare many delicious dishes.  For his part, my father-in-law would spend hours smoking a turkey overnight, a wonderful treat I looked forward to every year since oven roasted turkey was never my favorite choice of meat.

After the death of my parents and the subsequent death of my in-laws in 2006, my wife and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in our own home with family members from both sides of our family.  We spent the day cooking and then set up a series of tables extending from the kitchen into the great room.  While it was a bit of a sad time with the death of my mother-in-law just a few months earlier, it was good for all of us to be together as we embarked on a new phase of our lives with the knowledge that Thanksgiving celebrations would be quite different for all of us going forward.

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Once two of our children moved to California, it became obvious that celebrating Thanksgiving at home was not going to be possible.  At our oldest son’s suggestion, we rented a house in Sea Ranch for all of us to be together—a destination Thanksgiving so to speak.  Not wanting my wife and I to spend any time in the kitchen, my agreement with my children was that if they were willing to do the cooking, I would pay for whatever they wanted to cook.  With that as the premise, we had some fabulous meals.

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But beyond just the meals together, there was plenty of time to explore the area overlooking the Pacific.

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And even the drive up from San Francisco along the Pacific Coast highway was a thrill in one of my Miatas with spectacular views around every corner.

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We were fortunate to get to return to Sea Ranch the next year with the same arrangement and more wonderful family time together on Thanksgiving.

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And more time to explore.

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Now that two of our three children live on opposite coasts, it is more difficult for all of us to get together.  And any Thanksgiving celebration in the future will have tough competition from these two fabulous ones.  So until we return to large family Thanksgivings in unique locations, I’ll be content to celebrate smaller ones with loved ones knowing there will be future fun celebrations in the years ahead.

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Christmas Magic!!!

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It was one evening sometime before Christmas that I was reading to our youngest son one of our library books, Chris Van Allburg’s now classic Polar Express.  Having never read the book before, we were both enjoying the story and the wonderful pictures.  But it was when I turned to the last page and saw the picture of Santa’s bell, that I could barely read the words as I choked back tears.  Kissing him goodnight, I hurriedly left his room and fell across my own bed for a long, long cry.  It was at this moment that the emotional side of this long ago memory of not believing in Santa exploded within me, bursting to the surface with the fury of a whale breaching the ocean waters.  On reflection of that first reading, I now realize that all of the years of ensuring our children had wonderful Christmas memories had not healed my own little boy inside me.  I knew I could never regain that innocence of belief in Santa but I also recognized that I needed to recapture that Magic! in an adult way.

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Santa’s Silver Bell

At some point, our youngest son also figured out the truth about Santa, another memory secreted away somewhere in the back of my mind with no conscious knowledge of when he too lost his belief.

But in spite of this, the traditions continued.  Each child got his/her own special paper and we continued the Christmas morning stair shot.  And somewhere along the way, we added a shot of us all dressed up in front of the Christmas tree just as we were heading out for Christmas Eve mass.

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I just couldn’t let go of these traditions and I am sure my wife and kids must have been humoring me to continue them.  But subconsciously I think I was trying to cling to these traditions to stave off the disbelief and to avoid experiencing the long hidden grief anew.

I managed to hold it together until Christmas of 2011.  This was the first year that our two oldest children, having recently married, would be spending Christmas with their new families.  And at the same time our youngest son was moving out to California to finish his college degree.  Days before Christmas, my wife and I found we would be the only two in our home to celebrate Christmas.  After 32 years of marriage, we were back to only the two of us just like we had been on our honeymoon before we had started any Christmas traditions.

I went through the same motions I had in Christmases past unaware something was wrong; I was determined to forge ahead.  When it came time to decide where to go for the traditional Christmas Eve breakfast out, I suggested we instead fix a special breakfast at home, a meal we rarely cook for ourselves.  I baked omelets in Ramekins and cinnamon rolls and for a special dessert, my wife prepared chocolate pasta with cream and raspberry sauce.

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When we sat down to eat, my emotions, which I must have been suppressing all morning, bubbled over and I began to cry into my omelet.  In spite of it being a delicious breakfast, I couldn’t overcome the sadness.

Christmas morning was also a much-subdued affair.

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With fewer presents and only two participants, Christmas was a shortened experience.

Our next Christmas, we were blessed to have all of our family together along with our children’s spouses.  This was the first year I needed to buy two extra rolls of special wrapping paper and hang two extra stockings from the mantel.

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And the Christmas Eve breakfast out tradition returned in an expanded format with our two extra special participants.

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While in 2012 it was wonderful to have the family time together and to resurrect some of the old traditions, I recognize that our Christmas celebrations in 2013 and beyond will be different.

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As our children start their own families and enjoy creating their own traditions with their children, I can rest assured that my wife and I have started them off with a lifetime of fond memories, a foundation upon which they can continue to build their own memories.  And even though nothing can ever make up for the loss my own little boy experienced prematurely over a half century ago when he learned the truth about Santa, I will continue to write over those sad memories with joyous new ones that will come from future Christmas Magic!  Just like the ones I made with my daughter and son-in-law only a week ago.

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