Category Archives: Family

Christmas in America

Last year, my parents made the long haul across the pond to come visit me in the UK for Christmas. It was great to have them here, but some of us didn’t enjoy the atmospheric deploring gloom and  despairing lack of sunlight that the UK has to offer this time of year. In return, I made the trip home this year and took Kait with me, checking off her first trip to America! She was as excited as a puppy when it came to this trip, and showed her excitement in much of the same way. The trip was short, but we managed to fit a lot of  “American” activities in.

Welcome Home

First and foremost, we had to take a trip to Kroger to make a few purchases: a 64 oz bottle of my favorite BBQ sauce, a bottle of Buffalo wing sauce, 10 lbs of flour to bake with, and candy — American candy. Since you can get a lot of things in the UK, there were only a few things Kait needed to try, namely, Crunch and 3 Musketeers. Perplexed at first, she seems to approve.

Boating

To the bewilderment of my father, Kait took her first boat ride, EVER, on our second day home. Some of us got in smaller boats than others, but we decided to enjoy the best of the weather that the forecast had to offer and ride around Lake Murray.  After the boat ride, we waited diligently until it got dark to visit Saluda Shoal’s Christmas lights. For 14 years now, a public recreation center has put up a drive through lights display, sponsored by various local businesses. This is always a holiday favorite of mine and is one of many stops we like to make on our holiday light tourism route. Unfortunately, one major stop has stopped putting up their lights, but seeing that they put so much work into it with very help, I can understand why they stopped.

Christmas Eve Baking

On Christmas eve, two significant events happened. First, to the bewilderment of my mother, Kait attended her first church service. This was a bit of a reverse-culture-shock to many of the women in my mother’s friend group to find that other people in the world don’t attend church religiously, or at all. The second thing that happened, arguably more monumental, was my mother tried some of my bread after a year and a half of a no carb diet!

I took my sourdough starter home and baked bread over the holiday. I made a loaf of bread for a party, pizza dough, and three dozen bread rolls to split between my family and my neighbors. It was a big hit and probably one of the better pizza crusts I made.

Christmas Day

This year, Christmas day had three notable events. Upon waking up at 7am, I proceeded to start my baking of the bread rolls and had rolls to my neighbors at 8:30 am — they didn’t know what hit them! The second notable event was the slow migration to the presents was late this season, occurring at a record late 10:00am. Lastly, we had Christmas day lunch/dinner with our neighbors, which was a pleasure to get to host them and spend time with them.

Boxing Day

On boxing day, we spent the day walking around downtown

Charleston, SC

Kait and I took a day to ourselves to go explore Charleston, but as with every good road trip, you need to start your day with a good breakfast, of Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits. Kait had been giving me crap for months over what a “biscuit” is… She finally got to see for herself and she enjoyed it, although it confused her. We decided she could understand it as a buttermilk scone for the rest of her life, and I will know it for all its glory, a buttered biscuit.

With the biscuit-affair out of the way, we were on our way to downtown Charleston to see the markets and Waterfront park. I’m not sure if Kait had it in for me or something, but all I could seem to get of her was pictures of her walking away from me! I was finally able to catch up to her and get a picture with her at the pineapple fountain though. We met up with a good friend of mine for lunch, Jake, before heading off to see the Citadel, Rainbow Road, and the Battery. We hit some southern breakfast food at Rarebit and head home to see Star Wars.

One of the things I learned was that pineapples are a sign of hospitality in the South. To quote from Southern Living:

The ability of a hostess to have a pineapple adorn her dining table for an important event said as much about her rank in society as it did about her ingenuity. These beautiful fruits were in such high demand, but so hard to get, that colonial confectioners would often rent them to households by the day. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it. While fruits in general–fresh, dried, candied and jellied–were in great demand, the pineapple was the true celebrity. Its rarity, expense, and striking beauty made it the ultimate exotic fruit. Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests’ dining pleasure. In this manner, the image of the pineapple came to express the sense of hospitality characteristic of gracious home gatherings.

Star Wars Episode VIII

Kait and I tried to see the movie after coming back from Charleston. Unfortunately it was sold out, so we picked ourselves off and begin to head home when I overheard a dad telling his kids and their friends that they couldn’t see Star Wars because it sold out. I was crushed for him, but there was nothing we could do for them since we were in the same boat as well. We just tried again the next day after lunch with two childhood friends of mine, Kristen and Liz, who both happen to be in Europe as well (Oxford and France respectively).

Star Wars Episode VIII… as for the movie itself, I’ll air my grievances  in another post… Kait got the largest size popcorn she could though. Had to make the trip worth it somehow…

Popcorn
Popcorn

Korean Food

One of my good friends invited me to go to dinner with him at the best Korean restaurant in all of SC: Korean O-bok Restaurant. Man, that place is great. Their grilled bulgogi is out of this world. Would highly recommend.

Basketball and Margaritas

On our last full day in the states, my brother got us tickets to the Winthrop Basketball Game vs High Point University. As a team manager, one of the perks is that he can “get us in” on the “VIP list”, which, honestly let us walk by the giant line of people waiting to get in. Afterwards, we went to a Mexican restaurant (or at least the South’s take on Mexican food — which is better than the UK’s to be fair). Since my mother had been here before, and she wasn’t driving thankfully, she decided to get a “Margarita Grande” without checking the menu. She got a fish bowl. A fish bowl full of margarita. We were impressed that she walked out of the restaurant.

Waffle House

The last fine dining location she needed to visit was, of course, Waffle House. She seems to have enjoyed her breakfast… it may have just been the coffee she was missing… who knows.

Waffle House
Waffle House

The biggest thing I wish I had was a few more days to spend with my friends. It’s a bit hard to be so far away from them and get so little time with them… But I’ve been fortunate to make such good friends here, and am happy to be back with them.

The trip ends here, where Kait and I pack ourselves in the steel tube called a plane and head home to start another year. This year was good, but I’m excited to see what 2018 brings.

Family visits at Christmas

Last March, I told my mother I wasn’t coming home for Christmas. As the look of devastation begun to appear, I told her that she would have to come visit if she wanted to see me at Christmas. This gave me two benefits: (1) I didn’t have to worry about making plans to travel home and (2) my mother would focus on planning a trip and not me leaving all summer.  And it finally happened!  They arrived at the Heathrow airport last week!

We got to spend a few days in London. Our airbnb was out just a few metro stations away from the middle of all the tourist attractions, so it was a nice place to be, but the building with the windows knocked out across the road from the metro stop was a little unnerving.

Some of the best experiences we had in London we had was seeing Wicked and visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide. James booked us tickets to see Wicked, which I got to see in NYC. I really enjoyed seeing it a second time because it was like rewatching a movie or book — you got to catch all the foreshadowing. I was able to recall some of the clues after watching it the first time, but it was amazing to see how much I missed the first time.

The slide was 80m tall and takes 40 seconds to slide down, and Alex was able to convince James to do it. Here they are admiring their challenge, and conquering their challenge.

James was a little less enthusiastic about enduring the slide than Alex was. He’s lowered the amount of time he’s willing to endure anything from 40s to 30s…

After venturing around London, we headed to Cambridge to spend time there. Alex had  to leave the day after Christmas and I got to spend a couple of days with my parents, hanging out, and visiting the Ely Cathedral before they headed home.

New York, Washington DC, and MD

Over this week, I was able to make a trip to NYC, Washington DC, and Maryland for an exciting series of hellos and goodbyes to some friends and family.

My adventure started with Josh and Cyrus (now known as Whisper and Speedy) as we departed on an overnight bus from South Carolina to New York City, a roughly 750 mile and 14 hour journey riddled with paranoid intoxicated passengers, numerous uncomfortable sleeping positions, and a climate so cold it could have frozen a polar bear solid. Regardless of what our new friend Anthony thought about the driver’s choice to tailgate or take a path that resembled a bumper-ed bowling ball at a child’s 5th birthday party, we made it safe and sound.

The three of us proceeded to spend the day together purchasing a few final things for their upcoming trek at REI, exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which we so large that it made us feel like we were skipping and skimming everything quicker than the kid who forgot his reading quiz was today on the 300 page book he didn’t read), listening to live jazz in central park, and exploring Times Square. I was excited that they chose to spend the day with me before they continued on to Maine the next day to start their next adventure: Hiking the Appalachian Trail. You, like myself, can follow their adventure on their blog where they will post their adventure and have a link to a shared folder of uploaded pictures: jcontheat.wordpress.com (which I like to vocalize as JC on THEAT) They have my thoughts for their constant safety and wellness, but I fully trust them to be adequately (mostly) prepared.

I was lucky enough to spend a few more days in NYC with a friend who just started her doctorate at Cornell. After saying my farewell to Josh and Cyrus (admittedly fighting back weird condensation formations around my eyes at the fact that I won’t seem two of my best friends for a significant amount of time), I began to explore NYC on my own. I headed downtown and got to see Wall Street, the iconic bull, battery park, the Ground Zero memorial, and then headed up for a peaceful afternoon in Riverside Park and Central park before meeting Wola for dinner and taking the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty that night.

The next morning, we fought the NY metro — got on the wrong direction, changed platforms, and then unknowingly got on a train headed the same direction — before purchasing the last two tickets to the sold out 2pm showing of Wicked, my first ever Broadway show. I’m not a huge musical fan — the idea of a sing-song storytelling method doesn’t appeal to me — but I really enjoyed Wicked. It was a well performed and put together show from the score, the art, and the casting — it surpassed my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We ended our day by visiting Grand Central Station, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and getting late night pizza.

After a great three days, I had to end my first visit and take a bus to Washington DC where I’d meet my family out in Maryland. I read most of the way and was able to finish the book I was reading on my tablet. I had a wonderful visit with my family — a much slower pace, but everything I wanted that trip to be. I ate and drank while sharing stories of my adventures over the last few years while listening to all the new stories about the new additions to the family. We watched Donald Trump run his mouth at a million miles an hour and dig himself a political hole. I got to spend time with my cousin and his family, spending time at a cookout with them where we swam and ate food.

I was able to meet my friend from school in Washington DC for a day. Kevin showed me all of the coolest things at the Air and Space museum before we walked around the National Mall, played pool at the underground “Rocket Bar”, and got ourselves a little carried away on one too many cocktails at “the Brick and Mortar” bar watching Olympic Soccer (By the way, I give Brick and Mortar a glowing endorsement — a fantastic atmosphere with great drinks and bartenders).

Unfortunately, my exciting week trip had to come to an end with a long bus ride from DC to SC, where I arrived at 4am.

Old Age, Life, and Death

This past weekend I was able to travel and visit my family and grandmother out of state. Unfortunately, my grandmother is physically limited and requires the attention given at a nursing home.

Her ability to walk was lost many years ago; her body is weak such that basic functions, like sitting up straight, eating, and using the restroom, are nearly impossible for her to do on her own. Her ability to form thoughts is impaired by a mixture of old age and mind clouding medicines to relieve pain. She’s not the most capable person here, but she’s also not the least.

While joining her for lunch, it becomes very clear who is higher functioning and who requires more assistance. Some are able to eat on their own, some must be woken up and spoon fed only to fall back asleep.

I watched an interaction between two residents as they attempted to pick up a fallen napkin. The struggle was a good thing to watch and showed they were still living. The man was noticed the napkin and began a series of efforts to retrieve the napkin, shifting his wheelchair around, reaching down but unable to touch the napkin. The woman next to him had a good laugh when she told him to stick his gum to a stick and collect the napkin that way. She eventually engaged in this mental and physical challenge to ascertain the lost paper.

As sad as it was to see two unable to reach the floor from their seats, it was good to see them able to recognize the challenge and attempt to solve the problem. Others here, unable to lift their eyes or forks, seem dead in their chairs. Would I want to live that way — unable to communicate, form thoughts, feed myself, take care of myself?

When does a person’s life end, and when do they die? An easy answer is of course when the heart beat ends, but that’s too simple. The end isn’t that cut and dry.

Are people who are unable to form thoughts living? If they require two or three other people’s time to complete basic functions without being able to comprehend what is occurring and what others are doing for them, are they even alive? It’s hard to watch people suffer without being able to think or create in their mind.

I’ll be walking around the cemetery near here, thinking about how many people have died well before they enter that pine box.