Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas In Wisconsin

 A Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at my sister's (Beth) church

    With my sister and her family living in Wisconsin and my family dwelling in South Carolina, Christmas offers us a special opportunity to visit one another. This year it was our turn to travel, and preparations began in November. Scott and I began ordering gifts Online and shipping them ahead to my sister's home as soon as we could afford it. My husband, Scott had been working a second job at a deer processing business since August, and with my uncle's generous help, we managed to swing this special trip and Christmas gifts. Since three of the Wand kids will be in braces by the first week of January, finances were certainly an issue! My sister, Beth, had a challenge to get her home ready for a large amount of house guests while being Momma to two young girls.
   We Wands love a road trip! Our van has seen better days, but with an oil change, a borrowed travel carrier on top, and much prayer, we attempted our two-day journey to Wisconsin.  Armed with a new cell phone, I texted pictures of us as we entered each new state to family members.

Getting colder!

    We don't get to travel very often, so even a hotel stay is an exciting change for us. How strange to pack bathing suits for a winter trip up North! My kids looked forward to swimming in the indoor hotel pool and attacking the breakfast bar the following morning. I always have to request extra towels and hair shampoo for our large family at the front desk. The drive itself is actually fairly quiet. The kids read and listen to their ipods with earbuds, while I usually doze in my husband's "neck pillow" that boasts "Number One Dad" on its corner. On the way there, each state greeted us with a grayer sky and colder temperature. On the way back, there was much drizzle, but the temperatures gradually grew warmer with each state closer to home. We usually leave with sandwiches and snacks, but by the time we arrive at the hotel, we usually go out for dinner and then back out for lunch on the second day of driving. That too, is a big treat. The hotel stop on the way there was in Indianapolis where we made a quick trip to see the Lucus Oil football stadium and the Indianapolis Speedway.  On the way home, we spent the night in Kentucky.

Warming up at the hotel in Indianapolis after a looong, cold drive!

     Beth and her family greeted us excitedly when we arrived. Her oldest greeted us with squeals and soon, my brother-in-law, Brad, had homemade pizzas going in the oven. The second day was one of my favorites. Beth and I slipped out by ourselves for some more shopping, a very nice lunch, and a froo froo coffee before heading back to her beautiful home. A generous amount of snow flurries pelted us in the parking lots, but alas, none of it was to stick during a rare, snowless Christmas week in Wisconsin. We returned and seriously got busy wrapping the presents I had sent ahead of us and the purchases we made that day. Beth had prepared a "wrapping room" in an unfinished area of her basement hidden away from curious little eyes.
     My family opens most of our presents on Christmas Eve, and that day was a bevy of activity. Brad made a turkey, some seriously good mashed potatoes (cream cheese, sour cream, about a pound of butter, fresh minced garlic and salt and pepper are smashed into a ten pound batch of unpeeled red potatoes- wow - just wow), gravy, and homemade cranberry sauce.  Beth had assembled a sweet potato casserole the day before, and I made the green bean casserole, Danish rice pudding, and heated the rolls.  Because the temperature was so cold, the screened in porch made a convenient walk-in-refrigerator/freezer.  My uncle and 93-year-old grandmother arrived that afternoon.  After an afternoon meal and a candlelight Christmas Eve service at my sister's church, we returned to her home to open presents and enjoy dessert. Meanwhile, my mother and stepfather celebrated with my brother and his family in North Carolina and my father and stepmother celebrated with my stepbrother and his family in the upstate of South Carolina. Schedules kept some of us apart this year, but it has been years since we have celebrated with my grandmother (a recent widow) and my uncle.

 The kids and Uncle Ed

The kids and Great Grandma (G.G.)

Beth's girls and G.G.

The boys and Skylar

Getting ready to open presents!

      G.G. (my grandmother) spent the night while my uncle went back to his hotel. We Wands took over the large, finished basement that Beth had stocked with towels and bath supplies. Though our family does not recognize Santa Claus, stockings are hung for fun (even for G.G. and Uncle Ed), and the activity continued early the next day. Since more relatives would arrive the day after Christmas and we would enjoy another large homemade meal, we decided to try something totally new and different on Christmas Day. Early in the evening, my uncle, brother-in-law and I slipped out to a Chinese restaurant and picked up four large bags of take out!  I don't think my kids have ever had their own personal made to order Chinese meal. We usually go to a buffet when we go at all. They were thrilled to each have their own Chinese favorite and Uncle Ed managed to throw in enough toasted coconut covered brownies from the front counter for all of us while somehow escaping my notice!

Drawing with the girls

Joey and cousin Skylar

Emily received a special and unusual gift this year!

     The next day, Brad's (my brother-in-law) family joined us as well as my uncle's cousin, Andrea (my first cousin once removed) and her adult daughter, Rachel. The side dishes were remade and joined to any leftovers while a ham baked. Brad's parents brought homemade Chex mix, candied popcorn, fudge, and cookie bars.  His sister's family also joined us and brought a smoked beef tenderloin. This was amazing, by the way. It tasted like summer sausage, but had the texture of a wedge of roast beef. Cousin Andrea brought a platter of homemade cookies (including the beloved Polish Kolachkies), a pasta dish, and a vegetable casserole. Uncle Ed had showed up that morning with two huge boxes of decadently iced donuts of all varieties and they too, were still available for dessert. Coffee brewed continually. To our delight, a large package filled with more gifts arrived from my mom and stepdad that morning.
Brad wears the scarf my mom made while he passes out more gifts!
Brad's family opens their gifts while we open gifts from Grandma and Poppa Norm's package.

Uncle Ed models my mother's (his sister's) homemade, knitted gifts.

Hanging out with Brad's family

      Since Brad had received a "Soda Stream" for Christmas, his sister, Lisa was experimenting with sodas and carbonating anything she could get her hands on. Her daughter, Lauren, hit it off with my kids and they duked it out on Super Mario until bedtime. How nice to have all of them gather to see us off the next morning. We made our sandwiches with ham and turkey leftovers and filled our washed and saved Chinese take-out boxes with our favorite dishes from the previous two days to heat up later at the hotel. My sister, Beth filled us a bag with some Chex mix, popcorn, and cookies for snacks. After enjoying our sausage biscuits and coffee, we were off on the two-day journey home.
     The hotel in Kentucky was being remodeled, so the pool was closed and the phones weren't working. We had our cells, our take-out, and three television sets in the large two bedroom hotel room, so we still managed to have a pretty good time! Scott and I slipped out and found Oreo ice cream sandwiches on sale at Bruster's for a dollar a piece and brought back a bag for the kiddos. We slept well, ate the hotel breakfast, and headed out the next morning for home. After hitting some serious traffic in Tennesee and stopping twice for meals, we finally got home around 8:00 P.M. and were greeted by our neighbor in the driveway with our mail. Thank you, Lord and family for a very, very special and memorable Christmas! Most of all, thank you, Lord, that my sister and her family love You too!
Getting closer and warmer!

Home sweet home!

And in you (Abram) all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:3

~Jennifer


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