So, 20 hours after having stepped off my flight from Brazil, I was back at the airport, with a different set of luggage and a child, waving good-bye to B. I was so exhausted that I hadn't had the energy to even glance inside our bags and hadn't the slightest idea what I had brought along with me. Luckily, I had had the foresight to do all my packing before flying off to Brazil. The only thing that I hadn't managed to pack was fois gras, thinking that I could surely buy it in Duty Free before getting on the airplane. Bad luck, they've decided that fois gras is too dangerous to carry-on the plane and so has been outlawed by security. High time, I say. Who knows how many innocent people have been killed while caught in the shrapnel of an exploding passenger unable to contain one more mouthful of pure unadulterated transfat.
Amazingly, Ella and I arrived in the States without having any major blow-outs, emotional or diaper-related. She napped nicely and I got to stretch out and watch the inflight movie, since both our planes were only half full. Little did I know that we were squandering a mountain of good luck and that we would pay for it on our return flight...
For the first time in I can't remember how many years, we arrived to snow; a nice thick, white blanket of snow all over everything. Global warning? Bah humbug! Not in Wisconsin. Its so pretty when it is white and snowy everywhere, the best thing is that it feels like Christmas right away. I went up to spend a few days at my Grandpa's house- which is even deeper in the NorthWoods than my parents house- and I think it was easily ten times more beautiful than the most beautiful beaches we had seen in Brazil. Granted, I am horribly biased, but Hollywood would have had a hard time topping this scene. The pine trees had snow piled thick on the branches; the sky was clear and blue and the sun was so bright on the snow on the ground that it hurt your eyes; the wind picked up just enough to blow a light dusting of snow off the roof and the air sparkled as if someone had emptied a container of silver glitter. And then, just as we all stood at the window marvelling at how pretty it was, a family of deer wandered out of the woods and into the yard. Honestly, Walt Disney couldn't have designed a better picture postcard. I tried taking a photo or two but I erased them because they looked completely blah after having seen how perfect it was in reality.
Everything was just perfect for Christmas this year. As usual, when we're in the thick of things, it seems horrible and stressful and disorganized, and but it all works out in the end and we have a fantastic time. This year we had a major crisis when we couldn't find the recipe for white fruit cake- toasted white fruit cake for breakfast is a Christmas tradition in our house so there were telephone calls flying about for two days while we scoured old cookbooks, the bottom of cupboards, and finally- in desperation- resorted to Google. Crisis averted. Let's see, what else? Oh, of course there was the missing fois gras. Luckily my brother was sent to Amsterdam for a few weeks for work. I called B and was arranging for an emergency shipment of fois gras to be delivered to the hotel, in order to save our Christmas Eve menu, when my brother decided to make a quick detour to Paris before flying home. Poor B was getting a bit lonely at home in Paris, overseeing the kitchen renovation, so I think he appreciated the company. Besides, the heat had been turned off while the builders were in and our apartment was freezing cold. B and the brother spent a few nights cuddled up in our bed- since every other room in the flat was stacked to the ceiling with kitchen cupboards and appliances and boxes- and there wasn't even a large enough square of free floor space for a boy to stretch out. Luckily, my brother had more reasons than just the fois gras for going to Paris because his bags were lost on his flight home and we had to do without, boo-hoo.
I tried very hard to minimize my stress by doing nearly all my 'Santa' shopping for ella over the internet. As soon as I arrived home, I scoured all the catalogs that my mother had collected for me, I weighed the pros and cons of all the different things (which generally boiled down to whether or not I would be able to get it home in my suitcase and find a place for in her already overflowing toybox) and placed my orders well within the deadlines for delivery. Well, naturally it is never that easy. I very nearly had a nervous breakdown waiting for her things to arrive. Finally, FINALLY, on Christmas Eve morning (slipping in just under the bell) I got the box I had been waiting for. I bought Ella a dollhouse, all the furniture and the little doll family to live there. Of course, I had to go a little bit overboard (it would be totally out of character for me to be reasonable), and I ordered the Christmas decorating set, complete with miniature candy canes, tiny wrapped presents, and a battery-operated lighted Christmas tree. Its entirely possible that I loved it far more than Ella did (or maybe, ever will) but it was definitely worth staying up late, after Ella was in bed, putting it all together. I think this is my first real Christmas as a mommy. We had one last little crisis, when I realized that I couldn't actually put the house together with screws because they were locking screws and I risked not being able to get it apart to fit in my luggage so I made an executive decision to put the house together with clear packing tape. Ok, it wasn't the ideal solution or very pretty, but at 11:30 on Christmas Eve night, I didn't really have the time to think up a better solution.
I got stacks of lovely things under the Christmas tree, obviously I was a very good girl this year. I don't know if I mentioned that B bought me a travel wallet at the Mulberry party that was the most perfect gift, and already is very well broken in. The best surprise gift was a camera tripod that has flexible legs that can be manipulated to make the camera stand (or hang from) any surface. I love it! I had seen it in a magazine weeks ago and the article said that it was only available in Japan so I hadn't even mentioned it to anyone. Ella decorated a picture frame for me, which I adore. She was so proud and excited to give it me, there is no way that I could not love it more than all my other presents put together.
Christmas day a big snow storm moved over, leaving a fresh blanket of fluffy snow over enerything and the next day (or was it the day after? There is an eggnog fog hanging over the post-Christmas days that makes it difficult for me to remember precisely...) I took Ella sledding for the first time. It was so much fun! We found a short little hill just near my mom's house and grabbed my nephew and my sisters and spent about an hour dragging her up and down, while she giggled her head off. Even better, when we went back to the house, my mom had homemade hot chocolate for us and we threw in a few of my homemade peppermint marshmallows. In a fit of Christmas spirit, I had spent an afternoon making these marshmallows about two weeks before and hadn't even tried them yet. How much better could a vacation get? If only we had flown home immediately...
The next day, the plague descended on the house and there was hardly a person left standing. Stomach flu. I'll just leave it there.
So, after recovering enough to pack my bags, I quickly decided that I would simply pay the extra baggage charge rather than repack and repack to squeeze everything into 4 suitcases, and we headed to the airport. It was an ill-fated trip from the get-go. First off, there were no 4-wheel drive vehicles available. My parents driveway could easily be confused with a used car lot and there is a constantly rotating choice of vehicles. My mother was just about hysterical over the idea that we would be forced to drive her precious Mercedes on actual roads, very possibly getting actual mud, which comes from dirt, on her car which may or may not be made of sugar. Personally, I didn't find it such a complete tragedy... Although, I did feel a bit badly when Ella vomitted in the car on the way to the airport. The plane was completely full and I had to put Ella to sleep on the floor. There was a horrific storm over Iceland and after barely making it to the ground, they informed us that we were stuck there until the eye (!) of the storm passed, when they would try to get us all out. 10 hours later, after the passengers of the Paris flight got so irate that they were required to call in the police to calm us down, they managed to find a crew for our plane and we were on our way once again. For the entire 10 hours in the airport, Ella only laid down for 45 minutes, amazingly. She is the best traveller and hardly fussed about anything, preferring instead to run up and down the hallways with the other 50 toddlers also trapped in the airport. I had barely slept on the first flight but apparently 3 hours of sleep was enough to wind her up like a Duracell bunny. By the time we did get back in the air, though, Ella was hysterical with sleep deprivation and hadn't eaten anything in about 50 hours (if you don't count half a box of smarties, which frankly, I don't), was so filthy that I would have been horrified under normal circumstance but I was so tired I was just happy to still be able to walk.
It's no wonder then that I am still totally exhausted. B has started making noises about how a week is surely enough to recover from the jetlag, but honestly, I don't know. The day after we arrived, I had to stay up all day playing with ella. Then that night we had NYE plans so we were out til 3 am. I felt like a bit of a spoilsport not going on to a club after we left our friends, especially since we were paying a fortune for a babysitter, but I was trying to be sage. Sweet Ella let us sleep until 1 pm the next day. Then I got a horrible cold- surprise surprise- so I am slowly snuffling my way back to normal. I've given myself Monday as a deadline. Ella is back to daycare, all her classes start, and it will be time for me to start sorting myself out for 2008. I have big big plans and I can't wait to dig in and get it at it. Only about 6 more New Years cards to get in the mail, and so i think that we can label Holiday Extravaganza 2007 a smashing success.