Hunter Traditions

The scene is set at the turn of the 20th century, in Russia. Tevye, a Jewish father is trying to hold on to what he had been taught his entire life and has been part of the faith and belief system that has been handed down to him from generations who came before him. He finds himself having his beloved beliefs and traditions being challenged. The musical’s opening number rings in my head, “Tradition! Tradition!” Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite shows ever.

The word tradition rings louder no other time of the year than during the Christmas season. I know in our family, Christmas drips with tradition. You need to be careful, because if you do something more than 2 years in a row, it’s highly probable that it will stick forever. Then if you forget or try to skip it one year, you will be met with overwhelming opposition proclaiming, “We have to do that… it’s a family tradition!”

The Hunter holiday season starts with Thanksgiving and ends sometime in January, when the tree is disassembled. So, in reality, it lasts somewhere around 2 months. I thought it would be fun and entertaining to share some of our fun traditions that still carry on, as well as some that have died a hard death, and even one or two that are revived yearly, but should probably stay dead.

One year, Chrissy wanted to take the kids to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago. You know the one that’s on TV every year. After some diligent research, Chrissy found out that we needed to arrive early and bundle up because most years it’s colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon.  You need to be there EARLY to secure a good spot. So, we put a plan together. The first year was fun. The second year, now that was the year that was more than entertaining and after that, it was decided that it would probably be in the best interest of the Hunter family not to go again. The issue is that this is one of those traditions that keeps trying to come back.

So, you may be wondering why we needed put this to rest? Well… it has to do with Chrissy getting into an argument with one of Chicago’s finest policemen. Long story short is that we were told to move from our “spot,” the one we had been at for over an hour with all the kids. It was a great place to see the entire parade, but we were told to move back. So, we did, only to have other people move in and sit right where we had been, blocking the kids’ vision. This did not go down well with the Hunter momma. So, she got the attention of the officer and asked why these people were allowed to stay where we were not? The cop was pretty irritated and said, Ma’am,  you need to relax and enjoy the parade from where you are sitting. Totally not cool. Well, the momma bear was getting ready to roar about the injustice that her family was dealt. I could see the tension rising, and so I had to step in and calm her down. We ended up moving to a better location, nowhere near as good as the original, but we still had fun and everyone could see the parade. We all agreed on the train ride home, that if I hadn’t stepped in, we would have been watching the parade from the police station waiting room.

Another tradition we have is writing on a special table cloth what we are thankful for. This one was a keeper, but has since been put on hold until we find a new tablecloth. We started a new one a few years ago, but we had a few guests who didn’t understand our special tradition and well, sharpies are permanent. Though it was nothing horrible, our guests’ inscriptions weren’t supportive of our values and the Hunter Code, so we retired that tablecloth. The problem is that we can’t find a tablecloth big enough to fit the table I built for 13 people.

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One last simple, and from what I hear popular tradition, is a thanksgiving puzzle that everyone works on throughout the day while visiting and enjoying each other. We choose a new puzzle every year. Some years the puzzle will last until Christmas, then other years it only lasts the day.

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Thanksgiving also starts the Christmas movies too. Our list has the traditional stop motion tv specials like Rudolph and Frosty. We also have a few others that we love , like, the Polar Express, Arthur’s Christmas, The Santa Clause Movies, Christmas Vacation, and The Grinch.  Our favorite traditional movies are White Christmas, Christmas Story, and Braveheart. Yes, Braveheart. Being of a Scottish heritage, we start the New Year off with this one, I honestly think this got on our list because it was the only movie on tv one New Year’s Day, and it was being played over and over again. So the next year, someone remembered that we had watched Braveheart, and decided it was a “new” tradition for us.

A few of our other traditions are cutting down a fresh tree as a family, and decorating it as a family too. Even our married kids come home to help decorate the tree. This can be tricky with everyone’s schedule, but it’s a tradition, so we make it happen. This is also the start of a huge rivalry in the clan. The issue is who puts the angel on the top of the tree. When the kids were little, I would lift them up, and they would place the angel on the top of the tree. The problem arose one year when we forgot who put the angel on the previous year. Everyone started arguing over whose turn it was. So now, Chrissy and I have to take pictures of who does the tree topper for evidence the next year when everyone starts arguing about whose turn it is. We were doing oldest to youngest, but that got messed up somewhere along the line. Even now, as adults, the kids bicker back and forth about who will get to put the angel on the tree until we go look at the old pictures.

One way we get everyone together during the Christmas season is the reading of the family Advent book. This is a sacred book that can only be opened and read and looked at during the Advent season. Now that the kids are older, instead of reading from the book every night, we just get together each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas. We have dinner and read the Advent book.  December 26th, the book is tied shut with a gold ribbon until the next year’s Advent. The book is unique in many ways, but the biggest thing is that each page has a different door on it and each door opens to reveal a part of the birth of Jesus Christ. The author and illustrator are a husband and wife, and the book truly is amazingly beautiful.

This is another thing where the kids still try to outwit each other because they all want to be the one who opens the Christmas Day door. They count who will read which door and as we each take a turn reading the doors; they try to get themselves in the order they think will increase their chances to open the Christmas door, the last door of the book. Now that we have added to the clan with daughters and grands, it’s even more fun to watch as they try to get to be the one to open the last door.

On Christmas Day, before any gifts are unwrapped or anything else, we take a little time to read the Advent Book all the way through, and I read Luke’s take on the birth of Christ from the Bible. Then we take time to pray. Then, and only then, can we start to open the gifts. We have been asked how we do gifts. With a family our size, gifts can be an expensive challenge. So, Chrissy and I came up with giving 3 smaller gifts, 1 large gift, and a stocking to each one. We decided on 4 gifts because of the 3 gifts brought by the Three Wise Men and given to Mary and Joseph in honor of the Christ child. The one larger gift is to remind us of the great gift of grace God gave us through His Son. The stockings are full of a variety of small gifts, just like the variety of gifts the Holy Spirit brings us when we accept Jesus as our Savior.

Another tradition that we think is fun is our Christmas Eve dinner tradition. I’m not sure when this started; I believe it was when we moved from Pennsylvania to go to school for ministry. With our families being so far away, we started some of these traditions to fill the void we felt and to give us something to look forward to. Holidays are hard when separated from extended family. For this tradition in particular, it came from one of the traditional movies we watch, “The Christmas Story.” It’s from the part after the family has their turkey stolen by the neighbor’s hounds. They end up in the only restaurant open on Christmas,  a Chinese restaurant. So, each Christmas Eve, after Christmas Eve services at church, we eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We have had so much fun with this tradition. Over the years, we have enjoyed being able to invite others along with us to take part in this fun tradition. We have shared in some great conversations and in building some amazing relationships. I believe the most we have had was around 26 people at one time taking part in this tradition.

After we are done with our Chinese feast, we head back to our home for the reading of the Advent book, as well as another fun tradition that the kids came up with. As they got older they wanted to buy each other gifts, but we really didn’t have the money to let each of them shop for each other, so they came up with what they call Secret Santa. We draw names on Thanksgiving Day, and on Christmas Eve, we give our gifts to whose names we drew. The kids would use money they earned, as well as Chrissy and I helping a little, so they could get their special gift.

These are just a few of our favorite traditions we have that are close to our family’s hearts and help make us who we are. Each year, Chrissy and I think through what we do and decide which traditions we will make more of a priority. We also try to see if there are any new things we want to add to the list.

This year we added two fun games to the list that seemed to go well and were fun. But we will have to wait and see if they will stand the test of time in the Hunter clan.

I would love to hear some of the fun traditions that your families have; we may want to borrow them!

 

 

Trains, Flames, and Automobiles

 

The other day Chrissy and I wanted to grab something to eat. We had heard that a new restaurant was opening that was owned by the same person who owned another restaurant that had closed a while back, that we absolutely loved.  The place that closed had great food at a reasonable price. We loved the atmosphere there, as well as the décor. Sometimes there are just those places that immediately whisk you back in time to earlier years when life seemed a little easier. These places flood you with good memories. That is a big reason I liked this place… it had a cozy home feel to it. The place settings were mismatched, but really nice. It was like someone went to your grandparent’s house and bought a few of their place settings, then went to someone else’s grandparents, and did the same thing over and over until they had a huge collection of place settings.

 

The other cool thing was the mismatched cloth napkins at each place setting. Never the same, but always nice and clean. There’s just something about having a cloth napkin at meal time that makes things feel special.

The biggest thing that we loved was the floor. The floor was covered with old vintage magazine pages sealed with a clear coat protectant. It was the coolest thing. It may have been a bit feminine, but I was good with it, because to drew my mind back to my grandmother’s house. Living so far from family, it was a nice place to have a cup of coffee and a homemade sweet treat like my mom would make from one of my grandmother’s recipes. It was quiet most times, so I could think and plan things that I needed to. It was always a great meeting place too, especially for a date with my sweetheart.

So, when this placed closed, it was very sad. It left a big hole for a while in my repertoire of hangout places and in our small community.

When I heard that this new place was opening in the next town over, I was super excited! I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that the food would be great. Recently, we were able to go for a late breakfast.

When we entered the place, which we had been in before when it was another coffee shop, we both were pleasantly surprised.

The old establishment that occupied this building before was nice, but seemed a little dark. It was okay, but definitely not my favorite.

Now seeing what the new owners did, it was great! It took a few months for them to open, but I had heard it was partly because of redoing the floors. It was clean and friendly from the time we entered to the time we checked out.

We were welcomed by amazing magazine-page floors with a food theme, which then transitioned the dining area into railway magazine pages.

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Now, if I’m going to be honest I didn’t notice that they were railway magazines at first. What I did notice was a picture on the wall that was familiar to me. When Chrissy and I went on our first cruise, as a last-minute excursion, we chose to go on an amazing train ride known as the White Passage.

Side Note: This was when I got to see an American Black Bear and her cub in the wild. The Chinese man that spotted her, now that was a hoot for sure! He was pointing and yelling in English with the Chinese accent, “Beer! Beer over dare!” If we were on a boat, we would have tipped over with the sudden shift of weight. He was so very excited.

The Picture in this little restaurant reminded me of the Yukon Railway…the train company that carried us through the passage. After a little digging, I found it was not the same one as in the picture. Great Northern Railway and Yukon had similar logos.

But, as I looked around it all came together– the name of the new establishment “The Coffee Depot,” the train and railway décor, not to mention that the little gem is situated next to busy train tracks, where almost every hour you hear the horn of a locomotive and feel the rumble as it passes through Syracuse.

Looking around the dining area made think of my parents at Christmas time. Chrissy and I got to talking about how every year my dad set up a train track in our house. Some years it was huge, and other years it was small. Ever since I can remember, my parents had a platform set up.

My dad has a love for model trains. And every year, it would take him weeks before Christmas to plan and set up this display.

This was always a big deal, and no matter what, this display had to be done before Christmas.

My parents would decorate the display with a little town that they had created and the focus was the train station in the town.

My dad would construct the base and get the ground laid, some years it was green like grass, while other years it was snow. He would carefully pour this tiny black gravel for roads, and put miniature lights up from underneath the wood to light the shoebox building that my parents had made with great detail. Dad had some scale structures called Plasticville, but they were very expensive, so they only had a few of those to start.  They even had street lights that lit up the roads at night.

Then they would build a paper mache mountain, with a wax waterfall that had variant blue colors of water running down to a pond. The mountain also had a tunnel that the train could pass through.

One year, my parents wanted to get trailing pine and green moss for the platform, so we went for a hike up the mountain we lived on. We found some, brought it back and constructed a green mountain with live moss.

Side Note: It was never a good day if the train jumped the track in the tunnel. Most times this was due to unsupervised little hands as the conductor.

The Lionel train was my dad’s baby. He always took special care of the old engine and caboose. Every year, we would make a trip to one of the most fascinating stores… English’s Train Shoppe. This place had every train you could think of on display.There were so many that they even had them hanging from the ceiling. The best part was that they always had most of them running. I absolutely loved the trip to this place. This is where my dad would get supplies and have the engine serviced. This was also the place where we would get the corrugated red brick paper that would run around the sides of the platform to hide all the wires underneath the town.

He would finish the display off with little people figures and matchbox cars. The cars were special because this was something we both were enthusiastic about. He had ones from when he was a boy, then he would add new ones that were mine.

The older I got the more I enjoyed the platform and looked forward to helping with it. The older I got, the ornerier I got too. One year I un-repentantly started a tradition. I created an incident with some of the matchbox cars.

Side Note: We always had matchbox cars, never hot wheels. It was like a rival team or something I really don’t know why, but dad only liked the matchbox cars. I remember him saying “I don’t want any of that Hot Wheels Sh*t on my platform!” We really didn’t do sports, so I guess we did miniature car companies?

So, this one year, I took some of the cars and created a fender bender scene. I had two cars crashed, and a gas tanker truck flipped on its side. I pulled out the fire trucks from the fire station and the ambulance too, and I placed them at the scene of the accident. I did think about setting the truck on fire but luckily I realized that could be a very bad thing. Besides, I wanted to see how long it would take my dad to notice this little eye sore in his pleasant, peaceful town.

One thing, I haven’t mentioned was that the platform was sacred. No one could touch it after it was finished– it was a piece of fine art. So, when he finally noticed the destruction I created, he became almost unglued! It was so funny that I had to repeat it again and again over the years. Now it’s one of those things that my dad puts on there himself. Perhaps, it’s just a reminder to him of the fun, silly things I did while growing up.

A few years back, I received a very special gift that I treasure. My dad got me a Lionel train set, so I could continue the train tradition in our family. I don’t know that I have done the best job of doing that as a dad, but I want to see if I can do better as a Popz for my grands.

I love thinking about these special moments, they remind me of the love we shared as a family growing up. The platform was a yearly connecting point for the family, but seemed to be even more special to dad and me. I hope to have that same connection with things with my kids and the grands too!

Lastly, The Coffee Depot’s food was great, as well as the trip down memory lane!

Coffee Depot Facebook Page

Family Force Five Christmas Pageant

One day we’d all sat down for supper, when Tori looked at me and said, “Dad? I need your help.” I said “Okay, with what?” She continued, “Well, Family Force Five is having a contest… and I want to enter.” Ben piped up in the most taunting voice he could muster, “She wants to meet Soul Glow Activator! She’s in love!” Tori quickly snapped back, “No I’m not!”

I interrupted, “Okay, settle down! Tori, what’s this all about? What do you need to do, and how do you need me to help?”

Tori stated to explain, “Well… I need to make a video showing that I’m their biggest fan.” She started to get excited, as she continued, “When they come to our area on their Christmas tour, they will choose two videos from those who live in the area of the concert.” The faster she talked, the louder she got as the pitch of her voice went higher and higher. “You and a friend get to go to the concert for free and go backstage to meet everyone in the band!” She was raising out of her seat. With wide eyes, she proclaimed “Then you get to go on stage to help with a song! I HAVE TO WIN!”

She had everyone at the table laughing about how excited she got.

I said, “Okay, settle down now. What did you have in mind? She unfolded her plan to show that she was a huge FF5 fan. She said, “I was planning to interview people them while they say that I’m their biggest fan!”

I said “Like who?”

“The kids at youth group. I was also thinking that I could have footage of me inviting people on the street to the concert. I was thinking that you could help me make flyers and get some video shots of me posting them in stores. What do you think, will it work, will you help?”

Ben said, “You’re crazy!”

I said, “Let’s think about this, you need to have some sort of flow for your video. After supper, we sat and came up with an idea of all the video shots we would need. In addition to the interviews and the flyers, we thought she could have a FF5 contest of some sort. So, we decided to have a praise guitar contest. This was a Christian music version of guitar hero. I also suggested that we do a music video with one of their songs.

Tori loved all the ideas. We had about a month to get everything done, edited, and submitted. So, we had a lot to do and only a little time to get it done. Tori worked on getting flyers distributed for her contest and lined up interviews with some of her friends. She asked if I would help plan out the music video.

For the storyline, we thought we could have our family receive an anonymous gift on the porch of a FF5 party in a box. We would have instruments, shutter shades, and iconic green FF5 Christmas pageant bowties. Everyone would be dressed conveniently in a red shirt, and we would have a concert on the front lawn of our house after receiving the box.

The funny part was that our family was working as the custodian crew at the church, so we were working very long hours, and we wouldn’t get finished until around 8pm or later. This meant we could only shoot this music video at night. I thought I would borrow a few bright spinning lights from my ministry and a snow machine as well. We decorated the front of the house with lights and presents. I had an inflatable nativity set; we put printouts of the bands faces on some the nativity people to be funny. We also spelled out FF5 on the roof of our ranch style house so it could be seen. I used my halogen shop lights to light the yard while filming, and they did a pretty good job lighting up the whole front of the house. We also played the song so with us lip synching. The craziest part was that we did all this around 9pm.

Everyone was involved Tori, the boys, and even Chrissy! We had so much fun creating this video. We had the lights flashing and rotating lights that sent beams of light all over the place in the yard with loud music playing. We didn’t have real snow yet, but the snow machine gave a great effect of snow falling. Silas tried to make snow angels, but was not too successful with the fake snow. It was a wonder that the neighbors didn’t call the police, but they knew we were always doing something crazy at our house. It was almost normal for the people driving by to see us out in the yard with blow-up guitars dancing around acting like we were putting on a concert.

There was one last fun part we wanted to put in. The boys thought it would be funny if we included a shot of Tori somehow falling off the roof while putting up lights.

Tori and Jonah went up on the roof acting like they were decorating the house for a concert. We planned that I would interrupt them with a decoration that I got for the video. Tori would move to the edge of the roof, pretending that she was getting upset because the decoration wasn’t big enough for her to win the contest. As she flailed around on the edge of the roof, she would fall from the roof, then we would rush to her side. She would then would look up in pain and whimper that Family Force 5 was worth it.

I had made a stuffed dummy for fun things like pranks and stunts for some of our dumb videos. His name is “Ted,” actually “Dead Ted,” because well… he was always meeting an unfortunate demise in our pranks

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For the falling off the roof scene, we dressed Ted in clothes to match Tori’s clothes. Then we would throw Ted off the roof. When we shot the ground scene of Tori talking, we would switch Ted with Tori. With careful editing, it actually worked great

We posted our video to YouTube and waited for a response from the band.

Side note: The video is still up on YouTube. Here is the address to watch it: Tori’s FF5 Christmas Video

A few very nervous, but hopeful weeks went by, and then we received an email stating that Tori was one of the winners!

When I showed her the email, she nearly blew a gasket!

Not only did Tori enter, but so did Ben’s girlfriend at the time, and she was the second winner.

The hard part for Tori was to choose who to take to the concert as her guest. She was allowed to bring one person. Naturally, I helped a great deal with the video, but I wasn’t not able to go because of my work schedule. So, Tori had a hard choice to make, but she did make a great choice. She picked her mom.

The night of the concert came. Tori and Chrissy went, so did Ben and his girlfriend. As the story goes, they got to meet the band backstage and helped onstage with multiple numbers. One song was “The Baby,” and Chrissy loves to tell everyone that she was almost killed on stage by a band member, named Na-daddy, who was spinning around like a tornado, while playing his guitar. He nearly smashed into Chrissy as she was concentrating on holding up a baby doll for the song at the right times.

The sad part was that Tori didn’t get to talk to the guys much, because one of the members of the band, Fatty, had been admitted to the hospital right before the show for kidney failure. , the band was in a hurry to get to the hospital after the show.

Still, this Christmas was another one that went down in the Hunter Clan’s history book as a interesting Christmas–definitely one that will always be remembered as a Fun Family Christmas.

One thing we always tried to hold to and teach the kids was that we work hard AND we play hard. When one of the family tries for something, we all encourage and support to the best of our abilities. Success for one of us is success for all of us.

 

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The Christmas Code

I sat there, half asleep on the couch, as the kids excitedly prepared for the day’s festivities. I found myself, coffee mug in hand, staring at a pile of Christmas gifts, thinking, “What did I do to get us in this situation?” Yes, it was Christmas morning. The tree was decorated, as well as the house. This year, Chrissy had the foresight to wrap almost all the presents in advance, which made things easier, but definitely not great. You see, Chrissy was 30 minutes away, laying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life.

Here I was at home, with our kids and Chrissy’s parents, who had arrived in their big RV the night before. Just thinking how is it that I’m in a place where I may lose my wife, best friend, lover once more?

Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It was in the beginning of December 2004 when it all started. Recently, we had received dental benefits with my compensation package at church, so we were on a dentistry kick. Getting everyone’s teeth looked at and fixed, cleaned, you know the drill. Chrissy was in for a simple cleaning, being new to all this dentistry stuff, we really had no clue of things you should be careful of. One such thing is that if you have a heart murmur, you should be medicated prior to dental work. Most dentists will ask you this, and then make sure you have what you need prior to the dental work. Chrissy has a heart murmur, and well, she should have had an antibiotic before her teeth were cleaned. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Chrissy had her teeth cleaned, and everything seemed to be fine, for several days afterwards. That was until she started running a fever; we thought she had gotten the flu. She got sick and then she would seem to gain her strength, only to relapse. Finally, it got worse. Chrissy had a fever and started getting a rash. So, we went to the local convenient care because we had not yet established a family doctor. We had just moved to Chicagoland the year before.

We went to the immediate care, and the doctor who saw her said it was just the flu, not to worry, and get some rest. So, we went back home. A  few days passed, and she still had not fully recovered. Then she started to complain of a crushing pain in her chest. This really scared me. She also started to break out in hives.

We thought this must be an allergic reaction to something. We went back through everything she ate, and if we changed anything like soap or detergents, anything we could think of and the answer was no, so we headed out to the convenient care again.

This time, different doctor. Chrissy was short of breath and on the verge of a panic attack because of not knowing what was going on. She still had a fever and when they went to take x-rays of her chest, she passed out for a few seconds. After all that she tried to explain everything that she was feeling, but the doctor concluded that it had to be a allergy to something.

Side Note: I was not able to go back with her because I was on kid duty in the waiting room.

The doctor prescribed some meds and sent us on our way. Chrissy felt like they thought she was crazy. We got her on the meds and saw some improvement.

Somehow, we managed to Christmas shop, attend work parties, and go to church. Chrissy and I also decided while wrapping presents that it would be a smashing idea if we used a secret code system on the Christmas tags instead of names.

This year, we had not only gotten better insurance, I had also received a nice pay raise, and we were so excited that we could buy some nice presents that the kids really wanted. This was going to be a very special year.

We did have one huge dilemma; we had a peeker in our family. You know the kid who likes to look at their gifts before Christmas and guess what they were. Oh, Ben is a peeker, and a good one at that. He would shake and squeeze things. He had even been known to unwrap things and rewrap them.  If we would hide the presents, he would find them. He could never keep it a secret either, he had to let his sister and brothers know what he did. He was so proud of himself.

So, this year we came up with a diabolical plan. Looking back, I think Chrissy was having some sort of delusion from the fever or side effect to the medications she was taking because this was just a crazy plan. Actually, it was a genius plan.

We thought we’ll code the presents and hide them in the garage. That is exactly what we did. We would wrap the presents. Chrissy would get out the highly secret code key and label the presents, and I would take them to the hiding place in the locked garage.

This code thing really was genius! Somehow each code was different so there was no telling which present would go to who without Chrissy and the key. This was a brilliant plan for sure! We would have our sneaking peeker foiled this year!

Then Christmas week was here, and Chrissy still had not gotten fully better. I was in charge of all the kid’s ministry Christmas services, all 6 of them. We had 2 on what we call Christmas Eve-Eve, and then 4 on the actual Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve morning, we got up, and Chrissy’s body was absolutely covered with hives. She had a high temperature, the shortness of breath and the crushing chest pain. So, I decided to call a doctor I had recently seen and luckily was able to make an appointment for her that day. We arrive at the doctor’s office, and they got us in quickly. The doctor looked at her and told us that she needed to be admitted to the hospital, and that this was very serious. He gave us orders for blood work and told us to go now and they would be calling the hospital to let them know we were coming.

We got to the hospital and they admitted her and had the blood work done and started her on a course of penicillin. Her fever had spiked to 104. My love was white as fresh fallen snow. They hooked her up to all kinds of monitors. They said that they were doing all they could to make her comfortable. When the Doctor finally came in he told us that she had sepsis of the blood and that the next 24 hours would be the most critical. Not the words you wanted to hear. I remember praying as hard as I could.

I called to let my boss know that I would need to call off. I was then told that no one could fill for me, so I needed to be there. On top of that, Chrissy’s parents were on their way in, and I needed to take care of my four children. This was turning out to be the Christmas celebration from you know where.

I left Chrissy, got our kids around for Church, and headed off to work with them. After the last service, we rushed to the hospital to see Chrissy one last time for the night. She seemed to be doing better, but that was just my opinion– the Doctor had an opposing one. He said she seemed to be reacting well to the meds, but needed rest.

I remember Chrissy pulling me in close and whispering that she loved me and not to forget to get the train table put together for Silas and have the clown bike put together for Jonah. I said I would, and I told her not to worry.

At this time, I had not given any thought to the codes we put on all the presents. I was just trying to figure out how I could get the kids to wait for mommy to come home and see them unwrap the cool presents that we had picked out for them.

Presents are a big deal in our family, and there is a lot that goes into choosing the right gift for that receiver. This goes all the way down to how it’s wrapped and even sometimes how it is presented to the receiver.

Side Note: For some presents that are given to special people it takes months of preparation and orchestration, especially if it’s Chrissy giving the gift. She puts her whole heart into making it a positive memorable experience. I absolutely love this about her.

I got the kids home, did all our Christmas eve traditions, and put the kids to bed, As soon as I started to work in the garage on the last presents, in rolled the big RV with the in-laws. I tried to get them welcomed and settled, so I could finish up my projects. I do remember it being around 2 am when I finally crawled into bed and prayed one last payer for my love.

The next thing I knew was that I had four very excited kids bouncing on my bed wanting me to get up. I thought I could buy some time with having the kids go see Grammy and Pop in the RV. That didn’t take long. I was able to get a cup of coffee and get myself dressed.

Now this is where I started this post. With me sitting on the couch. My mind was overwhelmed with thoughts on what to do. I wanted Chrissy to be here to watch the kids open the gifts, but who knew when she would be home, it could be days or maybe even weeks.

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I told the kids to go ahead and open their stockings. This would give me time to seek wisdom from the in-laws. I then remembered the codes. Oh no, those terrific, horrible codes! I thought I got it! The Grandparents always bring tons of presents… I’ll just have the kids open the presents from them now, and then when Chrissy gets home,they can open ours. Brilliant!

So, I thought. But I was shot down by my mother-in-law, and told the kids needed to open our presents. I tried to convince them otherwise even reasoning that I would make the kids wait until I knew when Chrissy would be coming home. That was when the guilt trip started, and I totally lost all strength to fight.

I set up the video camera, and away we went. It was a disaster.  The biggest mistake I can remember is that everyone was opening each other’s gifts, and Ben opened up Tori’s American Girl Doll. Which seemed so funny to everyone, but me and I’m sure to my wife later when she found out. I believe the dog’s present was even messed up.

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Afterwards, I was told that when Chrissy got out of the hospital, the kids could open the presents that the grands brought.  I was so frustrated!

I told the kids to get ready; we were going to see mommy. We got to the hospital and they got to see Chrissy. She looked tons better, but still was super weak. The doctor told us that she was lucky to be with us. They also said she needed much rest and care.

We left the hospital and stopped by a Churches Chicken– one of the only places open on Christmas to get a take-home meal which was our Christmas dinner.

Side Note: We never ate Churches Chicken because of a horrible shooting that took place in one of the restaurants, so Chrissy would never ever go there. She refused to.

So, the next day we went back to the hospital and the Doctor said Chrissy should be in there a few more days. Chrissy’s mom asked the doctor why, in a challenging way. She argued with him that Chrissy would be much better at home with her family. After much banter, he told Chrissy that she could sign herself out against doctor’s orders and go home if she wanted to.

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Chrissy’s mom convinced her that would be the best thing to do.

So, she signed herself out and we took her home.

By now the news that the kids had opened everything we had gotten them sunk in. This was a hard thing for us both as we watch the kids tear into the presents that were brought from Pennsylvania. We tried to make the best of it, joking about the clothes that were always too small for me or the strange presents that one of the kid would get that only someone who didn’t really know our kids would get them.

The next day the RV pulled out of the drive, and was off to Pennsylvania again. Leaving our family to care for each other and hopefully give Chrissy the rest she needed.

Unknown to us, but this was the start of a new battle for Chrissy. This sickness did much damage that in the years to come, we would slowly uncover really how bad it was. This was the start of anxiety and depression, as well as a few other issues that still to this day are challenges for my wife.

We now look back and cherish this year and will never forget how blessed we are to have Chrissy with us to celebrate yet another Christmas.