The Christmas Letter that Wasn’t

The Christmas Letter(that Wasn't)
This year I tossed around the idea of writing “a Christmas letter.” My family has never been one to send out long missives full of detailed accounts of all of our accomplishments. Maybe we had too many kids…or too few accomplishments. ;) Maybe it just isn’t our style. But this year, I was feeling rather adult-ish I guess, because I thought about writing a Christmas letter myself, printing a few copies and sending it to my friends. Different friends knew different highlights of what 2015 held for my family, but I wanted to do a recap. The recap would, I hoped, both keep me feeling connected to my faraway friends and explain why I was so bad at keeping up with everyone for the past twelve months. The point is: 2015 was a whopper. So much so that a Christmas letter never even began to happen. For this reason, I am proud to introduce you to my New Years’ Recap on the Blog. Enjoy!
Near the end of 2014, my sister and her husband announced they were pregnant with their first child! We were all elated. Caitlin had a very healthy pregnancy, outside of the fact that she’s automatically considered high-risk due to type-1 diabetes. Early in the pregnancy, we had a big scare. She went so low in her sleep that she went unconscious and we were unable to wake her up. It was very dramatic, we called an ambulance, but ended up not transporting her. After that, her pregnancy became increasingly high-maintenance. Thankfully, Simeon came in June as healthy as can be, but only by the grace of God and lots and lots of hard work. Caitlin managed her diet with indescribable meticulousness. She was never alone for more than about five minutes (literally) and never drove during her pregnancy, due to the risk of quick, severe lows with no warning. She set alarms to wake up and test her blood sugar several times every night and my mom went and checked on her every night as well, especially on mornings when my brother-in-law went into work before dawn. Everyone told Caitlin to enjoy her sleep while she could, but from what I’ve heard, waking up to feed your baby is way better than waking up to test your blood sugar! We had a few more scares, particularly in April when she came down with a stomach bug and had to spend 24 hours under observation in the emergency room. Vomiting paired with diabetes and pregnancy is one of those things to make you thank God for modern medicine. When she came down with the virus, we were preparing to leave for Europe. The plan was for my parents, my two youngest sisters and I to all fly out of Houston, but my mom very nearly stayed home. Thankfully (the word of the year, right there) Caitlin was finally able to eat before it was time for us to leave. She was released, returned to Eyrie Park and held down the fort for us while we were gone. Jeweliet helped her a lot during the nineteen days we were abroad and, in June, she was induced and gave birth to Joe Simeon Giles.
The past six months with Simeon “on the outside” have been a delight. He has been very healthy and is a great eater. He is continually chubbier, has rosy cheeks, blond hair and bright blue eyes. He loves to play peek-a-boo, sit up and “join” in the conversation, eat cereal and especially mashed peas, take baths or be naked in general, lie under the Christmas tree and drum on the table. He loves music, his Winnie the Pooh bear, patty-cake, rolling over and anything and everything “Grandaddy” does.
Caitlin, Joe D. and Simeon all still live with us while their home is under construction next door. The painstaking process of building the house ourselves (literally, my dad and brothers driving the nails) has been delayed time and again. My dad has worked extremely hard on the house…but he also works extremely hard at the emergency room, where he works about double an average full-time job and always in twenty-four hour shifts. Finally, a couple of months ago, my parents hired a crew to finish much of the house and it really is getting close now. It’s an adorable, two-bedroom one-bath with green siding and two big porches. I can’t wait to help Caitlin decorate, unpack (her things have been in a storage building for years now) and settle in!
As I mentioned before, April found my parents, two youngest sisters and I abroad! The goal was to take Dorothy to Latvia one more time to secure her permanent visa. Since she was already “ours,” for this trip, we were able to travel around to other countries while we were there if we chose. My parents told me that if I could save up for my own plane tickets, I could accompany them. They then decided to invite Phoebe to come along, since she and Dorothy are pretty inseparable…and what could be better than getting to see your BFF-sister’s home country and experience new countries together?
We flew into Amsterdam on Good Friday and had a great time exploring Holland. To keep things brief, we went to The Van Gogh Museum, the Rikes Museum (Rembrandt!) and Hillsong United, Amsterdam. We stayed on a houseboat on the canal, did a lot of walking, jumped on a lot of trams, almost got hit by a lot of bicycles and narrowly avoided the red light district! We then took an over-night train through Germany and woke up in Zurich, Switzerland. Switzerland was truly lovely and I wish I could have spent more time there. We took the Bernina Express through The Alps, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. Switzerland was breathtaking. And so clean, which I appreciated after The Netherlands!
From Switzerland, our train journey continued into Italy. Who knew you get on a train in one country and the landscape slowly changes and you’re suddenly in another, totally different country? Europe blew my mind. Italy was hallmarked by our ridiculous, stressful, hilarious train travel mishaps, but I’ve blogged about that already. We got to spend a night in The House of Juliet and a day in fair Verona. This was another major highlight for me. Verona was our warmest destination, which went over well with a family from Texas, and it was truly beautiful. I dropped a letter in Juliet’s mailbox, stood on her balcony, ate pizza, toured cathedrals, sat in The Arena and left too, too soon.
From there we went to Venice, which was a life-long dream of mine. Venice did not disappoint. We fed pigeons in St. Mark’s Square, went on a gondola ride, admired the unreal mosaics around every corner, ate sandwiches outside out a little cafe on the cobblestones, ate gelato as we traipsed around, bought glass necklaces and drank cappuccinos while casually leaning against building the apostle Paul probably leaned against. No big deal.
From Venice, we flew through Moscow and into Riga, Latvia. We were nearly not allowed out of the Riga airport because flying from Moscow is considered suspicious and we were already considered suspicious! Dorothy’s name and old name were not matching up on all her documents. There’s just not a good way to travel with a child you’re adopting internationally, because of the order everything must happen in. We were held up for some period of time at every airport, but we were finally released into Latvia. Latvia is really a hidden gem in Europe. It’s quaint, the people are kind, the scenery is lovely and the whole country feels like a private corner in the world. The poor of Latvia pulled at my heartstrings more than anyone else we encountered, perhaps because of our personal connection the country. We drank lots of good coffee, toured a real, ancient castle, some beautiful churches and lots of lovely shops and restaurants. We stayed in an upper apartment in Old Riga, across an alley from a children’s music school. They opened their slats in the afternoons and sang a cappella. It was enchanting.
Saying “goodbye” to Latvia and the wonderful women who helped bring Dorothy into our family (through the host program and adoption process) was sad, but we still had one country left. We flew into Stockholm and were taken to a very nice apartment in Kungsholmen. We really enjoyed Sweden…especially their practice of Fika (afternoon coffee and pastries.) But of course, we had already instituted that at Eyrie Park! Stockholm was fascinating and beautiful. One of the best surprises was the Vasa Museum, which is constructed around a ship which was restored after 300 years on the sea floor. We adored watching the changing of the guard at the royal palace, had a blast shopping in the little stores, popping into the Nobel Museum, touring the church with the famous statue of Saint George and the dragon, going on a boat tour of the archipelago and spending nearly a whole day at the zoo which takes up an entire island (Skansen.) We really liked the city as a whole, the culture and the views. From there, we flew home…happy to be back at Eyrie Park. We used only backpacks as luggage, so throwing those off at the end of the nineteen days put Pilgrim’s Progress in a whole new light.
May was busy, as usual. We opted out of our usual Galveston beach trip for the second May in a row (2014 we were waiting on Dorothy, and 2015 we were waiting on Simeon!) Jeweliet and I were both bridesmaids in our dear friend Lauren’s wedding. We threw a baby shower for Caitlin and a wedding shower for my long-time best friend, Katie, both at Eyrie Park. Katie’s shower was a bit like a bachelorette/last time to all hang out as single girls day. The end of an era for our friend group! Our family also has three May birthdays, so there was also a Nancy Drew scavenger hunt at the end of the month!
June brought Katie’s beautiful wedding, in which I was honored to stand as a bridesmaid. I turned 23 on the 23rd (my Golden Birthday) and Jeweliet surprised me a day early at work with friends and shopping down town and just the best day ever. There were flower crowns, sparkling grape juice, tacos, Shop Around the Corner and the best girls in the whole world. Yay. On the 23rd, Caitlin went into the hospital for her induction and Simeon arrived on the 24th!
July would’ve been quite full enough with the brand new baby, without the things we will always remember July of 2015 for. My grandpa went in for heart surgery on the same day my cousin was in a horrible car accident. To make a long (painful) story short, my grandpa and my cousin ended up in rooms next to each other in the ICU in Houston, and actually both coded at the same time. We nearly lost them…both. It was traumatic and then it was miraculous and it’s still insane to look back on. Jeweliet and my parents spent several days in Houston during all this and I stayed home with Caitlin and the baby and the other kids. Both my grandfather and my cousin are recovering well now.
August came in sliding. My older brother got married in Dallas on the 29th. We are so happy to have Amber in our family and the wedding weekend was great. We got to stay in a hotel with a pool (always awesome,) meet Amber’s lovely family and hang out with several of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. It was amazing to see my grandfather there after everything he had been through the month before.
September sent us to Galveston at last, with Dorothy and Simeon both in tow! Our week in Galveston was a dream. Relaxing, sunny, happy. I wish I could relive that week! September 27th marked one year of Dorothy at home. There’s no place like it!
When the Fall semester began, homeschooling was launched once again. Teeko and Dorothy continued in Classical Conversations while George and Phoebe started an entirely online curriculum at home. I continued leading The Serve Team at our church, Teeko’s football team went to state…and won! In October, Jeweliet and I flew to Oregon and spent eight days in the Pacific Northwest with friends. We got to see the Peckovers in Oregon, which was fantabulous. My beloved, long-time pen pal, Lydia, came to Portland to meet us and basically made my year. We cried when we left Oregon. In Washington, we got to meet Gretchen Louise of Kindred Grace and her family, Jennifer Miles and her family (also a writer for Kindred Grace!) We also got to meet Eddie Ogan, the inspiring woman I’m writing a book about. It was a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime sort of trip.
November was the mudslide to the end of the year. I hardly remember it! Thanksgiving, a family reunion, football and the chaos that is the end of the school year. Everything had to be wrapped up and finished. Hustle and bustle! The curtain opened on December. Advent whirred by, despite our best efforts. Saint Lucia’s Day was very happy, and it wasn’t so hard to say goodbye to Joey and Amber, knowing we’d see them again at Christmas. We went to a Christmas parade, saw the lights in the trees downtown, shopped till we dropped, shopped some more the next day. I won a Christmas costume competition as Cindy Lou-Who! My parents surprised Jeweliet and I with our very first car (to share.) We named our VW “Pigeon” and we are quite in love! Freedom tasteth sweet. Dorothy turned 11 with a Wizard of Oz shindig. Joey and Amber came back, Jesus was born and celebrated! A tornado ripped through Dallas and made the week of Christmas a bitter-sweet one. Joey and Amber returned to Dallas. We finally finished watching It’s a Wonderful Life.
Between all of this, we had our normal stuff. Eleven people in one house. Drought. Flooded living room and leaky roof. Ice skating lessons. Jaundice and spit up. Arguments and tears. Cars in the shop for long periods of time. Christmas parties. Birthday parties (GALORE.) Lost grocery lists. Dust bunnies. Dance parties. Movies and popcorn (GALORE.) Political discussions at breakfast. Life advice at dinner. Coffee (GALORE.) Walking into church…late…again. Working nights and sleeping days (in the case of my dad.) Big plates of sandwiches at the picnic table. Lessons at the kitchen counter. Laundry (GALORE.) Baby snuggles. Answered prayers.

With all the ups and downs 2015 brought us, I found myself entering December with trepidation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start a new year. I wasn’t sure I was ready. But as it is fast approaching (I am writing this on December 27th,) I am becoming more excited. God had everything in control in 2015, He’ll see us through another year, and I’m curious about what He might have in store. I have plans, I have a deep belief that some of my plans will be overruled and overturned and I have both trepidation and faith as I say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new…

3 Responses to The Christmas Letter that Wasn’t

  1. Rachel Kazanski January 2, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

    I googled “Eddie Ogan” and now I can’t wait to read your book!!

  2. jessiquawittman December 29, 2015 at 1:06 am #

    This was fantastic! It was fun getting this recap of your year. :)

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