« Dreaming Of A White Christmas »

Kelli and I flew to Florida to see her mom and grandmother for the holidays. I had never been there before and had rather selfishly turned down requests to make appearances there when asked before this trip. I did however promise that the next trip I would go with her since it had been a big sticking point for us. Well, I suppose it could have been that but for my promise. After all, only a few weeks before we left, I got the utterly shitty news from work that my services were less needed, and ordinarily that would provoke in me an economic retraction of "unnecessary" expenses. But this time I was assured it was covered, so my old excuse would not really fly even if I tried. And I was tired of trying. I've known she's wanted me to go see her family for a long time. I don't have much but lame excuses in that regard.

We were pressed into making a late decision to fly, and when to fly, which of course jacked the price up to ungodly high rates. It was over $560 for each of us, but our decision was pretty much made when it was clear that work was taking a shit on me and it didn't really matter when I took off because it was all "off" for the end of December, though that was more a product of deduction rather than a clear statement from the boss.

We were to catch an 8:00 flight out of San Diego but were delayed due to fog that prevented planes from landing the night before, thus making a lot of planes flood in as soon as it was clear. We left after 9:30 on a cramped 737 and stopped only in Austin. Mercifully, despite a "full" load, there was an empty seat next to me all the way to Florida. Despite that, it was still cramped and not altogether pleasant. I did get some good reading in though, feeding my soul with some Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers and their interview about the power of myth. We arrived in Orlando a couple hours later than planned and still had an hour and a half to get to the Daytona Beach area where her family lives.

I was adamant about getting to church on Christmas Eve. Christmas just isn't Christmas to me if I don't get to church on the eve. I was missing my service at home which I have attended for years without fail, and it was getting too late to even catch one of the earlier services even in Florida. When we finally got to the house, there was some talk about trying to make it to a midnight service at whatever church had one, and finally after some debate, food, and a nap, Kelli, her mom and me went to a service that we selected from a newspaper listing! It was an Episcopal mass and a half hour of songs before the mass proper. The church was beautifully wooden inside, and arrayed diagonally in a square building. The service started at 10:30 pm and we bargained for an hour and a half with the carols program added before the main mass. Having no experience with how services go in other denominations, we were stunned to find ourselves leaving at 1 AM! It was no big deal though. Lots of great music with a great choir, and really great sermon message that was as good as anything I could have hoped for in my game of Christmas roulette. I could have done with about an hour less of liturgy and ritual, though I did let it wash over me and tried to take it in. I guess it was a problem mainly that I was unfamiliar with it all and the program was vague, so I was more lost than anything. Still, it was a last minute victory for me to be able to get to church that evening after an Advent season with little in the way of Christmas accoutrements like tree, decorations, or shopping. I didn't mind ditching shopping--I hate it and it was contrary to what I wanted for Christmas--but the lack of the charm of the fresh tree or other little things in my boring apartment was a bummer. I also missed my Christmas season shows that are must-sees for me in recent years: The Charlie Brown Christmas special, and one version or another of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The next morning Kelli and her mom went to the local UCC church where her mom and grandmother go. They got up early to go to the contemporary service. I usually dismiss the contemporary approach to church as hokey and cheap, and since the church was fairly close, they let me sleep in and come in to the traditional service which they also attended. Some of the early afternoon was a sleeper, literally, as we relaxed after the travel day and shift in time zones. The day was mostly gray and forboding, but just the sort of day that makes the indoors attractive, particularly on a holiday. I spent a while cooking up a few dozen cookies as is my holiday kick, and they were eagerly yummed up. We opened presents AFTER dinner on Christmas day, and I actually liked that a lot more than the usual morning session. It seemed to suit the occasion better, and to put the components of Christmas in the proper order: honoring Christ first then getting to the commercial stuff later. I also liked it because it stretched out the holiday in a fulfilling way--usually my main complaint about Christmas is that it ends as soon as it begins!

I ate way too much crappy food on the plane, and too many sweets the next day or two, so I was perpetually in "sugar crash mode" and was tired a lot, not to mention I still had not really adjusted to the time zone shift coupled with the 4:45 am wake up on Christmas Eve before we left town which would have made any day seem long. This confluence of events kept me sleeping in most days. I also had some reservations about family dynamics that were starting to introduce themselves in the way that these things do, and sometimes had to retreat for a nap or just ...because.

We took a drive to one local attraction or another each day. First was the Ponce Inlet lighthouse which was across the river from the house, but a half hour drive away. Kelli's late uncle is a rather significant figure in historical preservation in Florida, and lighthouses were among his specialties. I climbed alone up the lighthouse steps to the top and surveyed the sights from about 170 feet up. It was magnificently clear, cool but not frigid, and windy but not a Category 5 like the hurricane that pretty much destroyed Kelli's grandmother's house in 2004. The flatness of Florida was made evident from that height. I joked the rest of the time that "they should have built some mountains here." That was one of my refrains for the week. The other was mocking the fact that the sun doesn't get swallowed up by the water in the evening. I made jokes about how lame the sunset was over the water there.

I got two chances to see quasi-virgin Florida when we went to Deleon Springs park and Tomoka state park. It was beautiful in its own way, but not really my ideal place. But, when left to its own devices, it was far more beautiful than what has happened since the whole state became one big sprawl fest. The James Kunstler suburban critic in me came out with a vengance. This place was worse than suburban sprawl. It was simply ... sprawl. It wasn't even wrapped around a city! It was just utterly lame sprawl that had no center to any of it. It overtook the beautiful barrier "island" that is host to Daytona Beach. It was dismal. Hotels, condos, apartments, and all the other artifacts of modern life were built literally out to the water and across the narrow strip of land that separates the ocean from the river which itself is a frontage way to the mainland. I saw hurricane damage from 2004 that had either not been repaired or replaced, and in some cases, whole lots were stripped down to the sandy foundation. There would be one condo or house standing, and the lot next to it was bare dunes, and the lot next to that would be undisturbed. It was just a great illustration of the futility of building there, and the invasive and destructive "development" patterns that are left unchecked on that precious real estate. All the time while I looked at this stuff, I was thinking of Angkor Wat and the ancient Mayan ruins, grown over with vines and foilage, poignant testament to the fact that nature will always win. In fact, there were houses and properties left abandoned after the hurricane that did that job of imagination for me--they were made of wood and stucco which is a far cry from the stones of Angkor Wat or the pyramids of the Mayans. It makes one wonder how long our civilization will last once the oil is gone and we can't beat back nature with our machines and tools.


I partially suspended my nagging conscience about stuff like that so that I could have a good time. This year I was determined to not participate in the commercial stuff, and did so little of that as to have really not done any at all. I actually felt odd about receiving any gifts at all after having our flight paid for, and being put up and fed for a week. It didn't feel right, but I was assured it was okay to just go with it. But for all else, I did not go to malls this season except to help Glenn get to a certain shop in time a few days before Christmas. I had a very satisfying Christmas, and one that I think people talk about having but can never seem to get. I got to spend the weeks before with some church and other "family" parties that made things good. I got to bake my cookies. I got to spend time with my wife who just delights me in every way every day. Considering how miserable parts of 2005 got to be for us, this was as good an ending to the year as I could hope for while still not being totally greedy. I still feel that I should spend time doing things of some service to people outside my circle, but as I said in my previous blog about my life at the end of 2005, its small steps... first, some success relearning how to love within marriage, and family around us, and then to bigger and better things. So, with that in mind, its not all bad.

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