Thursday, December 22, 2016

Beth's infamous Christmas Letter 2016

Another blessed year has flown by.  Against most odds all parents are still muddling along. Sarah, Murphy, and Polly live at home mostly, Mac is a junior at University of Florida and Dani is living and working at the beach. We are down to 3 cats, 4 dogs, 2 canaries, 5 chickens, a crayfish, a salamander, and a squirrel (temporary, just waiting for him to get old enough to release). We have had lots of fun and adventures on trips to Cumberland, a family cruise to the Caribbean, a hiking trip to Utah and Colorado, a big trip to Nicaragua including climbing several volcanoes(except not one of the ones that we were planning to because it blew 2 weeks before we got there and it was closed) volcano surfing (the only place in the world you can do it), getting our advanced diving certification at Little Corn Island, veterinary conferences to Denver and Gainesville, a vet school 30th reunion at Palm Island, Florida and several jaunts to St. Augustine to spend the night at a Bed and Breakfast and shop or take a carriage ride to see all of the Christmas lights. We are about to build a 2-3 car garage with an apartment over it (everyone seems to think it is a Murphy apartment, I hope not) so Alan can have somewhere to keep his ’61 Corvette and work out equipment. We have permits and permission from Riverside Avondale Preservation (or The Peoples Republic of Avondale as Alan calls them) but have not broken ground yet.
Alan is currently killing himself doing P90X with Murphy and much less reliably, Polly. He had to give up tennis for 3 months due to a bad slip on our whale shark expedition and an old fracture at L5 that was anteriorly displaced but he is back beating himself up on the tennis courts again now. He has not learned enough in his 58 years not to get back on the Revellers board when they had a resignation (luckily its only for 2 more years or I would have to have imparted some of my wisdom on him!) He is still on the session at church, interviewing for UF vet school applicants, attending Gator and Jaguar home games, and just lost an associate vet who decided to leave before finishing her on call schedule, so he has to pick up Christmas day call now ( yes, I am disgruntled about this)! Alan’s story this year relates a snippet of our Nicaraguan trip and as it covers a sensitive matter I will let him tell it in his own words. I will say that climbing this volcano was the most difficult physical task that I have ever completed (keep in mind that I went through childbirth 4 times) and made me realize that somethings are beyond my physical capacities now. So in Alan’s words  "Our hike up Conception started at 5:30 am when we were picked up in the dark by two men in a truck. One was a portly driver who got winded just walking to the back of the truck (obviously not the guide)…the other (our guide) was a lean fit 20-something ex-Sandinista who does this trip once a week (we were in trouble). I should have turned back then. In the dark, with the mountain covered in fog, it doesn’t seem so daunting…but then you got started. It was STRAIGHT UP, like Tarzan climbing the escarpment. There was NO trail, none. We climbed over stumps and boulders and had to pull ourselves along with vines. There were a few showers to make sure we stayed wet so when the Nicaraguan sun came out we could get the full steamy eco-tourist experience. I have no idea how hot it was as my watch can’t measure in degrees Kelvin. I felt like Cool Hand Luke in the hotbox.  It took us over 5 hours to reach the summit with the last 200 yards being hot volcanic scree where you took 2 steps forward on your hands and knees and slid back 1, all the while sucking in sulfurous gas (Beth tried to blame me for that one, imagine that). After hours of rain forest conditions it was cold and windy on the top (30 mph gusts). The trip down was much harder taking us 6 ½ hours. I took 2 camel backs of water in my pack and ran out half way down. I can’t describe how much that sucked. We had to lower ourselves down over boulders and slipped and fell repeatedly on top of losing our guide a few times. After reaching the bottom we made it back to the farm we were staying and I realized as I pulled off my clothes to get in the shower that I should never have worn cotton…Yuge mistake. The 11 ½ hours of hiking in wet cotton apparently rubbed “things” a bit raw….as a matter of fact, a great deal more than a bit. I thought it might require some type of skin graft to ever appear normal again. To add insult to injury we were supposed to ride horses the next day through Gen. Samosa’s Plantation. I could hear the tour person laughing over the phone when Beth explained my “predicament “to her. We opted for a massage instead. This also turned out to be a...Yuge mistake. We caught a ride on a Tuk-Tuk to a bad part of town to see Milton Duarte…the famous masseuse. The dirt road with chickens running everywhere combined with the stares of the local street gangs added to the ambiance. I really think he did interrogation for Daniel Ortega during the revolution. I kid you not, bare concrete walls and a tin roof, one stained towel of questionable cleanliness and a table covered with bottles and jars. Apparently he is known for his "deep tissue" massage, and that doesn't even come close to an accurate description. After the pain my legs were already in and the 11 ½ hour hike in wet shorts induced rash in “the area” that won't be named ... This wasn't a good idea. To top it off he used some type of oil that should never come in contact with abraded skin (see previous note). I'm sure the screams ringing from the ghetto brought a smile to the old Sandinista's heart. Of course I couldn't see his reaction since my eyes were streaming tears uncontrollably at this point. To add to the experience, he was really working his @$$ off in this Club Gitmo of a room so that when he bent over, a torrent of his sweat dropped onto my face right in my eye socket ... Mixing with the tears and acrid oils to just heighten the experience like a Nicaraguan version of water boarding. " Despite this we had a great trip and pretty good stories.
I still work 3 days a week in a great practice with superb co-workers. I am so blessed to love (most days) what I get paid to do. I am working hard to avoid my parent’s diabetes and shapes by walking 3 miles daily, yoga 1-2 times weekly, High Intensity Interval Training twice weekly, and a walk, jog, sprint workout once weekly. I am fairly successful at achieving these goals. I muddle in my yard and garden and mostly enjoy the chickens' escapades, though the great raccoon chicken massacre was traumatic for all involved especially the 2 unfortunate hens that got grabbed. I noticed a stray cat hanging around and I decided that I needed to catch it, neuter it, and give it a Rabies vaccine since there were so many raccoons around. As a result I set out a trap and caught 8 raccoons, 1 opossum, and 2 of my cats twice. The raccoons and opossum were relocated as per Fish and Wildlife’s recommendations. The stray I thought was a male turned out to be a female and I know this because Murphy trapped her kitten. We still have not caught momma but at least there are less raccoons around to expose her to Rabies (and kitten gets her last shots and spayed in 10 days)! Some of my highlights of the year were the family cruise, the petroglyphs in Utah and Nicaragua, the fossils in Utah, hiking and surfing volcanos in Nicaragua, riding through the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon in Utah, hiking Peekaboo trail in Utah, swimming with the whale sharks in Mexico, fossil hunting on Raccoon key, hiking on Cumberland, and finally getting 3 pink lemons from my pink lemon tree (I’ve had it about 5 years now).
Sarah has 1 year left to finish her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She nannies, works at Merrill and Jacksonville Equine, pet sits, and does her full time student course load which includes 5 days a month in Tampa at Nova Southeastern for her exams and clinic stuff. She is still dating Jeff and he is a real trooper. He is patient with her hectic schedule and crazy family and here is a prime example. We decided to do a cruise for our family vacation and everyone (except Mac who suffers from seasickness) thought it would be a great adventure to go swimming with the whale sharks in Mexico as a full day excursion from Cozumel. We invited Jeff (who is not a big fan of the ocean). Mac was hopeful that Jeff would decide not to go swimming with the whale sharks and then he and Jeff could hang around in Cozumel at Carlos and Charley’s or Senior Frogs or find something more fun than 3-4 hours of potentially rough seas on a full day side trip. Sarah assured us that Jeff wanted to swim with the whale sharks and so Mac had no choice but to double up on the Meclizine like the rest of us and take the 45 minute ferry ride, hour bus ride, and 90 minute boat ride through rough seas (the trip had been cancelled for the previous week due to rough seas and had just calmed down enough that the tour guides were willing to risk it) to the whale shark viewing site 30 miles off the coast. The boat bobs in rough seas over the whale sharks, and a guide takes groups of 2 into the water over. You swim as long as you can watching the whale sharks while the boat goes back to collect the last 2 people and drop off the next batch before returning to collect you. Oh, did I mention that Jeff does not like the ocean, and what I didn’t know until after we got back from the excursion was that Jeff had never snorkeled before! Alan and I went first, then Polly and Murphy, then Jeff and Sarah. Sarah dropped over the side and frantically swam after the guide. Jeff was bobbing in 3 foot seas trying not to swallow a gallon of water through his snorkel and watching as Sarah instituted the Weldon emergency preparedness plan, every person for themselves! Alan, Polly, and I went in 4 times, Mac and Sarah 3 times, and Murphy and Jeff once each. As we headed back, the guide offered us sandwiches and everyone but Sarah vigorously declined, Mac promptly threw up despite the double Meclizine. We made the almost 3 hour return trip to the cruise ship. I hope Jeff saw the whale sharks, he said he had fun, I fussed at Sarah and asked why she would put him through that, I’m not sure you could plan a more unpleasant experience for someone not overly fond of the ocean who had never snorkeled before, but she said he wanted to do it. I told her he was a keeper as well as a sport to cheerfully put up with conditions like that just to make her happy!
Dani is still living at the beach with Mishka and Eleni and loves it so much that we rarely see her unless she has a Mishka or Huck (her roommate Elenis new kitten) problem. She came home when Huck was not feeling well, when Mishka needed some blood work, when she was headed out of town to drop Mishka for a visit, and when they turned the power off at the beaches to enforce mandatory evacuation from the beach for hurricane Matthew! No matter the reason I am always happy to see her. Dani and Polly took Mishka and River to  the pool for a dip. While River was excitedly leaping in and out of the pool Mishka watched from the side barking her warning to River, at least until she fell in, sunk like a stone, and had to be fished out! Mishka has her own life jacket now to hopefully avoid future mishaps! Dani and a bunch of friends went camping, canoeing, and kayaking down the Sewanee near Gainesville for a fun excursion and she visited Nik in Atlanta on her way to the mountains for a vacation this summer. Even Dani has been to a Jaguar game this season (in the club section no less) and yet still no home wins. Dani is looking for a new job that encompasses both accounting and marketing and that might offer her an opportunity to get a Masters in business. Hopefully she won't have tomove to Atlanta to find what she is looking for.
Murphy is still working his way through college. He is not particularly interested in anything, which makes it harder. He loves River and Dribbles (dog and cat). He and his friends make a pretty mean trivia team. He is very kind to Meme and Pop and plays Sequence with Pop most weeks as well as giving him rides to and from appointments when he can. He and 4 friends took a road trip to Charleston to eat, drink, be merry, visit museums, and take a ghost tour. They stayed at one of the guys roommates parents rental property, a 5 bedroom beach house. Apparently they did such a great job cleaning up that the owners said they were welcome to come back. Maybe I should invite Ben, Mac, Peter, and Chris to come visit here for a weekend because Murph's not keeping this house very clean! He helped Robert put up Meme and Pops hurricane shutters and we all made it through Matthew with only a few days of no power. Murph was home alone 3 weeks later when a tree from the park fell on our porch and crushed the porch roof and part of the deck and fence. 7 weeks later the city has not removed the tree, too bad it didn’t happen during the hurricane, that debris was removed in less than a week! Murphy seems to have "a bad motivator" which is one reason why he is still working on graduating (that plus the multiple times he has changed his major and schools). I'm going to go out on a limb and predict he will graduate by next December. Keep your fingers crossed!
Polly is working at Merrill and Jacksonville Equine and pet sits too. She is applying to vet school at Florida this year (they didn’t receive her transcript last year). She is working on a couple of research projects that she hopes to publish as well. Momo is still her pride and joy but she has added Gandolph the Cray and Alexander salamander and Quirrel the squirrel to her menagerie. Polly described the "worst day of her life" earlier this year one night at dinner time. It started with a doctor's appointment which included a vaccine (Polly is needle phobic). She left the doctor's and headed to work but on the way got a flat tire. She called work to let them know she was running late and got out to change the tire. She was annoyed when a "creepy" guy stopped, watched her change the tire, and then after she finished, offered to help. She hurried to work, walked in, and Becky pointed out to her that her pants were split wide open in the back, (hence the creepy guy watching instead of helping). Her first client was a large woman with a small sick dog. She had no shoes on (not sure why) and had trouble getting up from her chair in the waiting room so Polly helped her. As she headed towards the exam room, the woman tripped on her dog, fell on top of Polly, knocking her to the floor, and burst into tears sobbing on Polly who was trapped underneath her, and telling her to please just put her and her dog out of their misery while Polly lay pinned to the floor unable to move! Polly has been attending the Jaguar games with us and it hasn't been a good year for them. Last week she entertained herself at the game by watching a drunk opposing team couple. They were standing the whole time so the elderly couple behind them could not see. This in-sensed

her for some reason, so after a quarter of the elderly couple peeking around them, Polly went to the security guy and reported them. He asked them nicely to sit some of the time so people behind them could see. The female tried to get the male to be considerate but he became belligerent. She turned and apologized to the elderly couple and they just tried to watch the game but now the wobbly drunk man was turned around talking to them and touching them and blocking their view even more. So security came to escort them out and as they carried the drunken guy out because he couldn't walk, the woman turned around trying to spot who ratted them out, when her eyes met Pollys 3 rows up, Polly gave her a head nod and the women's eyes widened, shocked that such an innocent looking person could be the cause of her demise! Polly said it was her best experience at the stadium this year because justice was served!
Mac is a junior in Civil engineering at UF. He loves UF and just had a road trip to LSU with his core of friends for “the best football experience of his life” (keep in mind the Jaguars have set that bar pretty low recently). He plays intramural football, soccer, and kickball with his friends and his goal this year was to win at least one game. At 0 for 28, he did not succeed. Apparently either a very unlucky group or not a very athletic one. Polly had to room with Mac and Murphy on the family cruise this summer. After unpacking, they came to our room and Polly was complaining that her room smelled like poop and B.O. within 5 minutes of their arrival.  Mac observed "yeah, you really won the roommate lottery, didn't you!" Mac has been working on becoming an adult. He moved out of the dorms so he could learn to pay his bills, do his own grocery shopping and cooking, clean his apartment, do his own laundry (at least I hope he is doing it), and learn to live independently.  Every now and then he and his roommates cook and eat a meal together. They decided that it would be nice to do a roommate/friend Thanksgiving and prepare an entire Thanksgiving feast. Mac is my turkey helper and he gets up early on Thanksgivings to help me make stuffing, stuff the turkey, load it in the bag, and put it in the oven. As a result, he knows how long it takes to cook a turkey, but what he didn't take into account was how long it takes to thaw a turkey! Mac went out, bought a frozen turkey, stuffed it, put it in a bag, and tried to cook it. It took longer than he had anticipated to cook, so when it was finally done he took it out and carved it immediately without removing the stuffing. After carving it, he started looking for the stuffing but the turkey was so moist (probably from the melted ice) that the stuffing had just mixed with the juices and carved meat and it was one big mush! But he said it tasted good and everyone enjoyed the feast (except the unexpected vegan who couldn't eat anything because they didn't know she was coming and everyone had used butter!)

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to all and have a Happy New Year! Love, Alan, Beth, Sarah, Dani, Murphy, Polly, and Mac

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