Friday, December 26, 2008

Home For The Holidays

This Christmas was truly the ultimate white Christmas (and the first white Christmas for lots of family visiting from Australia!)  It was such a blessing to have my aunts Diana & Barbara (Mom's sisters from down under) as well as uncles, cousins, etc.  It had been 12 years since I'd seen them; in fact I'd never even met my adorable 9 year old cousin Ellie! 

Here's a recap of some highlight events from our trip...

Christmas Carolling:  Mom was determined to make sure our Aussie family had a perfect small town white Christmas and everything that goes along with it.  That included an evening Christmas carolling hay ride with family and friends.  Perry Clark hooked up a flatbed trailer to his truck, piled on the hay bales, and drove us slowly around Adin (tiny town of about 300 people) singing our guts out in below-zero weather.  Well....singing THEIR guts out.  :)  Baby Michael and I sat in the truck cab where it was actually pretty warm.  

We have a number of Christmas traditions that have evolved over the years.  Christmas Eve is filled with them.  We watch Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney), get matching PJs as a present from Mom, eat a dinner from the country of our choosing and learn about some of their holiday traditions (this year was Greece, thanks to the resident Greek of the family--Emmanuel), and, of course, we "do" the Nativity.  Now, what "doing" the Nativity actually means has also evolved over the years.  What used to be a simple reading of the Christmas story from the Bible has turned into a full-blown Christmas Eve dram
atization of the whole thing.  It's actually become a bit irreverent (ie: hilarious!) as we don costumes and act it out and improv dialogue as Mom narrates.  We may have to tweak it eventually so we don't lose all traces of spirituality, but for the meantime it makes for some great family memories.

Here's sweet naked baby Jesus himself...

The role of donkey was ceremoniously (ie: by lottery) passed from Dad to Uncle Rob this year.  Yes, we struggled to keep a straight face as he crawled around on all fours with a toy reindeer tied to his head for donkey ears and a loud grating "ee-aw" every time he was mentioned in the story.

Here's the entire cast and crew of Nativity 2008:

On to Christmas morning.  Along our mantle was quite the impressive lineup of stockings.  With 16 people in the house we were packed in much fun!

Every Christmas morning Dad emerges from his room dressed in his red and white striped "Twas the Night Before Christmas" nightgown and cap.  This year he received a new cap.  Now, I've been posting pics online of Dad in this garb for at least 5 years now, but never thought much of it.  This time there was a little bit of fallout.  The day after I added this picture to Facebook (which he apparently forbade my aunt Diana from doing, unbeknownst to me), a friend at church welcomed Dad with a wicked smile and asked where he could get a nightgown and cap like his.  Dad turned a few shades paler and immediately looked at Diana who proclaimed her innocence and then ran to tell me what had happened.  Sorry Dad, but I'll continue to post them.  They're just too good!

It was that much more magical spending our first Christmas with Michael.  He spent the entire week being passed from one set of adoring arms to another.  Every once in a while we saw our baby boy.  :)

Meet Frosty.  Possibly the tallest snowman I've ever helped build, he stood at around 8 or 9 feet high and made possible some great photo ops....particularly the one where Uncle Rob, Manuel and Jonathan decided to run out in their typical Aussie Christmas attire (shorts and surfboards) and pose for a few frigid shots.

We all clean up "real nice" for Christmas dinner.  It's always the traditional turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, the works!  Always delicious but always a lot of work.  I think I prefer Sergio's family's approach to this one--the BIG Christmas dinner with family and friends is always on the evening of the 24th, la Nochebuena.  That way Christmas Day itself is a little less burdened by food prep and cleanup.

December 26th is Boxing Day in Australia.  It's the day you show appreciation for all those great people that make the community run smoothly by giving them boxes (presents!) ...milkman, postman, garbageman, etc.  Well, Boxing Day was skating and sledding day for us this year.  We gathered the troops and all headed to Luke and Melinda Booker's place for the day.  Melinda is a dear friend of Mom's (another Aussie in Fall River!) and her husband Luke is a rice farmer--he filled one of his fields with water which, of course, became the largest ice rink you could imagine!  The hit of the day was definitely sledding behind the 4 wheelers.  Similar to water skiing, you hold on to the rope connected to the 4 wheeler, jump on the sled/toboggan of your choice and hold tight for a wild ride.  My favorite was definitely the inner tube.

We had a great bonfire going and roasted marshmallows and sipped hot chocolate while we waited for our next turn on the ice.

Michael came along but stayed inside the house to keep warm.  

On one of Dad's turns he hit some of the cracking ice and went through (only about a foot deep but still wet and cold).  He had to come inside for a while to warm up and dry off his wet clothes.  This is what I found when I came inside--Dad with a mere blanket wrapped around his waist and his chonies drying in front of the fireplace.  We even got a little leg for this shot.

One of our favorite places to visit when staying with my parents is nearby Burney Falls.  It's worth the slippery trek down to the bottom of the falls, but there are lots of great views along the way.  It really is breathtaking--we never get tired of going.

On Saturday night, Ben and Barb and their gorgeous girls Josie and Claire drove up from the Modesto area where they'd spent Christmas with Barb's family.  So, for about 22 hours all 4 of us Dolman siblings were together again (first time in 2 years!) and for the first time ever, all 3 of Mom and Dad's grandchildren were together.  Though Serg and I had to leave church after Sacrament Meeting to drive back to Sacramento, we all ditched Sunday School to take photos of the entire Dolman/Turner/Angeloudis crew outside the chapel.  What a wonderful week!

For the record, here's everyone (L-R, B-F):  Manuel, Diana, Jonathan, Brent, Sergio, Dad, Ben, Amy, Esther, Laura, Uncle Rob, Aunty Barbara, Bethany & Michael, Mom & Claire, Barb, Sophie, Ellie, and Josie.  Whew!

Other great memories from the trip:  playing 2-pick-up, yummy burgers at the Frosty, going to the movies, celebrating Manuel and Diana's birthdays, seeing deer in the front yard, watching the otter play at the bottom of Burney Falls, snowball fights, Jono and Esther tipping the 4 wheeler, my crash and burn ride through the slush on the inner tube, piecing together lots of different little tables and random chairs and piano benches so we all have a place to sit at the dinner table, the Saturday night talent show (Barb's interactive 12 days of Christmas, Esther tap dancing, Ellie busting out all the moves to HSM3, Uncle Rob and Aunty Barb singing I'll Love You Forever, Ben and I and our "jammin" improv of Silver and Gold, Sophie and Amy's dance routine, all of us singing a rousing version of Waltzing Matilda), getting acquainted with my new Finale Songwriter software (so cool! thanks babe!!), filling up 3 rows at church, potato peeling races, fruit cake and custard, and the list goes on!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Week To Be Thankful For

One of the things I love about my school district is that we have an entire week off for Thanksgiving vacation.  This year my parents flew in for most of the week and Sergio took several days off as well, so we had an amazing week filled with fun, family, and FOOD.  16 of us gathered at Sergio's parents house for the big Thanksgiving feast and ALL took home several days worth of leftovers.  I was in charge of the mashed potatoes and stuffing, and we also decided to throw in a fruit salad, apple cranberry cake, and a couple of pumpkin pies.  Mom and I had lots of fun together in the kitchen all day Wednesday.  As you can see, Serg's specialty is turkey--he baked one and deep fried the other.  His mom baked another and cooked a fourth one rotisserie style.  Out of control!

One of the things Serg has been itching to do is take my dad shooting--some good male bonding time, Texas style.  So while my mom and I spent Wednesday cooking up a storm, the men enjoyed an afternoon together at a local shooting range followed by a hearty meal at Whattaburger.  Now, I don't usually enjoy cooking very much, but preparing Thanksgiving food and chatting with my mom as we roll out pastry,  mix batter, or peel potatoes, is one time I really love it.  We all enjoyed ourselves that afternoon.

Another highlight for the week was a shopping trip to Mexico.   We stepped over the border to Progreso and only spent a couple of hours there, but mom and dad had a blast purchasing some goodies.  It was Mom's first time in Mexico--she was surprised you could be only a couple of hundred yards from the United States but find yourself in such different surroundings.

Visiting Bethany & Sergio during the winter months means leaving behind the chilly snowy north and heading down to sunny South Texas where Thanksgiving Day temperatures reach into the 80s.  Here are my parents enjoying a nice Thanksgiving swim (ok, I will admit it the water was too cold for me, but they were willing to brave the first few minutes of freezing-ness to have their autumn dip), so any and all who grimace at the thought of 3 months of uninterrupted snow and ice are always welcome to head down for a visit!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Family Photo Shoot

Though the hour leading up to the moment we arrived at the studio was a bit rocky (why does getting family photos always seem to trigger some sort of family conflict?!?), we made it there smiling (miracle!), and our first ever Solis family photo shoot turned out to be a great success!  Gerardo Garmendia, an incredibly talented photographer from a nearby ward, captured a little bit of our family personality and love for each other in these pics (just a few of our favorites).  If you want to see the rest of the digital prints that we purchased, you can go to:  We couldn't be more pleased with how they turned out!