Friday, January 14, 2011

The Stephens and Clarks take on Panama City...again.

I have been writing this over the past few days as it was impossible to recount our trip to Florida in one sitting, so here it goes...

With all the snow that pounded Connecticut last night and today, I have a break from tutoring and I have used this opportunity to enjoy dinner with Jim, watch a movie on the couch, and now, I still have time to catch up on my blog.

This Christmas, we decided to return to Panama City, Florida, where all the boys did the Ironman last November. We enjoyed everything about our first trip there. In fact, we enjoyed it all so much that we did it all again. We stayed in the same condos--this time, we got a 4 (and a half) bedroom condo so we could all be in one place and it couldn't have been more perfect. Our bedroom had a ridiculously huge walk in closet that quickly became Lilly's room, so everyone really did have their own space.

We arrived late on Christmas Day. Mum, Dad, Joseph, Ellie and Edward were there already and so we were greeted with a dinner of bread, cheese, salami, prosciutto and wine. Lilly was exhausted after our day of flying; that, and by the time we got to the condo and had dinner, she went to bed at 10:00 instead of her usual 6:00 bedtime. Lil was great during the flights. She slept on the first one and seemed to be impressed with all the people around her that she took this opportunity to entertain. We were banking on another nap for the second flight but as soon as we sat down on the second plane and Lilly realized we were doing this all over again, she looked at us and stated, "All done, plane." Take what you want from that statement, but know that it was a sleepless hour and 10 minute flight.

Before Lilly went to bed on the first night, she learned everyone's names and the next morning, was very confident calling everyone by them. She calls Mum and Dad, Gigi and Papa, both of which she came up with! We knew that she'd come up with something good and Mum and Dad love their grandparent names. Then, there was Joef (Joseph), Eye-ee (Ellie) and Eyeward (Edward). Ellie's friend, Natalie, joined us for the last few days so she also picked up "Natwie,'' who she actually called "Quinn" (Carinne, Edward's girlfriend that Lilly had been talking to on Skype). A lot of new names that she repeated (and yelled) over and over and over and over again during the course of our time there.

As always, it was so much fun to be together as a family. Morning and evenings are long and lazy, and my favorite times of our days. Everyone's mornings began with a certain little person going from room to room checking to see who was awake and saying everyone's name. This usually happened around 7:30 (sometimes 8:30)--earlier than many would like. But so began our mornings full of lemon water (for Mum), tea (made by Dad for anyone who wanted it), orange juice (for Lilly) and endless cups of coffee. We enjoyed reading (Lilly learned how to say, "Kindle") and everyone managed to get some time to relax. The evenings usually went something like this: Lilly goes to bed...everyone sits down and has dinner...everyone drinks a ridiculous amount of beer or wine while either sitting and chatting or playing Apples to Apples, late into the night. I cannot recount the endless laughs we had when playing Apples to Apples, but I can say that the following picture summed it all up.

Joseph picked the card, "smooth," and then we all had to put down a card from our hand that we thought most exemplified the word smooth for Joseph. The goal is to put down the card that you think Joseph will choose as the most "smooth" (or, to put down the card that will get the most laughs). So, the first cards Joseph picks up are, "my love life," "dating," and "iceburgs" (i.e. the Titanic). The game only got uglier from there.

We brought down a few toys for Lil and I don't know who had more fun with them--Lilly or Joseph, Ellie and Edward. Lilly began to say, "Abby, Elmo and Joef" in the same sentence. Joseph could be found at any time of the day asking Lilly to get Abby or Elmo, or asking if he could hold one of them, or hiding them from her, or asking Lilly to get her "Ak-doodle" (her Aqua Doodle, that was her favorite toy both on the plane and in Florida).

Lilly called Edward whenever she wanted someone to come and look at something (like the turtle rugs in the boys' bedroom) or to chase her (which Edward always did). I think she knows that Edward is a youngest child, and the most playful of us.

Lilly and Ellie are the same person--just 24 years apart in age. They both know exactly how to annoy each other and were successful in doing so at various points of the trip. I'd look over at the dining room table to see why Lilly was saying, "no, eye-ee, nooooooo" only to find Ellie resting her foot on Lilly's chair. This was the first of many things that Ellie found out she could do to get a reaction from Lilly. Apparently, Lilly didn't like it when Ellie's kindle was lying on top of mine either; this caused another series of, "eye-ee...nooooo". But, just as easily as they can annoy each other, they were also pretty good buddies. Lilly quickly learned how to say, "huggy, eye-ee" and knew that this meant Ellie would pick her up and carry her around. Oh, and while we were there, Ellie gave Lilly the cutest haircut, so now she has a little bob!

Yes, Lilly fits in a Blue Moon box.

One day, when Jim and I went out for a run, we came back to find that Joseph and Ellie and had taken Lil with them to the airport to pick up Natalie. Another time, she accompanied them across the street to the mini market to pick up some groceries. She did everything with everyone and had a blast. Lilly had 10 days full of playing with all these people who love her so much. I am always surprised by how much patience Mum and Dad (yes, my Dad) have with Lilly. Mum always knew when Lilly was getting tired or overwhelmed and needed a quiet little walk or hug while watching the sea gulls. Dad would come to Lilly every time she yelled, "Papa, yook" (Papa, look). This little 20-month old brings out a side of my family that is so much fun to watch.

These are just a few things that would not have happened on a family vacation 21 months ago but that took place this Christmas in Florida:
  • Everyone traced hands and feet on the ak-doodle (their own, Lilly's, Abby and Elmo's...).
  • They all sat at the window looking out at the cars and people, or the ocean and the sea gulls and said things like, "wow, look at that huge truck driving by," or "oh boy, is that a boat?"
  • Early wake-ups were accompanied by mid-day naps for everyone; not just the toddler.
  • A little voice yelling, "shit down, body" (meaning, sit down, everybody), would gather everyone for a meal, but not without laughter every time. Hearing those words out of a such a tiny mouth never gets old.
  • Dad convinced Lilly that she could control the lights in the dining room by clapping her hands, so everyone at some point, found themselves standing at the light switch, turning the lights on and off with the clapping of Lilly's hands. She was pretty proud of her ability.
But, just like we always do on vacations, everyone was able to do their own thing. For some people, Mum, that meant long (and when I say long, I mean 3 hour long) walks on the beach. For others, it meant a mid-day run around Panama City. And often, it meant sitting on the couch, reading and having coffee. This is one of my favorite photos. One morning, I walked out to see this:

Dad, in his effort to read the New York Times, willingly sat with Elmo, Abby and "one" (Lilly's blanket) on his lap and was seriously reading!

This year, we all picked one person to give a gift to, and the gift was supposed to be meaningful (as opposed to last year, where we all told the person that picked us what they should buy for us). It worked out really nicely and was much more fun. We also continued doing what we started last year and gave the person that we picked a book that we thought they might like. We all love reading so it's great to get a good book or two from someone who really knows you. We exchanged gifts on our first morning in Panama City, complete with Mimosas of course.

    Mum drew this for Dad--it's a "tree of life" and is truly amazing.

    The third children had each other (go figure) and tried to do their own secret exchange.

    On the first really sunny day, we had brunch on the balcony, where we sat for hours and talked and laughed and went through a decent amount of champagne. We were listening to our Christmas playlist, which has become a yearly tradition that has fallen on Joseph's shoulders to compile. Everyone sends him 10 songs (well, let me clarify. If you're Dad, you send him 19 songs), that he or she wants to put on the list. Even Lilly put songs on this year, so when she heard "Hot Potato" come up on the playlist, you can see her dancing below. We listened to the playlist a lot over the course of our time there and I think it was our best one yet. The pressure was really on Jim, since he was on probation after the songs he put on last year (which were basically David Bowie's greatest hits...) So he stepped it up a notch and squashed any doubt that existed as to whether he was still allowed to contribute.

    It was a fantastic trip and as always, it was sad when all the boys (except for Dad) left on New Year's Day--leaving Dad alone with 5 (or as Dad says, 4.5) girls. It's always hard to say goodbye to everyone, especially when we don't know when we're getting together again. Right now, we're trying to plan something for June, when Ellie next returns from Guatemala. Until then, we can all be found chatting on Skype.

    And finally, here are some pictures from the beach on both warm and cold days.

    Lilly's little footprints, with my giant footprint.

    One of my favorite pictures, ever.

    The boys, threatening to throw Mum in!

    As Lilly says, "All done, Florida."

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