It’s our final night in Florida (which is a bonus night…more on that later in this post) and my grandmother and Finn are sleeping. I should be doing the same but I want to capture our Christmas weekend while I am still in it. This time has been exactly what I needed on many levels and I’m so grateful that we were able to make it down here to spend Christmas with Mema.
Finn and I flew out of Charlotte and arrived in Fort Walton Beach around 10:30a. One of my parent’s friends picked us up at the airport and brought us to my grandmother’s condo. We hung out with Mema for a bit and had lunch before taking off to pick up groceries for the weekend and a Honey Baked Ham.
We got home just in time to get a big pot of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove and to make it down to the beach for sunset.
I went with spaghetti for our Christmas Eve dinner because it’s simple, delicious and I knew all three of us would love it. I was also able to freeze individual portions for my grandmother to eat later.
I used my favorite spaghetti sauce recipe (omitted the cayenne) and served it with a salad of Bibb lettuce, a really yummy herbed soft cheese I got at Whole Foods, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, tomatoes, mushrooms and a white balsamic vinaigrette that I got in the refrigerated section next to the packaged lettuce at Whole Foods. 10/10 recommend this dressing! My grandmother and I loved this salad and especially the dressing.
Mema read books to Finn while I was cleaning up from dinner and one of the books was a vintage copy of Night Before Christmas that she’s had since my dad was Finn’s age. These are the kind of special holiday moments with family that stop you in your tracks so you can imprint it in your mind forever.
Before bed we set out treats for Santa and his reindeer. Finn picked graham crackers for Santa and pretzels for the reindeer. He asked me if Santa was going to come down the chimney and I explained that since we didn’t have a chimney at Mema’s house, he’d probably just come through the sliding glass door. Mema suggested we place the snacks on a stool right by the door. Finn was fully on board and it was so cute.
Once he was down, I got busy wrapping all of my gifts and setting out Finn’s Santa presents. I checked a second big suitcase to bring most of Finn’s gifts to Florida so he could have the full Christmas morning experience. When Finn went to see Santa in Charlotte, the only thing he asked for was “paint dinosaurs” so I went with a dinosaur theme for his Santa presents. He got the paint kit, a long sleeved dinosaur t-shirt, the book “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight” and some dinosaur figurines that were actually passed on to me from a friend last week and that Finn went crazy for!
Finn slept until what I consider the very reasonable hour of 6:45a on Christmas Day. Upon leaving our bedroom, he made a beeline to see if Santa ate his treats. I was cracking up when he immediately picked up a half eaten (and stale) graham cracker and started munching on it.
He was such a sweet gift opener. He methodically opened one thing at at time, studied it, asked to play with it and then would move on to the next. After he made it through his gifts, he helped Mema open hers.
He spent the entire morning playing with his Christmas gifts. He especially loved all of the arts and crafts. I was craving some fresh air and wanted to move a little bit before lunch so we headed out for a short three-mile run. (I ran, Finn strolled.)
Once we got home, I put together this spread for lunch. My grandmother loves cheese and crackers and eats it most days for lunch. I decided to fancy it up a bit and treat her to a cheese tray. I also thought it would be a fun way to pay homage to the huge snack table that my grandmother would put together on Christmas Day when we celebrated at her house in Georgia.
She was so tickled by the lunch and we enjoyed it out on the balcony with 70 degree temps and sunshine. Finn said the sun was in his eyes so he wore a pair of my sunglasses, haha. He had his own cheese tray of grilled cheese.
We took advantage of the warm and sunny weather and hit the beach for a little over an hour mid-afternoon.
You guys, the water temperature was 66 degrees and Finn could not care less. I couldn’t keep him out of the gulf!
Once we were back in the condo and showered, I got busy in the kitchen preparing our Christmas dinner. I tried to focus on foods that my grandmother loves so we had Honey Baked Ham (she was so excited, she hadn’t had one in years), pineapple casserole, boiled Yukon gold potatoes with butter and parsley, kale and rolls.
Fun story, the only southern “greens” I knew growing up were soft-cooked, simmered kale. My grandmother never cooked collards but instead preferred kale. This was light years before it became a very popular health food. Can you believe that it was actually hard for her to find good kale when she would cook it for us? If you’re up for it, I’d love to share this kale recipe with because it’s a) delicious and b) much gentler on the stomach than raw or lightly cooked kale.
I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what Finn ate. Ham and rolls. And ice cream for dessert.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Our day started with coffee, play time and a walk before heading out for Covid boosters. I was concerned that my grandmother hadn’t had her booster yet so I made appointments for both of us to get one.
I replicated our Christmas Day cheese plate for lunch when we got home, and then Finn and I headed back out to the beach.
Seriously, we had the best Christmas beach weather ever on this trip. I can remember being here for a week after Christmas when Finn was a baby and the weather was foggy, cold and gray for the entire trip!
Our evening was super low-key. We had leftovers for dinner and then I went on a scavenger hunt in my parent’s condo for things they want me to bring to Durham. I also made a pot of white bean and ham soup with the ham bone from Christmas.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 27
Finn and I were scheduled to fly out around 11a this morning but that got derailed. First, I just had this ache in my heart that I wasn’t ready to leave quite yet. Second, I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and body aches from my Covid booster. My arm was sore after the shot but I was not expecting this kind of response to the booster because I did not have it with my first two doses. I was on the phone with American Airlines at 5a because I felt so terrible and was thinking to myself, “there is no way I can get us packed up and out of here by 9:30a feeling like this.”
Luckily, American is lenient with their cancelation policies right now so I was able to cancel our flight two hours before departure and have my miles reinstated while booking a flight for the next day for the same amount of miles. The fever and body aches had passed by the morning but I was nauseated and tired for most of the day. My grandmother had minimal side effects from her booster. She said her arm was a little sore if she pressed on it. She’s a champ with vaccines.
We had a lazy morning around the house. I portioned out the ham and white bean soup and froze it for my grandmother. This is the recipe I used. I encourage you to follow recipe as written and make your own ham broth and start with dried beans. Worth it!
We went for another walk, showered and then I took Finn to get his stitches out. I never blogged about this because last week was crazy with family stuff and holiday prep but Finn hit his head on the coffee table last Monday evening and had to get three stitches in the ER. It was not a fun night for any of us but it’s healed really well. We also took my mom’s car to get serviced and got thank you gifts for some of their friends who have been great supports.
Of course we had to get one more beach trip in this afternoon when we got home. Finn discovered the joys of being buried in the sand. 🙂
Tonight was a movie night. Finn and Mema saw Moana for the first time! I’ve been trying to convince him to watch if for months but he always declines in favor of things he’s seen one million times but he agreed tonight and was mesmerized for the whole movie. After I got Finn down, my grandmother and I watched two episodes of the new season of Emily In Paris.
And now here I am writing this post.
This was the sunset tonight. I’ve been sending my parents photos and videos from our visit and missing them very much. It’s hard to absorb that they haven’t been here in almost three months and going into their condo without them there, but feeling them there, has brought up all kinds of emotions. So many of their friends here have stopped to ask how they’re doing and expressed well wishes and prayers. My next post will be about what we’ve been navigating. I’ve been working on it on and off for weeks, it’s difficult to write.
I can’t adequately express how wonderful/needed/sweet this time with my grandmother in our most special place has been. It was a hard Christmas but also a magical Christmas. This is the beauty of paradox…welcoming all of it to exist together at the same time.
This visit lit all three of us up so, so much. I will leave tomorrow with a full heart and renewed strength of spirt.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Thank you for being here with me for all of it.