Well, after a long blog break I am back! I just got back from a 3+ week trip to Florida and it was fantastic. My main reason for heading to the sunshine state was for my best friend Mary's wedding. However, since airfare is so high and the trip is so long I decided to extend my stay and get in as much family and friend time as I could. It was a good thing that I got to Florida a couple weeks before the wedding because I am not kidding when I say the jet lag kicked my butt for about 8 days! I would try to not nap during the day but would get so cranky that my family would tell me to go lay down.
The first big family event that took place was on 25 November when we celebrated my Grandma McSwain's 90th birthday. She is physically healthy, but suffers from dementia/Alzheimer's. Well, the whole family went to her assisted living home and used the private dining room to help her celebrate her 90 years with Sonny's BBQ and a Publix cake big enough to feed all of the home's residents. I think that the first 30 or 45 minutes she actually recognized a lot of us. She might not have known our names, but she at least knew we were family. It was a really nice evening.
The next event we shared with most Americans - Thanksgiving! We had a small family dinner at Monica's with her inlaws. It was very nice. Brian fried a turkey for the first time and I got to say frying turkey just makes it better - it was so delicious! Mom of course made her sweet rolls, Monica made a lot of stuff including the pumpkin pie and a delicious brie appetizer, her inlaws brought some dishes, and I brought Chris' mom's stuffing. It got rave reviews; it can really be a meal on its own. Everything was wonderful and it was nice to actually be with family (besides Chris of course) for a holiday.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving Mom and I headed to Cocoa Beach to run a half marathon on Sunday. We got there just in time to pick up our packets and head to the hotel. Once we checked in we watched the Gators absolutely destroy Florida State! Woohoo - what a great day! We woke up early Sunday and caught the shuttle to the race. It was a beautiful course with the Indian River on one side and absolutely gorgeous homes on the other side. The race started at 6 and it was already mid-60s with very high humidity. Besides a stitch in my side everything was going well and at the half way point we were on schedule to get a 2:05. Then at mile 7 my wheels fell off. I started getting nauseous and dry heaving. This forced me to walk a couple times and I also had to visit a port-a-potty. Talk about gross! Mom stuck with me through my pain until the end where she sprinted ahead finishing in just under 2:18 and I finished just over 2:18. This was by far my slowest half marthon, but I was pretty happy I gutted it out. Plus, we realized the added bonus the next day when we looked online at the results and realized that mom had gotten 3rd in her age group! She probably would have gotten second if we had stayed on pace. That has given her great motivation to keep training for a half in Gainesville in February.
The next week was pretty low key and I just hung around and helped Mary with wedding prep. Mom and I were in charge of the rehearsal dinner desserts and we really turned it out - if I do say so myself! We made pound cake, a brownie trifle, white chocolate cheesecake with a white chocolate brandy sauce, and tiramisu layer cake! They were all well received. Saturday, 6 December, was the big day and I went to Mary's in the morning to help another bridesmaid, Pam, create the bouquets. The day before we discovered that the florist didn't actually have the flowers that Mary had special ordered so it was a bit of a scramble, but the bouquets turned out great.
I returned at 4 (also the kick off time for the SEC Championship) to find out that Mary and I needed to be changed and made up so we could go with the photographer to get some couple pictures before the wedding. Sadly, there was to be no Gator game for me that afternoon. After the pictures we went to the Baughman Center on Lake Alice on the University of Florida campus for the wedding. Everything went very smoothly. Our friend Howard did great on the piano, nobody tripped, and Mary looked stunning when she entered the church. I actually teared up a little, but pulled it together because I know Mary would have kicked my butt if I she got to the front and I was crying. The ceremony went well and while the bridesmaids were trying to hold back laughter all of the boys were tearing up - at least the groom (Rob), the best man (Rob's brother Colin), and another groomsmen (Pete)! Man, what a bunch of softies! We exited just in time to hear the cheering coming from around campus as the Gators beat 'Bama and clinched a ticket to the Big Game! After more pictures we headed to the reception.
At the reception I immediately took advantage of the free wine and beer bar downing a couple white zinfandels in anticipation of the speech I was going to give. I absolutely hate public speaking and know that I was still shaking, despite the wine, but the speech went well and I was able to make Mary and her mom cry. The evening continued with some great music and a lot of dancing. Just before the bride and groom departed our good friend Eddie Eddie Leonard sang Ring of Fire with just the guests clapping to keep rhythm. It was an incredible moment and Mary teared up again. All in all it's my second favorite wedding ever - after mine of course!
At the beginning of the following week I drove up to the panhandle to see my friends from England that are now stationed at Hurlbert. I got to spend a lot of time with Jessica and her twin girls and also got to see Josefina and Stephanie (with her adorable, new son Luke) for a dinner one evening. It was so great to see all of them. It reminded me of how much I liked England and what a hard time I'm having making friends in Japan, but like Monica reminds me "you didn't really like England for the first 6 months either". So, I'm going to hang in there and know friends are just around the corner.
While I was in Gainesville I also got to see my friend from undergrad, Lisa. She's the most incredible woman ever and had an amazing 23 year old son to prove it. She's really a great person and I'm so happy she has found a job and a house that she absolutely loves - she really deserves it! I also got to see my best friend from middle school, Kristina. Talk about a blast from the past! We spent an afternoon together and it was like we haven't been apart for the last 20 years! It was just so easy and it's funny how much we have in common.
The Friday before I left Monica had Nick and Brittany (my niece and her husband) over and we had an early Christmas. It was so nice to have everyone together and Monica and Mom did a great job with the food! Monica's house and tree looked beautiful and it actually cooled down a little and felt like it could be Christmas - at least a Florida Christmas.
The next day, after Andrew's Reindeer Run, Mom, Monica, Andrew, and I headed to Crystal River to go swimming with the manatees! It was magical! The water was actually warmer than the air temp and with wetsuits it wasn't too bad. The manatees were amazing and we actually got to pet them! It was awesome! Plus, we got to see babies with the moms - too cute! We also swam back into Three Sisters Spring and it was stunning! We saw tons of different fishes and even one slider (that's a turtle to all my northern friends!). When we got back on the boat there was hot chocolate waiting - a perfect end to a perfect day.
I think that's about it for my trip home. I really squeezed in a lot! It was great to see everyone, but I was just as happy to see Chris and Rana at the airport!
There will be pictures posted soon! My grandma gave us a new camera for Christmas and I need to get it synced up with the computer (for those of you who know me you know that means I need to wait for Chris to have some time to get the camera and the computer talking!) We're headed to the squadron Christmas party tonight so I'm sure I'll have more to report soon. If I don't get to talk to you have a great Christmas and Hannukah! Our cards are going to be slightly delayed because of my travels, but I promise they are coming eventually!