We celebrated our 2nd Thanksgiving Without Max relatively well. We used to host Thanksgiving dinner and the memories that were created were so wonderful, but haven't felt "right" about hosting it since Max is no longer with us.
We started out early on Thursday morning with our first new tradition - the Thanksgiving morning hike. We were going to do one of the many turkey-trots offered throughout San Diego, but decided that Torrey Pines State Beach was calling us loudest. So we went by the Del Mar Starbucks for warm beverages and then hit the parking lot at Torrey. Though it was a beautiful morning (and dead batteries in the camera...), there was a Santa Ana brewing, crazy cold right on the beach as it was shaded from the sun by the high bluffs and blowing about 30 mph. So we decided to try the sunny mesa right above the beach. This was also a favorite hiking spot during Max's last year and so it felt right to be there, warmed by the sun. We hiked along the old road that used to be Hwy 101 and the main north/south auto route between San Diego and LA. The road is maybe 12 feet wide and it's crazy to think that the 18-lane I-5 fwy a mile away is the direct descendant of the pavement we were standing on.
Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by Melissa's niece and her husband. The whole family showed up and we had about 30-35 people. Very fun and very loud! Melissa's parents celebrated their 60th anniversary after Thanksgiving dinner. The family put together a memory book and the kids had a great time hearing the stories about their grandparents (and great-grandparents for half of the kids present).
Nicky, Hannah and all their cousins
Friday morning, we again attempted the beach hike at Torrey and had much better results.
Clear, warm, sunny, and also joined by Melissa's brother Kevin, his wife Rebecca, daughter Ashley and grandson Kanan, who is 6 mos older than Nic. It was great for the cousins to have each other to run and play with on the beach.
We climbed on to "Flat Rock" for some sea-creature-searching - both Hannah and Nic got soaked by the time we got back to our car. Still, it didn't stop us from having lunch at our favorite taco shop - Roberto's on Carmel Valley Road - the cheapest ocean-view dining in San Diego...
Saturday we went to see Planet 51 which both kids enjoyed. It was cold and rainy on Saturday and so a good day for a movie. We picked up our tree on Saturday night and decorated Sunday. Nic is at that age where Christmas is IT, and so he's been fun to watch and be with as the excitement in him grows. All we need to do is manage the "me-me's" that is a hallmark of this season.
The holiday season is upon us and in full-force around the Mikulak household. Memories of Max are everywhere which provide some comfort but.... it's just so different without him. We have fun... but it's not the care-free Christmas fun that we used to have, and likely never will again, at least for us parents. Some people never get to be care-free in the first place, so we are thankful for the seven Christmas' we had with Max.
Nicky and Hannah continue to be full-force participants in Christmas fun and tradition. Nicky is 4 1/2 - the perfect age for Christmas. He is so excited, so into everything. It's hard to think of his favorite thing about Christmas, but one of them has to be the chocolate Advent calendar. Every morning he comes downstairs and I (Andy) get to help him find the day's chocolate. He loves whatever picture is on the piece of chocolate (“Mommy, it’s a snowflake!”), and he must have the gene that women claim makes chocolate put them in a good mood as he is just so happy after receiving his little 25-calorie chocolate boost in the morning.
We attempted some holiday tradition stuff around town and were successful at some of them. Our visit with Santa went well, this year as it is every year at the Quail (now San Diego) Botanical Gardens which are lit up nicely for the holidays. Hannah and Nic roast marshmallows, Melis and I have a glass of bad, warm malt wine, we walk around and look at the plants and lights, make crafts. All in all, a nice, mellow evening and this year especially so as it was raining out so the crowds were very thin.
We also visited the San Diego Zoo with our friends the Myers. It was again blustery and rainy but we had a good time anyway.
Hannah had a holiday party in her classroom this year. Her teacher, Ms Bross, likes to have the girls and boys dress nicely. Hannah was so excited, she is such a girl. Of course, the boys in class groaned as they had to wear nice pants and collared shirts. It was a heritage potluck and so all the kids brought a dish representative of their culture from where they came or from where their ancestors hailed. Given that, about 50% of the food was Asian (no complaints there – where else can you get home cooked?)
(Melis chiming in…) Nicky had a special Christmas program at preschool, which we’ve had the pleasure of seeing five previous times, first with Hannah, then Max, now Nic. Although Hannah & Max were both very happy to participate in the program, Nic refused. He’s funny that way. Afterwards, we enjoyed cookies and apple juice!
The day after the kids got out of school for Christmas vacation, we left town for our snow vacation in Tahoe with a surprise up our sleeve: Disneyland for the first day of vacation! The kids were very surprised and happy (although Nic had to warm up to the idea as change is not met willingly – even Disneyland). We enjoyed warm, Santa Ana winds all day in the Magic Kingdom. Sunday found us on the long drive to Tahoe (even longer with fog in the already mind-numbing Central Valley). But we were rewarded at the end with a yard full of snow! The road to our cabin was lined with 3-4 ft of beautiful white snow, which the kids dove into immediately.
Side note: Nic now refers to our Tahoe vacation as "going to Christmas."
(Andy again…) Monday was a snow play day with the DelaBarre's. Brian and Amy have two adorable girls – Jillian and Sabrina – and both Hannah and Nicky love to play with them.
We went sledding at our cabin and in Truckee at a local spot. The kids and adults had a blast, and then we went out for a nice pizza dinner at Zano's while it snowed heavily outside. The drive back to our cabin from Truckee was pretty spectacular as far as winter driving for a SoCal resident goes – driving snow with chain control over the Donner Pass. I know our Yukon XL is impractical for daily driving in San Diego, but you just cannot beat a big, heavy 4WD SUV for comfortable, safe transportation in bad weather (and, NO, we did not have to stop and put chains on the big, heavy, SUV).
Tuesday and Wednesday we went skiing at Sugar Bowl. Not as flashy or large as other resorts in Tahoe, Sugar Bowl is a perfect family ski resort. (Relatively) cheap and usually uncrowded with fantastic snow due to its altitude and location right at Donner Pass, it has become our mountain of choice when visiting Tahoe - particularly as it is located five short minutes from our lovely cabin! Hannah and Nicky took lessons in the morning on both days and then we skied together as a family in the afternoon.
This was really Nicky’s first time on skis (he was on them last year but no lessons and no lifts) and he did AWESOME! Tuesday afternoon we had him on an easy lift with a harness that I used to control his speed and direction (thanks to Brian for lending us that). I’ve never used a harness before and it was quite easy to ‘steer’ Nicky as you would a kite. He had a blast. Wednesday, we continued the same and Nicky was quite happy, singing in the lift lines and while going down the run. Melis and I were cracking up as we never hear such vocal signs of happiness coming from him, for such a sustainable time.
Hannah did awesome as well. She really loves skiing and was both a good sport hanging out with us as we skied with Nic, as well as ready for some skiing with daddy on longer/steeper runs. She is at the cusp between advanced beginner and intermediate. On Saturday, she got a 2 hour private lesson to learn how to ski with poles and she’s now hooked on them. It won’t be long before she’s parallel turning down the slopes like a local. To say that skiing together as a family is the fulfillment of one of my lifetime dreams would be an understatement.
Of course, there is the ever-constant-layer of sadness that permeates even the happiest experiences, this is just a fact of life that we’ll always have to deal with – and I hope never goes away. If anything, this vacation and especially the skiing portion of it, has shown me how easy it is to be a 4-person family, which just highlights that we are a 5-person family with one member missing.
Christmas Eve we decided not to ski, owing to the fact that Mommy and Daddy were a bit sore from previous days. We instead went into Truckee and bought new snow-saucers (Hannah had cracked our other one on Monday attempting a crazy sled run down a bumpy mountain) and did some last minute shopping at Mountain Hardware in Truckee which is a really fun store for both adults and kids. We then went to lunch at the Squeeze In Café, home to 6” tall whipped cream toppings on their hot cocoa. Even Hannah couldn’t finish hers. We then walked around to work off the sugar/calories from lunch. I was hoping that some trains would come through as I wanted Nicky to see them, as Truckee is a busy train town for a lot of east/west freight and passenger traffic. Downtown Truckee was magically in the holiday spirit – sunny, not too cold, with crowded sidewalks and roads as people went about their business.
We finally decided on a place for dinner that night and secured the last 5pm reservation at the Cottonwood Inn in Truckee. I’ve been driving past this place for more than 30 years and had never been there. It is the first ski lodge in all of Lake Tahoe, and sits right above the downtown area on a hill that used to be the ski run. We got to our reservation on time and the dining room was magically lit with large clear bulbs strung from the four corners of the room. A large circular chandelier hung from the ceiling lit with votives. Our window seat afforded us a view of downtown Truckee as the lights came on, and as freight trains passed underneath. Yet another Mikulak family tradition was born that night.
We then drove a short distance (we could have walked but it was getting cold and the road is busy/narrow) to a church right behind the Truckee Inn on Church St for a 6:30PM Christmas Eve service which was a family services called “Build A Pageant”. We knew Hannah would be all over this as dress-up was involved (she still loves to play dress-up even as a 5th grader). The sanctuary was crowded as we arrived, but Melissa and Nicky found seats in the front row and I a few rows back. Less than 70 people were there total but it was all very nice, cozy, family-like. Hannah played a shepard and of course, true-to-form, made an instant friend with another girl a year younger that herself. It’s truly amazing to watch this girl seek out other girls and make their acquaintance, if even for 10 minutes.
Christmas morning came quickly and the kids opened their two presents. Nic is a handful at this time of year and managing the “me-me’s” has proved to be a challenge. However, they each got only two presents – one from Santa and one from Max via Santa – so the consumerism was minimized as much as possible.
It was quite warm (40+) and so we decided to go for a hike through the neighborhood. We are staying near a small lake called Ice Lake which is frozen over. There were four pairs of snowshoes in the garage of our cabin so we donned them and went out on Ice Lake. It was brilliantly clear and bright with the sun reflecting off the snow. In the distance, kids were playing hockey in a little cove of the lake, and cross-country skiers schussed by. Snowshoeing is fun and only Nicky got tired as he had to deal with shoes that were a bit wide for his stance.
Saturday, we skied again. Expecting after-Christmas crowds we got there early and were ready to go by 8:30. The crowds didn’t materialize and we had a great day of skiing. I took Hannah up some longer/steeper runs which she did great on, but got a little tired as it was getting icy by the early afternoon which is no fun no matter how experienced a skier you are.
Riding to the top with daddy
In the not too busy lift line!
Ahh! Hot Cocoa after a long day on the slopes!
Last morning in the snow cabin.
Sunday, we are left Tahoe, driving home via the eastern slope of the Sierras on the 395, stopping for the night in Bishop, CA just to break up the monotony of the drive and also allow for some local exploring of this area which I think is beautiful.
(Melis…) Alas, we are home in beautiful San Diego. I picked up the cat from the kennel, and Andy took the car to the carwash where the guys asked him what the heck we did to our car – snow travel can really make your car dirty!
Hannah ran up the street as fast as she could to re-unite with her best friend, Jenna. Nicky immediately started issuing orders about who he needed to help him do what with his new toys. Back to the norm.
This week – Andy is off for the whole two weeks of vacation! – we are planning on taking the kids to the Train Museum to see the Lego set-up; possibly Legoland with the Myers’ Boys; the Big Balloon Parade downtown; and whatever else comes along.
Max is missed by all of us. Andy forgot to mention that we watched the Max video one day while in Tahoe and even Hannah had tears in her eyes. It was somehow refreshing to see her show sadness. I guess we all go through the ups and downs of loss, and it never seems to sync up.