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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Sometimes, You Have to Get Creative ...

"But where will the kids come for Christmas?" my sister asked me. We were still working toward moving into the camper full time, and we had talked about celebrating Christmas at our elder daughter's house in Harrisonburg. But one of the kids would later remark that it would be strange to not celebrate Christmas at Aunt Leslie and Uncle David's. For years, the family had gathered there, and our kids barely remembered celebrating anywhere else (I managed to host once).

As the holidays approached, we decided that we'd invade our daughter Zoe's house for Thanksgiving--it would only be five of us, since our younger daughter Leah, now in Manhattan, had to work the next day and couldn't come to Virginia; she and boyfriend Spencer would celebrate with friends. For Christmas and Hanukkah, however, we decided to find an RV campground with pet-friendly cabins near Washington that would sleep at least 5, since Zoe has a dog and her friend Sara was also coming with her dog.

There was only one option in the DC area: Cherry Hill Park, near College Park in Maryland. But it was perfect.

They had a pet-friendly cabin (each cabin is named for a president's wife) with a living/dining room big enough to fit us all (ours had six chairs)...

... a stocked kitchen ...

... and two bedrooms with beds for six, linens, pillows and towels included! There were even wall hooks to hang stockings on in the living room. Perfect.

Best of all, they could put our camper right across the street! It was expensive, way more than we should spend, but who knew when we'd all be together for the holidays again?

Len and I got there a day early, and did a little decorating--snowflakes swirling on one side of the camper, tiny trees by the steps and a wreath on the front door.

I had been wrapping presents every evening, so that was almost done (a new Christmas miracle!). I actually had time to decorate some cookies before we got access to the cabin the morning of Christmas Eve.

Me being me, of course, I couldn't just move everyone into a plain, unadorned cabin. And the furniture arrangement ... awful (why did they put the TV in that corner?). So we rearranged the furniture and then brought throw rugs from storage, plus Christmas pillows, garland ...

...a corner tree, throws and throw pillows for the beds, and buffalo check everywhere (it's hot this year). The wrapping paper, the bows and even granddog Toby had red-and-black lumberjack check!

Only Zoe and Ben (and Toby) were with us for Christmas Eve dinner--Sara had to cancel because of work, and Leah and Spencer would arrive Christmas Day. After dinner, we went to St. James Episcopal Church in Potomac, where the wonderful Rev. Meredith Heffner, the former assistant rector at our home church, is now rector. It was lovely, bells and brass and amazing music!

And then, it was Christmas morning. Thankfully, nobody got going real early ... because, as usual, I was up until about 4, making cinnamon buns (amazing, find them here) and breakfast casserole, stuffing stockings and wrapping things I'd somehow missed.

Our elder son Samuel arrived about 9:30 and we carried the casserole and buns over to cook. We rearranged the furniture again to facilitate the distribution of presents, then started in on the pile. How is it every year we think we've bought less ... and still have a giant pile?

We had some fun with presents. Samuel, had gotten a microplane (a very fine grater, for non-cooks) for Zoe. He buried it under paper in the box and put tiny airplanes on top. I thought it was pretty clever, although we both had to search awhile for tiny planes ...

And Len pranked Ben, who had initially had an iron and ironing board on his list, but later took it off and assumed we hadn't seen it (he sent it to Zoe to forward). I had already bought both by then, and Len decided to put one over on our youngest, who will be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, after graduation. Len told him we thought he could use a surfboard ...

...and for just a moment, Ben bought it.

We all shared a good laugh when he realized what it really was.

The dogs were exhausted by all of the travel and hubbub. Toby needed a nap as badly as I did.

Mochaccino was perfectly happy to snooze in Samuel's arms. He's so happy when his kids are around.


Presents done, we had brunch (those amazing cinnamon buns and the casserole I always make), then started cooking for Christmas dinner at my sister's house. When they finished their cooking, Zoe and Ben picked up Leah and Spencer (they were at his aunt's house) and brought them to the cabin for a bit, then we headed to Great Falls, where Samuel met us. Finally, we were all together.

Joining us at my sister and brother-in-law's house were his sisters and their families. The theme this year was Asia (we've done France, Spain, Eastern Europe and New Orleans in recent years). Zoe and Ben had made cha gio (Vietnamese spring rolls) and Ching Wings (my step-grandmother Meiching's recipe and a required dish at almost any family gathering), while I made Vietnamese caramel chicken. Others made lo mien, Korean barbecued beef, fried rice, shrimp and asparagus, Asian salad ... There were also sushi and dumplings for appetizers; then almond cookies and homemade fortune cookies; a pineapple cake; and green tea, coconut and mango ice creams for dessert. It was a FEAST!

After dinner, Samuel headed home to take care of his cat, while the rest of us trekked back to the cabin and spent a little time opening Leah and Spencer's stockings and presents (except the ones to and from Sam; we'd open them the next day when he came). Then we hit the sack; it had been a long but lovely day.

The next morning, while Len ran an errand, the kids and I changed the tablecloth and pillow covers to Hanukkah themes as a surprise. We were having our latke party that night. I went back to the camper to work on dessert and poach some salmon. At the cabin, Samuel, Leah and Spencer opened each others' presents, and the kids and Len played Monopoly and card games for hours. It was a perfectly wonderful, mellow day. The girls grated five pounds of potatoes and some onion, and we lit fires under pans of oil. Finally, we lit the menorah and feasted on latkes and poached salmon. There was only one latke left. One.

The next day after breakfast, we scurried around to put the cabin back to its original state. Ornaments and garland were packed away and the tree went back into its box under the camper. Throw pillows and blankets were carried back to the trailer. The furniture was put back in place (awful arrangement, what were they thinking?). And then it was time give each child a buffalo check Christmas tree ornament as a reminder of the Camp Christmas and to send them on their way. The next day, we, too, would move on.

Our children are grown and are going their own ways, building their own lives, spread from New York to Florida. How often will we be able to gather together again--all four of our kids, their pets, and eventually (we hope) their spouses and our grandchildren? There's no way to see into the future, but memories of these few days will stay with us forever. It was, oddly enough, one of our best.

Hoping you had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah (or both, like us, or whatever holiday you celebrate around this very holiday-rich time), we wish you all health, prosperity, and love in 2020, and we look forward to seeing some of you as we travel. Treasure every moment.

The adventure continues!

Susan & Len

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