Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
And with scenes from the last two weeks ranging from watching 'Clerks' with old friends to passing out in an emergency room, it would be impossible to relate every detail.
Instead, I have only a few snapshots, and fragments culled from the maelstrom of swirling, swiftly-fading memories that have made this one of the more unforgettable holiday seasons on record.
Seemingly ages ago, we took the traditional tour of the Honolulu City Lights displays around the Capitol District.
It's pretty much the same every year, sure, but it's still a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit.
I've said it many times before, but I can't help but say it again. Nothing turns a lifelong Scrooge into an aspiring Santa like parenthood. Even the tackiest Christmas displays have their charm when you see the magical, dazzled look in a young child's eyes.
We took a little video to send to Jen's parents in Florida, and I editing it onto a tape with footage from last Christmas.
Watching it, Jen and I were speechless, seeing so vividly the difference a mere 365 days can make. One moment, Katie's a tiny bundle lying in her stroller, her little feet up in the air. The next, she's tearing around on the grassy lawn, pointing at the oversized elf and calling out the letters she sees in his oversized book.
Nothing makes me happier, and nothing makes me sadder, than knowing that Katie's growing up.
Tuesday, Dec. 14, will be a day that we won't soon forget.
It was the day of the annual Christmas Party for my office, arranged at the last minute to accomodate a maze of overlapping vacation schedules. Though Jen and I had been looking forward to it it's hard to resist a fancy dinner on the boss Jen started having second thoughts that afternoon as Katie had missed her nap and was notably cranky.
In the end I persuaded her to come, betting that Katie would brighten up once out and about and near baby-charming Lacene. Though Katie did indeed turn out to be a little angel, it was a decision we would later regret.
At first, nothing was wrong. The evening started at the Plaza Club, right upstairs from our office. There was chit-chat, drinks, crackers and fancy cheeses. Then we all jumped into cars and drove way out to East Honolulu to the evening's main venue: Castagnola's Italian restaurant in Hawaii Kai.
Nothing continued to be wrong for a while. The company was bubbly, and the food was terrific. Antipasto, eggplant parmesan, ravioli, shrimp scampi, and the most potent tiramisu ever made. We stuffed ourselves silly, exchanged our Secret Santa gifts, and talked and talked and talked. Finally we filed out into the night, said our goodbyes, and went home.
We climbed into bed as soon as we got in, tired and content, looking forward to a deep, long snooze.
Things went wrong shortly after midnight, when Jen woke up to discover her dinner was making an unexpected return. She had made several miserable, noisy trips to the bathroom when suddenly Katie began alternately shrieking and vomiting.
Chaos reigned over the next few hours, with the both of them violently ill together. I was stumbling around all morning, getting buried under a pile of towels and old shirts, wondering if I was somehow trapped in an "Exorcist" nightmare.
By the time their stomachs settled enough to sleep again, it was 4:30 a.m., and I ended up just staring in a daze on the couch until the sun came up.
Somehow unaffected by whatever brought the girls down, and feeling more than a little guilty, I trudged off to work. As Jen called in nearly hourly puke reports from home, I shook my head as many of my coworkers recounted graphic tales of gastrointestinal distress. No one was hit as bad as Jen and Katie, but nearly everyone was feeling at least a little icky.
Life was messy for another day and a half, with Jen and Katie going to the doctor and getting only, "Drink lots of fluids and take it easy until everything sorts itself out."
With what little energy she had, Jen tracked down the appropriate office in the state Department of Health, and reported that something might be amiss over in Hawaii Kai. Though they were surprisingly eager to investigate, I told Jen I was convinced it was just a stomach flu that had been going around, and unrelated to the kitchen at Castagnola's.
I was exhausted, but fortunately, I went to bed Thursday night knowing the girls had quickly gotten over the worst of their mysterious illness.
Unfortunately, I woke up Friday morning clutching the rim of the toilet bowl.
I got it too, after all, and I got it bad. I was convinced this time that my head was going to start spinning around and around. Worse, my stomach really hurt. Really really hurt. I couldn't stand, sit, or lie down... even curling into a ball didn't help.
The pain became unbearable, and knowing full well I was probably just a wimp, Jen called mom at work and asked her to drive me to the emergency room.
It was a busy day at the Straub ER, but they still took good care of me. As I lay there biting my lip, I realized with disgust that I had been at the Kapi`olani emergency room only a month before. "If there was a 'club card' for hospitals," I muttered to a disinterested nurse's aide, "our family would have easily earned free roundtrip tickets to Italy by now."
The hospital staff eventually set me up with my very first IV, laced with something to take away the pain. I barely had enough time to admire the great tape-and-tube work on my arm before I passed out.
Four hours later I woke up, groggy, but otherwise feeling much better. I looked up to see my arm had drank the whole bag of magic juice. A nurse came by every fifteen minutes to ask, "Do you need to pee?" Until, of course, I finally did.
"Dehydration, after massive fluid loss," the doctor said as he sent me on my way. "Common, but nothing to laugh at."
I wasn't about to laugh, but I still felt a little stupid.
Try as I might, I couldn't play the good host. I ended up sleeping for most of the time they were over, and Jen had to order out for pizza to keep them from starving. The lot of us ended up just lounging around in the living room watching Home & Garden TV and the Food Network, until Jaimee's parents drove in from `Aiea to pick them up. (I wasn't about to trust myself behind the wheel.)
As it turns out, two of my coworkers were similarly stricken late, also calling in sick that Friday. Now I believed Tuesday's dinner was the culprit, and asked Jen to follow up with the health department.
The department's amazingly helpful and patient investigator Larry Inouye told us that they'd received other reports from people who had dined at Castagnola's that week, and even got samples that eventually tested positive for nasty bacteria. They were quite sure there was a serious food poisoning case here, and Larry set about interviewing everyone he could about that fateful dinner and its aftermath.
My boss was the one that had recommended the place, and I'd even remarked on the drive over that his record was mixed. "Half the places are actually big hits," I said, "But there are also some pretty big misses."
Little did we know...
Anyway, the whole ordeal swallowed a week of our lives, everyone taking some time to regain strength and appetite. All of us noticably lost weight, including Katie, which had everyone worried for a while. (She's plump and jolly again now, thankfully.) With the lack of sleep and over-the-counter drug cocktails, it's a wonder I remember anything at all.
Nate and Jaimee were able to squeeze in a second visit, fortunately, despite the tightly-packed schedule for their short visit home. We took them out to Anna Miller's, then watched "Clerks" at our place, like we'd always planned.
I had a half day at work on Thursday, and took advantage of the extra time to do some truly last minute shopping for Jen.
Fortunately, I'd had a good idea of what I wanted to get her, and found exactly what I had pictured in my mind after only an hour of wandering the hodgepodge of hole-in-the-wall shops downtown. A brief stop at Liberty House and the flower stand in our building provided the finishing touches.
I went back to the office and embarked on an adventure in wrapping that would've made Martha Stewart wince. It took me another hour, dozens of balls of wadded up tape and an entire roll of fancy purple paper to wrap one medium-sized garment box.
As it turns out, the extended wrapping session ensured I was around to get my Christmas present to myself: a new Casio digital camera, purchased to replace the cute little Canon that met a premature and tragic end last month. I wasn't expecting it until Monday god bless UPS. Just in time to document the holidays.
I came home, and Jen's eyes just about bugged out when she saw my meticulously wrapped gift. The next several hours were peppered with whimpers and puppy dog eyes, as she begged to open it early. I made the mistake of giving her a hint, and the pleading intensified.
Of course resistance was futile. But I made her compliment my wrapping job a few times before carefully pulling one end open.
A full-length, black velvet dress and a nice string of faux pearls. She eagerly tried it on. The way she looked in it made both of us giddy. After the mini fashion show, though, we put everything back neatly in the box and wrapping, where it would wait for its appropriate moment the next day.
Originally, we had plans for a full but quiet home-cooked dinner at mom's for Christmas Eve. We'd even set the menu and started buying groceries.
But at the last minute, we decided to join mom's extended family at her brother Al's house for their annual Christmas shindig.
Now, our little branch of the family tree is notoriously anti-social. ("Dropping by unannounced" seems to be a genetic trait of my mother's side of the family, but she only barely tolerates it.) We probably miss as many parties as we attend, and with grandma Henderson's low threshold for excitement, we always leave early.
But this year's gathering was notable for many reasons. Cousin Alex and wife Claudia came in all the way from Germany. Cousin Jennifer's new daughter Alyssa would be there. Even Jennifer's husband, Darryl, had a very rare day off from KITV.
It was a colorful, wonderful evening of family. Everyone was talking at once, catching up with people not seen for ages.
As the evening wound down, people started calling, "Family picture, family picture!"
It had been nearly a decade since the last one, and with good reason. There were twenty-six of us, five fewer than in the photo blown up and mounted on uncle Al's wall, but it was still a Herculean effort getting everyone seated and smiling. Katie was fussing, grandma was aching to go home, and everyone was sweating.
I hope someone got a better shot of everyone than I did. Not only was my mouth open, but a banister in the foreground erased one of my relatives.
Flashes were going off for half an hour. People were standing and sitting and shuffling around. Eventually it seemed like we were taking pictures in random combinations, snapping shots of whomever happened to be on the couch at that moment.
Finally, we headed back to mom's for the grand finale.
This year she went at the wrapping with more gusto, especially after finding a Blue's Clues™ toy inside the first package. By next year, we knew, Christmas would be in full effect within our wee one, with the whole tree and presents and Santa thing finally sorted out. It'll be all we can do to keep her from opening everyone's presents.
Not surprisingly, Katie got lots of toys, many of them battery-operated noisemakers that will no doubt add up to a few hundred migranes over the next year. She also got lots of books, which commanded most of her attention, and lots of clothes (most of which from Jen after weeks of gift-certificate shopping sprees).
Jen and I got clothes and assorted snacks. Grandma got a new sweater and some cracked seed. Mom got a cordless computer mouse and Microsoft Office 2000.
There were hugs all around as we finally headed home, our trunk stuffed to capacity with gifts. Katie, her face spotted with chocolate, passed out before we reached the freeway. Jen and I admired the nearly full moon, quietly reflecting on our day during the long drive back to Makiki.
Finally, this morning, I joined Jen and Katie for Christmas Mass at Sacred Heart Church. It was a peaceful, fitting close to a most memorable holiday season.