Christmas and all its chaos seems to kick in a bit later here in Naples than it does at home. Maybe as they celebrate Thanksgiving late in November folk haven't got their eye on the next holiday until they've got that one behind them. For whatever reason I do get the feeling that the real Christmas season here begins o/a 1st December.
On that particular evening we went to Fifth Avenue for the tree lighting ceremony which is a pretty big deal and always brings out the crowds in their Christmas finery. We felt full of figgy-puddingness as we wandered up and down the street and listened to singers and watched dancers strutting their stuff. Our evening concluded with the lighting of the tree (by the mayor) and we pootled off home feeling very Christmassy.
By now I also had The Nutcracker and It's a Wonderful Life under my belt. These are two of my absolute requirements to usher in Christmas. After putting up the Christmas decorations outside the condo I had completed the set.
My next Christmas task was to order my grocery from Tesco ready for delivery the day after we get back. This is a nightmare of the grandest proportions.
Firstly I had to be able to figure out what food I need to (a) restock an empty cupboard (b) to accommodate one (gluten free) guest for four days and (c) an overlapping other (new to me so don't know what he likes) guest for two days, followed by (d) food that will keep/freeze/last to see us out for the rest of our stay as we don't have a car on the road and have to manage with top up bits from our local shop. This meant endless continually revised lists of meals and ingredients needed for the meals which meant my work space looked liked Dicken's circumlocution office in Little Dorritt. It also meant I went on line to Tesco to add and alter about half a dozen times before I was (fingers crossed) happy with the result. Other than forgetting the Majool dates it proved pretty successful. Needless to say my daughter (tongue in cheek) tortured me with an hourly reminder that it can't possibly be Christmas without a Majool date!
Part two of the food ordeal is actually trying to book a delivery slot. Each date is released 21 days ahead. I managed to get a slot for the 22nd reasonably OK which I did just in case I didn't snare one for the 23rd. They come on line at midnight in the UK so dead on 7 pm I was at my machine trying to sign in and book a time. It took one and a half hours to just be able to use their system as it was so overloaded. Finally I scraped up a delivery for the 23rd as the best compromise between one early enough so we didn't starve in the interim but not too early for Christmas to have manky food by the time I got to it.
As for Christmas gifts. Postage to all and sundry is crippling. I decided when Lucy was born to buy her a Hallmark Christmas decoration each year for her to collect. 2010's went to Canada with me when we visited her in September that year. This time I discovered that the mailing costs were twice the cost of the ornament. Gayle kindly rescued me and bought one I had chosen on my behalf. Thank heaven for Paypal banking. Looks like I will be taking one in May for 2012's Christmas when I visit.
I'll come back to Christmas I am sure, but for now I am looking at the other day to day stuff.
Set against all the expenses of the Yuletide we seem to have had a great (Naples) bargain month. In one week we managed to get two free lots of cheese. We were overcharged a dollar (the till price and the package label didn't match) so you get to keep the item and the full price is refunded. We were recipients of more terrific customer service two more times that week. I had bought (my three millionth) pillow thirty days before and used it each night but wasn't happy with it. As I had actually paid a reasonable amount for this one in a desperate attempt to find a comfortable one I wondered if I could take it back. Sure enough, no real conversation or questions about it - bing, bang, bosh, money back. The third bit of happy shopper was a food mixer which I'd had two years. It was bought to make bread and even with the addition of bread hooks didn't really do the job although all the blurbs attached to its advertising claimed it did. I rang the company, not to complain, but to ask for advice in case there was something I was doing wrong. No problem we'll send you another one - later model, slightly more powerful motor and we'll also add in the dough hooks. Four days later I had a spanking new mixer! How ever long we live here I can't get used to such service.
We also ate out many times since we arrived using various coupon, restaurant offers and Groupon purchases, one of which led us to eat at an unpromising Deli opposite the park. It turned out that it made a great lunch of soup and sandwich and, in this case, for half the price.
We did seem to have a panic flurry of shopping before our guests arrived for them and for Christmas bits and bobs to take home but it was all very pleasant and we managed to squeeze in our usual free concerts and movies.
The day Phil and Sue arrived (from a brief stay in Orlando) our dishwasher decided to die but it was fixed the following day under our service contract so no big deal. On the same day we had also booked for a musical 'do' at the library but P & S decided to give it a miss, so Ken and I tootled off on our own to a jolly evening of Christmas music and a bit of audience sing-a-long. We just needed a mince pie and mulled wine to top it off.
More Christmas music followed at Golden Gate High School on the 17th, courtesy of Naples Orchestra and Chorus. We did this with P & S and Carole joined us too.
Even more music was soaked up the following day with the regular concert in the park. We did a diner meal at Mel's following this rather than a posher meal and had some great ribs.
A couple of days later (20th) and Ken and I were on our way home for Christmas.
We got back to a problem with our heating system... there's always something! It had managed to stay on non-stop for three months at a cost of about £100. Just before we left we had done a belt and braces job by having an exterior boiler stat put on the garage wall to avoid last year's burst water pipes. It seems this had managed somehow to stick in the on position. Ken eventually solved it and normal life began with our welcome home trip to the chippy to buy lunch!
I have found a terrific local cleaning service and they are happy to do odds and ends of work for me as and when, so the next day we were scrubbed from top to bottom by Kirsty. Meanwhile I worked on tidying the garden (see my burygardeners blog). With the arrival of the mountain of food the following day we were ready to 'DO' a sort of Christmas.
My daughter appeared on Christmas Eve and we had a very low key but pleasant Christmas lunch on the day itself. I made some notes early on Christmas morning which may as well just stand as is.
Christmas 8 am and I am up on my own. We had a very late night with Sally so I don't expect to her or Ken for a while. My sleep pattern is totally screwed up. I got up at 5.30 am on our first day back , 10.30 am the next day and no sleep at all the next night so I got up and stayed up and did useful stuff like wrap gifts for Xmas stockings. Today was a 6.30am beginning... So here I am.
I am spending useful quiet time thinking and writing and eventually preparing lunch. My thinking began with a bunch of Christmas resolutions for next year. Firstly I want to come home at least a week before the big day so everything isn't such a rush. It would allow me to do it properly if we are here for three or more weeks. I hate this half hearted not quite Christmas. The ba humbug thing just doesn't work; all you do is spoil other people's Christmas. In reality you probably don't but that's how it feels when you are the mom and responsible for the world and his wife's happiness. I want a Christmas tree and the rooms looking like Christmas... be this Christmas day or not I may persuade Ken to go in the loft and lug a tree down. He was a bit reluctant at 1 am this morning! So far the only food I seem to have forgotten is the dates! How can you forget the dates! Needless to say it was the first thing Sally asked me for when she arrived.
My second resolution is to skip this year's rubbish idea of no presents for the grown ups. All that's happened so far with the exception of Ken! is that I have the embarrassment of accepting gifts from everyone and not being able to return their kindness. So my nice cool adult logic is swamped with guilt and feeling like the cheesiest person around. I promise you I have given everyone's present buying money to charity but even that comes with the guilt of my feeling smug about doing something good by robbing someone else of the pleasure of opening a pressie. Hey ho, back to the drawing board. I think I need to heed what everyone has been telling me all my life that I should stop trying to control the whole world and just accept that things are what they are and how they should be and most folk like it that way. Apparently the world hasn't just been waiting for me to arrive on the scene and get it organised properly. As with all great megalomaniacs I am saddened by this.
Meanwhile I am off to peel a sprout.
Boxing Day saw the arrival of Sally's partner and we did the classic English Boxing Day cold cuts meal. On the 27th Ken's children, Susan and Richard, were added into the mix and we caught up with them.
While all this was going on my 'mosquito bites???' which I had flown in with had turned into (nasty blistery) chicken pox as confirmed over the telephone by a doctor. I had it as a child and only 13% of the population get it twice. I have also had shingles (at 60) so was thrilled to be doing the rounds again. By the time Christmas (and ours visitors) had gone I was feeling decidedly ill with it. When it gets to the stage where you actually choose not to drink a cup of tea because the effort of having to pick up a cup several times is just too much, it is time to worry.
I made an appointment with the doctor who diagnosed a staph infection and gave me antibiotics and antihistamine and an appointment for a week later. I absolutely knew this was a wrong guess - but what can you do? The antihistamine (non-drowsy) made me feel even worse! and I'm never happy loading myself with high dose antibiotics but...........
Meanwhile I was convinced I had a viral thing called pityriasis rosea and, when I went back to the surgery, the nurse and doctor had also come to this conclusion; without my suggesting it! After upsetting more than my fair share of doctors by telling them what disease I've got, I have finally learned to keep schtum. Why don't I just be brave and tell them and save all our grief and time? If you are interested enough and click on the link the photos look exactly like I looked, other than its a man's hairy chest! I am now on week six (13 Jan) and am just about feeling OK, so its been a long haul. Sadly I have no tips on how to avoid this little treat.
So, as you've probably gathered my last couple of days at home consisted of flopping about the place and dreading the journey back over the pond to the sun. I'll tell you how that went in my January epistle.