We arrived in Alabama on Dec. 1 and left Willie the RV at Camping World for some repairs, including a new awning to replace the one torn off in the Big Stone Gap windstorm. Then, on to Spike and Claire's in Fairhope, where we settled in their "guest" suite. Since they added a new bedroom area and family room-kitchen, the older part of the house (3 bedrooms, 2 baths) is for guests and family. Soleil, Pete, and I could each have our own bedroom, but we decided to bunk together.
For those who don't know, Spike (Robert) is my older brother and Claire, his wife. Spike retired from the oil leasing business and is now a wood bowl turner artist. Claire is a Christian song and musical lyricist and author of about 8 books. She's been on hiatus for awhile but seems to be moving back into it a bit. She's so prolific, as I found out when helping her organize all the lyrics, book ideas, poems, etc. on her computer. She is not computer savvy, so just starts writing something else when she can't find one she was working on. Thus, lots of work which could be published is "lost" (to her anyway). So, we're working on a system. Spike has an office and shop in their backyard where he "commutes" (stepping around their two old dogs and dodging all the birds at the feeders) to get to work.
He has some in galleries, does a few high-end craft-art shows, and takes commissions. See more at: Bowls
For Christmas, Pete and I both were fortunate to receive small bowls, perfect size for traveling.
They have two grown-up sons, Curt and his family (see Asheville for more on them) and Andy and his family who live in Daphne, not far from Fairhope. Andy is married to Jenni and they have four children: Kaylee, 13 (and oldest of Spike and Claire's grand-kids; Drew, 11; Reed, 6; and Sam, 3. Andy is a musician - wonderful singer and guitar player and songwriter. He has a studio where he does studio work for various artists and groups. He's also the worship leader at Church of the Apostles Anglican Church, where he leads a small band and group of singers, including Spike, every Sunday. Rocking glory!! Fun to hear and watch him. VistCOTA
Jenni home schools three of the kids - enuf said! She's also s superb eBay seller and manager. A super, fun, lovely family, I'll say (even if they are my kin.)
Spike and Claire live about two blocks from a park and beach on Mobile Bay and in the "fruits and nuts" neighborhood, so called because all the streets are named after fruit and nut trees. So, the walking around here is excellent. Soleil loves the long walks along the beach with opportunities to chase squirrels, birds, and things she thinks she sees in the water.
Claire takes a walk almost everyday and Soleil and I join her when I'm up early enough; if not I go later with or without Pete. Although recently Claire got the word from her doc that she needs to be doing some other kind of exercise because of bursitis; she's not happy with that, but will start going to her gym. Spike rides his bike; he has a bad foot and can't walk long distances easily. It's a rather laid back lifestyle with Spike and Claire and we fit right in! Reading, walking, movies, naps, exploring their favorite spots to see sunsets, birds, or the countryside, visits from Andy and family, lunch - all the good things for now.
The other two critters in their family or Max and Bentley, both very old dogs, who have retired from the cabin in the country (like Spike) to a quiet life in a suburban backyard, with a few squirrels, raccoons, and cats to cause a ruckus but little damage these days.
Claire and I took a quick trip to Lafayette, LA (our hometown) to see her mother, Virginia.
Virginia is 95, sharp, full of spunk, wit, humor, and lots of stories, and is writing a book about some of those stories. Since Big Charlie, her husband, died a few years ago, she's lost much of her eyesight, but lives at home with round the clock care, and stays as active as she can. She has lots of friends in Lafayette and family in Baton Rouge, and Claire gets over as often as she can. This visit was primarily to get her social security card and ID card straightened out. Some of her info had just Virginia on it and some just Mary, and now, after all these years, there was a question about it. We went from the social security admin office to the DMV office, waiting and waiting as one does at these places. She was a trooper, as we tried to explain what the deal was. I had read all the forms and knew what we needed so kept after them to work it out. Finally, after many questions and shuffling through every form of id Virginia had, one kind woman said she could see this was her and would do it, even if she got in trouble. At one point she asked "V" her height and "V" started singing, "Five foot two, eyes of blue, has anybody seen my girl?" That won the whole office over and we were in! Before she had her photo taken, she had to put on her bright red lipstick. What a joy to spend time with such a lovely lady! She and my mother were friends, both amazing women and moms. You'll notice in the photos, she's a blonde and she's keeps that going. She told her stylist, "I'm going down blonde." I think Claire is aspiring to that also.
I didn't get to visit any one else in Lafayette on this brief journey, although we did make it to Keller's Bakery
and Borden's Ice Cream Shop (the only one still in operation).
I mailed my sister Debbie some of her most favorite cookies in the world from Keller's - chocolate fudge bars. They were out of eclairs, her second favorite, so she didn't get those.
Back in Fairhope, I helped Claire Christmas shop for her grand-kids, which was great fun to be a Santa's helper and have someone else foot the bill.
Spike displays a fear of the big (especially brown) bra sections of Wal-Mart and Target, so we tried to not shop near those.
One day Kaylee, Andy and Jenni's oldest, went with us - girls day out. She was helpful and fun.
Pete and I helped with Christmas tree buying (with no cold weather or snow to contend with), decorating, wrapping, and all the cheer that comes with it.
Curtis and family came from North Carolina the Monday before Christmas so we moved out into Willie.
Plenty of room for all and lots of kids around.
One night Kaylee, Caroline, and Robin had a girls' sleepover with us. We went to our bedroom and left them on the foldout bed with movies, computers, and junk food. They wanted to do it every night, but their parents knew they wouldn't get much sleep, so nixed that plan.
Christmas morning everyone gathered for gifts and stockings.
Lots of excited, happy, wild and fun children, with adults sitting back enjoying the smiles, comments, laughing, and tearing of paper.
With a rainy day, we played inside with new toys, read new books, assisted the head cooks in dinner prep, napped, and dealt with a few unhappy kids.
And, a bit of boudin from Lafayette pre-dinner, much enjoyed by most, especially Andy and Drew!
Julie and Jenni's gift to Claire and Spike was to cook dinner,
so we let them go for it, although Pete added his traditional creamed onions, and I made the celery stuffed with pimento cheese. If you're family, you know this was something I made when very young and have kept it up for years. Very few people actually eat it -- more for me! Andy's mouth dropped when he realized what was in store for him; he's not had it for years.
And, Jenni and Julie seemed thoroughly awed by the plating of the dish.
It's just something expected when I show up!! We gathered at three tables for meals -- the adults around the large round table that belonged to our Mom and Dad (Marjie and Dobbin), which their family of seven ate around for years and years, usually with guests. Oh, how wonderful to sit around it again with family!
With full bellies and tired bodies, we gathered for photos.
Tish and Lily, down from GA, visiting Tish's father stopped by for dessert later.
So, we had a lovely, lively, fun, and joyous Christmas Day.
Pete has been several times to the Pensacola Naval Hospital to check on his shoulder, wrist, and knee. It seems he did more damage in the fall in Virginia, so they're running all kinds of tests to determine what's up. Amazingly, he can still swing a golf club!!
Curt and family headed back to NC, after a two-day snow storm delay; the house was quieter again.
Spike recycled the Christmas tree into an antennae stand to get some of the bowl game. Such a creative, lovely structure in the family room!
And, then New Year's Eve - a movie, a walk, and was in bed before midnight! Exciting, eh?!