The first “leg” of my sabbatical was planned far in advance to be an annual immediate family gathering somewhere – a relatively new thing, if you’ll pardon the pun. Since my sister, brother, and I all have kids who are old enough to travel without too much pain, we would try to gather our families and parents in one place for a week to keep cousins in contact and familial bonds active. When considering that my brother and I both suck at doing much more than, “What? Someone had a birthday last week? Oh. Okay.”, this kind of thing might be quite useful going forward.
Last year, we had a get-together at Lake Tahoe – but my brother’s family couldn’t make it. That was okay, the Tahoe experience – while beautiful outside – was spent in a cramped, tiny house with far too many people and not enough space or breathing room. This year, after some false starts and unproductive emails, my brother’s wife took ownership of the accommodation problem (thankfully!) and we wound up in Breckenridge, CO, for a week.
With an elevation of around 11,000 ft, the air is thin enough you really notice it when you do anything physically active – even as simple as climbing stairs. At least, the parents did, as did the siblings. Hathai and I were able to trooper through it, and get in a brief bit of hiking with Brieana and our niece Sarah, but we were huffing and puffing quite a bit. Conflicting advice from taking a few days to a few months to adjust to the altitude, combined with the empirical evidence about response levels in the larger group, led to a quick abandoning of any extensive hiking plans through the Rockies. It really didn’t help that a short hike rated “easy/beginner” was on par with hiking a two-mile loop through a carpet of broken rocks and massive tree roots, with highly unstable footing.
Instead, we wound up spending the days on easy things – like fishing – with one big excursion to the Breckenridge alpine event plaza, including a maze, alpine slides, an alpine single-person roller coaster, bungee bouncing, rock walls, etc. All of the kids had a good time, though we quickly splintered into groups by age and interest. My niece is currently a bit scared of things like ski lifts or cable cars, high speeds in an alpine slide, that sort of thin, but our kids and our eldest nephew are not, while our youngest nephew is too little to do much of anything without close adult supervision and control. That left a bit of chaos and uncoordinated events, where our families would cross paths for a short while, do an event or two together, and then fracture again into splinter groups.
Our primary goal for the week – kids interacting with kids – was a success. Perhaps a bit too much of one, as the kids grew “tired” of each other at times, and needed space and privacy for their own mental downtime. Or at least, our kids demonstrated this. The others were 24-7 “in your face” happy to be together and doing things at very high volumes. A herd of elephants has nothing on these kids for noise making in a three-story VRBO property.
Our secondary goal for the week – adult siblings and familial bonds – was also a success, though for different reasons. Hathai observed that it is quite evident that different families have different cultural roots or foundations. In my family, we grew up playing games – mostly card games, but also Monopoly, Life, and so on. Her family did not have that history. So in the evenings, when the kids were all abed, the adults gathered to play cut-throat games with language that would make a sailor blush: Shanghai Rummy and Canasta were the only two we managed to play that week.
When playing cards with my sister, she has a tendency to change (or “remember”) rules on the fly. You have to be on your toes to keep her in check, or at least that was the case historically. She also has one of the most vocal blue streaks of threats, curses, and imminent violence that she applies liberally – even if she is winning or getting her way. We all give her a hard time about it, and she takes it with the good humor we intend, but the end result remains the same – she offers threats and curses, but wins far more than she loses, no matter what the rules we play by happen to be that night.
The other big thing my family had while we were growing up was an expectation that everyone learns how to cook. My sister, brother, and I are all capable of executing on a wide dynamic range of recipes – Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, American country, English, etc. We each have our preferences, and have settled into various “default recipes” for our individual families, but when we get together we’re feeding at least 13 people on a three-meals-a-day basis. So we split the cooking duties, each of the three families taking a couple of days to cook something for everyone for dinner. Leftovers are fair game to all, but breakfasts and lunches are catch-as-catch-can on an individual basis. We all contributed to the pantry for these events, but the grand scheme of things was a lot of good food, some of it rather rich in calories, and interesting desserts.
I had an unfortunate event in the very first night, where I was cooking fried chicken. There was an eruption of extremely hot oil – apparently a common occurrence when I was cooking that week – where it splashed so high and large it basically cooked a bit of my face. In surprise and shock, I fell down, and promptly broke my cell phone’s screen. Not really a pressing concern when I was afraid I would be blind, but an annoyance later. It’s taken more than week, but most of the damage has healed, thanks to Aloe with Lidocaine, and now I just have pink spots instead of scales and scabs. Lovely. There were a few repeats of the erupting oil that week, but we learned the lesson and kept a pot lid properly tilted to block the eruption from humans. Unfortunately, the house just didn’t have a splash screen to cook with.
The kids displayed their fishing prowess, though some of that was choosing the right location. Poor Jeliya caught the first fish while fishing in the reservoir by Dillon, which made her smile, but she felt very bad for the worm and then the fish. It didn’t help that we were fishing off a boat at the time, and the fish didn’t like it when the boat was moved to another location (it was on a stringer), nor when cousin Andrew tried to play with it. That was pretty much the end of Jeliya’s fishing adventure – though she did try again a little tiny bit, but only when it was catch-and-release at a family friend’s place over near Leadville.
Brieana caught a few fish in catch-and-release, while the other cousins were always catching something on multiple excursions other than the boat event. She quickly grew bored, however, and wanted to do other things since the fish were inconveniently not just leaping to her feet and asking to be caught. The kids spotted an animal in the pond, possible a very small beaver, pine martin, or just a water rat. Many fish were caught and pictures taken by all, so it was a good time – except perhaps for the fish.
In all, the week was a success. The altitude was a bit problematic, though it had the side effect of us shrugging off any semblance of fatigue induced by the low pressure of airplanes at 36,000 ft. They tend to pressurize to a partial atmosphere, rather than sea level atmosphere, for engineering and cost reasons. The reduced air mix leaves many people tired. For us, after a full week at over 10,000 ft elevation with active lifestyles, it was remarkably easy to be in a plane and not feel anything . . . other than the generally uncomfortable seats with in-seat entertaining while trapped a thin-walled metal tube hurtling through the sky at 560 mph. Kind of amazing to think about, but we’re probably all too busy trying to ignore the overloud PA announcements and mandatory infomercials selling airline services on that screen.
It does make me wonder . . . how long until we have free flights, in exchange for being inundated with commercial advertisements for the entire flight? It brings to mind the scene from Clockwork Orange, where our eyelids would be propped open while a never-ending stream of advertisements were shown to us, yet we are wired up line guinea pigs for brain activity to feedback to the companies flogging their wares. It’s sort of like how free services on the Internet are only free because you agree to let them track everything you do and mine all of your email, blogs, and image postings so they can develop better techniques to manipulate you into buying something.
Ah, the joys of modern life.