Christmas 2011 in Minnesota

December 24–26, 2011
Posted here April 15, 2022

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Packing, breakfast and the drive to Winona

Up before 8 a.m. Showered, finished packing for Minnesota Christmas trip. ~ Ate honey buns for breakfast. ~ Wendi left a note and a teddy bear for Shayna Litten, who would be watching the cats while we were gone.

There was no snow on the ground in Janesville; we didn’t see snow until we were north of Madison (there was a little), and then it decreased until, in western Wisconsin, it only appeared over frozen ponds. But once we crossed into Minnesota, there was snow again, and more of it the closer we got to Winona, where there was about an inch on the ground.

Minor mixup; we visit with Grandma Diane first

Teresa had told Wendi to call her once we reached La Crosse; Wendi had done this but couldn’t reach Teresa. Wires had been crossed: Wendi understood Teresa to say they would be visiting her mother and would be back by 2:00, but in reality they were going there for a 2:00 Christmas gathering and expected to be home by 4:00. On top of this, Teresa had forgotten her phone and left it at home! They were home shortly before 5:00. In the meantime, Diane (Tony’s mother) had us unload our stuff in her back room (where we would be staying for two nights), and we visited with her until Tony and Teresa returned home; then we headed over there.

Grandma Diane’s house was lovely and quite large by our standards. “I’ve lived here since 1961,” she told us, “fifty years.” Though it looked spacious to us, and relatively uncluttered, Diane told us it was actually quite cluttered. One room (through which we had to pass to get from the back room where we stayed, to the living room) was apparently used for storage; in it was an old piano (out of tune) and, among other things, an electronic parrot that would repeat whatever you said. It was hilarious!

“Most of the time,” Diane told us, “I live upstairs, over the garage.” There is an extra living room up there with a TV. ~ The view in back of the house is also amazing: a rocky pinnacle called Sugar Loaf, 500 feet high and lighted at night!

Dinner and gift exchange at Tony and Teresa’s

We exchanged gifts between us, Joe and Elizabeth, Tony, Teresa and John; the bigger family exchange would take place tomorrow at Grandma Diane’s.

Teresa made her cheeseburger casserole (Elizabeth’s favorite) with ground beef, cheese, bacon and macaroni, for dinner. We sat and watched TV, and Chrissy played with the three dogs: Crystal, Beauty and Jack. Grandma Diane was attending Christmas Eve services at her church and was expected home around 8:00. It was 8:45 when we decided to get ready to leave. I had drunk a Java Monster before driving up here, and a Monster Khaos upon our arrival at Diane’s, and also two cups of coffee at Teresa’s house, yet I managed to doze while watching TV!

We arrived at Diane’s house shortly after 9:00; we visited briefly and then got ready for bed. We were in bed shortly after 10:30.

Sunday, December 25, 2011 (Christmas Day)

Breakfast and church

We got up at 8 a.m. Grandma Diane gave us toast, Cuties (clementines) and coffee for breakfast. ~ Shortly after 9:30, Tony and Teresa came to pick us up for church; their son John was with them, as well as Joe, Elizabeth, and Josh Jewell.

Living Light Church (850 Hwy 14, Winona, MN) had just one service this morning, at 10:00. As soon as we entered the building, we received hugs and “Merry Christmas” greetings. We sat down near the back of the sanctuary. Soon the music started; it was pretty lively. At one point they started singing the Doxology, a cappella; as the last word was sung there was a guitar riff, and then the tempo picked up and the tune and lyrics changed. We rocked the house! It was celebratory; it was wonderful. ~ Two ladies sang a duet, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and the lead singer sounded much like Lois Carlson from our own church. ~ Pastor James broke into song during the sermon. ~ It was a very nice service.

The family gathers for dinner and gifts

The family all gathered at Grandma Diane’s this afternoon. There were 18 people for dinner (1:00). There was ham, meatballs in barbecue sauce, a variety of salads and side dishes, and plenty of dessert: sugar cookies (including some of ours), English toffee (Teresa Ulbrech made it; it was delicious!) and other cookies.

Once the others arrived (there were now 23 in the house) we opened our presents. Everyone else in the family had drawn names, but Grandma Diane had gifts for everyone, including me (Charlie), Wendi, and Chrissy!

I later remarked to Joe that I hadn’t expected such nice, thoughtful gifts. “That’s Grandma Diane,” Joe replied with a chuckle.

The amazing and memorable “white elephant” exchange

After that, they brought in the gifts for the “white elephant” exchange. Everyone had one or several items wrapped in a box for this exchange. A “white elephant” is an item that is of no use to the giver but may be useful to someone else. This family has expanded the concept to include candy and other food items.

There were 23 boxes, and everyone drew a number. When your number came up, you would choose a gift box and open it so the contents were visible to everyone. Or you could “steal” an already opened box, forcing the holder of that box to choose a new one. ~ When all the boxes had been opened, then everyone (starting at number 1) got a chance to “steal” a box or keep the one they had.

Several boxes changed hands more than once, including one containing a box of Russell Stover chocolates, a package of ramen noodles and a $5 bill. Joe originally opened this one; it was a large box containing several smaller wrapped boxes, some of which were empty! ~ Another box contained a large container of Nesquik and some Alfred Hitchcock movies, and that box moved around quite a bit. ~ A red wig surprisingly found several owners. ~ I ended up with tampons and a bunch of random items, several of which Wendi later found useful.

An informal supper, music, football, and a crazy card game

Leftovers were served for supper at about 5:00, with the addition of cheese and crackers. ~ I played the “Wedding Day” music so Jenny Buttaccio could hear it, using Wendi’s MP3 player, the cassette adapter, and an old radio/tape player that was in the kitchen. By contrast, I also played “Noxious Fumes.” Jenny was impressed by the quality and variety of the music. Everyone just listened quietly during most of the wedding songs.

The Packers played the Bears at Lambeau at 7:20; Wendi watched the game in the back room where we slept, but only the audio was available since the TV screen went blue. The Packers won, 35–21. ~ In the kitchen, Grandma Diane, Tony, Teresa, Susie (Carolyn Lelwica), I (Charlie), Jenny Buttaccio and Julie Grier played Continental Rummy; I recognized it as the same game my family called Progressive Rummy, and I played it last in the summer of 1967, when I was nine years old. The points count against you, so the lowest score wins. My score was highest (695); Julie won with 375. ~ The party broke up around 11:00, and soon we went to bed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Breakfast and packing

Up between 8 and 9 a.m. Diane and Randy had been up since around 5:00. We had cinnamon rolls, Cuties and coffee for breakfast. ~ Joe and Elizabeth came to take Chrissy shopping; we would join her but needed to pack our stuff first. Joe and Elizabeth went to get gas, then came back as we were finishing up packing.

Shopping trip, goodbyes, gas and lunch

Several of us went shopping at Walmart (12:40). Joe and Elizabeth had to run Josh back to La Crosse, then Joe had to be at work in Rochester by 4:00, so we said our goodbyes in the Walmart parking lot.

Bought gas at Kwik Trip using a 7-cent-per-gallon coupon from Diane (1:00). ~ The three of us ate lunch at McDonald’s, right across the lot from Kwik Trip (1:10).

The drive home