Sunday, December 22, 2013

DAY FIFTY THREE - My Annual Christmas Letter

Dear Friends & Family,

As I type this letter, this is the view I have from my desk - Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf in the distance. To say this has been a very interesting year would be an understatement.

It started off on a rather somber note as Doug's father, the Rev. Francis Carlson, passed away shortly before Thanksgiving of 2012. I had been asked to be the Executor many decades ago, so now it was time to settle the estate which included selling his house in rural Connecticut. I'd never done this sort of thing before, but I made it my priority and just dug in. I decided I needed to put auditioning for acting projects aside for the time being, but I did not want to abandon it completely - honestly, I just couldn't. So I signed up for semester one of a two-year professional Meisner acting program with The Brooklyn Training Ground, a new school founded by my long-time acting coach, Roger Manix. It  proved to be THE most challenging and rewarding acting class of my life. Boy was it tough and did it ever stretch me, which was the point after all. 

Between the Meisner class and working on the estate paperwork, I was kept pretty busy through the Winter, and as usual Doug's work at NYU commanded his attention. In late March my nephew, Sasha, came for his 2nd solo visit. Activities included exploring Central Park (he loves climbing on the rocks) and South Street Seaport, and we saw "Peter and the Starcatcher" Off Broadway. 

Sasha at South Street Seaport

In mid-April Amandine, our former Belgian Rotary exchange student, returned for another visit. She was planning on relocating to Santiago, Chile, where she had lived as a student many years ago, and she decided to make a stopover with us first. While in Hoboken she signed up for several dance classes in NYC, and she even realized her dream of participating in the New York City Annual Dance Parade. Doug, our friend Nancy and I waited for her dance troupe to pass by at Union Square.

In spite of it being a rainy day, Amandine was just pumped to be in the Dance Parade

I had to look at my calendar twice to verify that Amandine was with us for almost two months because it simply didn't seem that long. As always when she visits, the time flies. I went to my photo album and was reminded of all the things we did together.

We went to the Metropolitan Opera and saw "Rigoletto"

We had lunch at The Standard Grill and walked along The High Line. Amandine brought her new iPad everywhere as she was experimenting with photos and taking videos

Of course we had to go to the newly opened World Trade Center Memorial

She even managed to fly to Denver for a long weekend and visit with Leah and her fiance, Jorge. Amandine loves Blue Moon beer, so they took her on a Coors brewery tour.

Amidst all the activities surrounding Amandine's visit, I was also hard at work planning a vacation to Italy. Doug and I had talked about going for years, and we'd been accumulating frequent flyer miles to use "some day". Since this year Doug and I both turned 60, we decided that "some day" had arrived. 

Amandine left for Chile on June 3rd, and one week later Doug and I left for Italy. We flew into Rome first  and spent several days exploring all the must-see sights, including the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, and more. Much more. And of course we ate lots of fabulous food. How could we not?

Doug looks very relaxed, doesn't he? When it came to meals we sought out little cafes and tried to stay away from the touristy areas.

Making a wish just before tossing a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. They say if you do that, you'll return. I figured, "why not?"

We walked and we walked. Doug had a new pedometer app on his phone, and one day we walked over 12 miles. I should mention it was pretty warm while we were in Italy. Thank heaven for gelato ;-)

After 4 days we took one of the high-speed trains to Venice. And oh my...... we loved Venice!

Hotel le Isole

Based on TripAdvisor reviews, I booked us at the Hotel le Isole, and it turned out to be the nicest place we stayed. Just charming. That is our room right over the walkway with the iron balcony and overlooking a canal. The building was old, but it was completely renovated on the inside. Like so many places in Venice, you could easily walk right by the entrance and never know it was there. We had breakfast every morning in a courtyard in the back and then went exploring.

Hostaria da Franz

I planned it so that we were in Venice for our 39th anniversary. The concierge booked reservations at this wonderful little restaurant, Hostaria da Franz, a few blocks away. The food was very Venetian (lots of seafood) and amazing.

And yes, we took a gondola ride in the evening just before going out for our anniversary dinner. We had been advised to take a gondola ride through the smaller back canals rather than on the busy Grand Canal. It was excellent advice. It was so quiet and peaceful - I felt like we'd slipped back in time.

My only regret about the Venice visit was that we did not stay long enough. I would go back in a heartbeat. In. A. Heartbeat.

From Venice we took the train to Florence, our last stop. It was very warm when we first arrived in Italy, and as the week progressed it got even warmer. By the time we hit Florence, it was just plain HOT. 

One of the highlights of our entire trip was booking a full-day guided tour of Tuscany. Our friend, Susan, recommended a tour guide she and a group of friends had used the year before, Monica Iris. Monica took us to hilltop towns and little vineyards such as the one above. 

I felt like I was walking through a postcard

There is lots of prosciutto in Tuscany! Doug is chatting with Monica at a butcher shop in her home town of Greve

It was a wonderful vacation, and I could bury you with photos, but I won't. It was wonderful to see Doug actually put work behind him and really and truly relax. He doesn't do that often enough. But.... once we returned it was back to the office for him, and I turned my attention back to the estate work. The Connecticut house had sold, and the closing took place at the end of June which was a huge weight off my mind. Now I was in the home stretch and could tie things up. 

Doug and I also turned our attention to Leah and Jorge's upcoming wedding which was scheduled for September 1st in Denver. Leah and I spent much time emailing back and forth and talking on the phone, and of course there were clothes to buy for the event. In addition to the joy of knowing Leah and Jorge would be married, I was excited because so many of our family were planning on gathering in Denver for the event. Jeff was flying in from Denver, my sister and niece were accompanying my dad from Maryland, my brother and his new wife, Katherine, were flying in from Idaho, Doug's brother was coming in from New Jersey and his sister and her husband flew in from Dallas. And if that weren't enough, Amandine was flying back from Chile for the wedding too.

The day before the wedding, Leah and Jorge hosted an "I Do" BBQ at their home in Denver. They thought it would be a nice, casual setting for the two families to meet each other. Jorge smoked and grilled meats, his Aunt Gabby prepared all kinds of wonderful side dishes in the kitchen, and a wonderful time was had by all.

The wedding took place outside at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and thankfully the weather cooperated. It was casual and relaxed and fun..... just like Leah and Jorge. 

Doug, Leah, Jorge, Kathi

The reception was at Leah and Jorge's favorite Denver restaurant, The Kitchen. I caught the two of them having a quiet moment together. 

It was a wonderful time. And most importantly, Leah and Jorge had a wonderful time. Or so they said! They'd planned the BBQ and wedding from start to finish, so the events were very personal and a true reflection of the two of them. I liked that.

Once home we had a few days with Amandine before she headed back to Santiago, and then Doug was off for a week to Shanghai on business. I used the time alone to push my personal "re-boot" button. The lawyer was finishing up the last of the paperwork so I could close the estate, and my Meisner class was due to begin again in a few short weeks. After all the craziness of the past few months, wonderful craziness that it all was, I relished having some time to myself to simply exhale. 

Doug was home from China for less than a week when a situation came up at NYU's Abu Dhabi campus, and he was asked if he would be interested in going over. To live. For at least a year. He asked me what I thought, and I said, "Go for it". 

And so it happened that exactly two weeks from the day Doug was asked if he was interested in moving that we found ourselves en route to the United Arab Emirates. Within a few days of arriving I started a blog to keep friends and family up to date. Rather than repeat the details of the trip and our experiences in Abu Dhabi to date, I will refer you to earlier posts in my blog. If interested, of course. 

I pause as I write this and look out the window again. I've been here almost two months now, and still at times it doesn't seem real. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself living in another country, much less here. You just never know, right?

With Love & Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Joyous and Peaceful New Year,
Kathi (scribe) and Doug

P.S.  We have a guest room should you find yourselves in our new 'hood  ;-)

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