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Travel advice: slow down, breathe in

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

Many of us are in the middle of the holiday crazies. It’s a special time of year when we try to balance the demands of work and family against the added tasks of a preparing the “perfect” holiday for our friends and family.

For me, Christmas has almost always meant traveling to spend time with extended family. As a child, my favorite Christmases were celebrating at my grandparents’ house with my 13 first cousins. It felt like a forever drive — three long hours in the station wagon with my annoying brothers to get to the lovely city of Visalia, Calif.

The centerpiece of the celebration was Christmas Eve at my great-grandmother’s house in the middle of an orange grove in central California. Her small house was filled to overflowing with cousins and more cousins — some 75 relatives in a good year. Emma Henrietta, my Dad’s grandmother, was a baker by trade and her cinnamon rolls were eagerly awaited. I didn’t feel the same way about the ham salad sandwiches, but the adults seemed to like them.

We chatted and ate, and laughed and ate, until all at once a loud clattering was heard on the front porch. Santa Claus had arrived, with a gift for every child in the house. The only catch was that we had to perform for our gifts. I can still remember the butterflies in my stomach, waiting for him to call my name. I read a poem, sang a song, even wrote a play for a group of my cousins to act out. The storyline of the play is lost in the sands of time, thank goodness. I also remember my younger brother playing a particularly awful version of “Jingle Bells” on his trumpet.

My grandparents have been gone for almost 20 years now, and I haven’t shared the holiday with my cousins for just about that long. This year, however, our daughter requested that we visit the cousins and celebrate a “Webb” Christmas. My dad is 84 and not in good health, so it seemed like the right time to go home again. Nearly 20 of us will gather on Christmas Eve, and I’m absolutely certain we will continue the family tradition of talking, laughing and eating. The funny thing is that Santa is planning a visit, and it’s my daughter’s turn to perform. She hasn’t yet decided what talent she will share and I’ll try to stifle my smile at whatever she chooses.

We will be flying to California, and I have a tip for anyone who is boarding a plane at this time of year: Leave yourself lots of extra time to get to the airport, as the roads will be clogged. Your favorite parking lot may be filled and lines at the airport will be longer than normal.

The worst thing that may happen is a delay at the airport. Relax and grab a bite or something to drink.

If you are at the Detroit airport, you can sample wines at Volo Vino, you can get a manicure, pedicure or massage at the Oxygen Spa, or you can indulge in some yummy sushi at the Sora Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar (gate 35 in McNamara Terminal).

My travel advice is the same as my advice to myself and everyone else at this time of year: Slow down, breathe in slowly and live in the moment.

It’s not about the gifts or even the perfect decorations and a gourmet meal; it’s about how we express our love to each other.

Charles Dickens’ iconic Christmas character Ebenezer Scrooge says it perfectly: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Christmas is all about giving, rather than taking. May you and yours keep Christmas in your hearts and enjoy all the pleasures of the season!

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