American in Spain

Visiting Colindres in December

December 23, 2009

The following is a document written by my father, Paul Rasmussen, about his recent trip to visit us in December 2009.

Nora with American Grandparents

Betsy and I had been looking forward to meeting our granddaughter in August. We would visit southern Spain, where Erik\'s Spanish family vacations every summer, and meet our granddaughter then. As her birth approached, however, it seemed like too much would be missed if we didn't see Nora before then, so in May we traveled to Colindres and stayed a week with Erik, Marga, and Nora. We had a great time, and another great time when we visited in August. In September, however, I felt uncomfortable not knowing when we would visit them again, so we made plans for a visit in May of 2010. In November, May seemed too far away, so we bought tickets for a trip to Colindres in December, returning to Morganton a week before Christmas. This time we flew from Charlotte to Atlanta to Paris, and from Paris to Bilbao. A week after arriving we would return through Paris, flying to Detroit and then Charlotte. Erik said that most if not all of his winter coats would fit me, and I might consider saving space by not bringing a coat, and that is what I did. We packed just two suit cases, one full of presents, and the other with clothes. .paul-caption { font-size:0.9em; margin-bottom: -10px; font-weight:bold; position:relative; top:-10px; } Nora with American Grandparents

As was her father before her, Nora is a very good baby. Betsy maintains that she is also a pretty baby.

Our trip over was uneventful, and we arrived in Bilbao at 2:30 pm on Thursday, exactly on time. As we exited the airport, Erik was there waiting for us. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at Erik and Marga's house in the small coastal town of Colindres. Erik heated up some chicken soup which hit the spot, along with some wine and bread. At 5:00 we walked the quarter mile to the pre-school program Nora attends from 2:30 to 5:30, Monday through Friday. It was great to see Nora again, and to note how much she had grown. We walked back home to get another layer of clothing, and then went for a paseo (a walk around town, usually including several stops for small drinks, and sometimes tapas). An hour later, when Marga was finished with work, she called to find out where we were, and a few minutes later she joined us.

Happy Paella-Eating Couple

We always eat well when we visit Erik and Marga. Marga\'s mother Marce always likes to help cook.

We returned home, where Nora had her bath followed by her dinner. Erik and Marga went out to dine and dance with their regular (before Nora) Thursday night dinner and dancing crowd, while Betsy and I stayed with Nora. When Nora cried, Betsy got her up, but food and rocking didn't quiet her much. Betsy finally put her back down and came to bed, and Nora soon stopped crying.

Twelve hours after going to bed, we got up. It was Friday, and Marga always goes in to work early on Fridays, enabling her to leave work early those days. Erik laid out a breakfast of biscuits, coffee, and orange juice, and soon we were doing what we came there to do - playing with Nora. I pounced stuffed animals around her, enticing her to laugh. Sometimes I sat her on my lap and read books to her. Sometimes I just watched her as she amused herself. Her favorite activity was flossing her four teeth with the shoelace on one of her slippers.

Friday is market day in Colindres. Hundreds of vendors travel a full-time circuit - Monday in one town, Tuesday in another, etc. They set up their tents, tables and wares, and sell everything from anchovies to toy zebras. On Friday - Colindres. Betsy and I took turns strolling Nora through the many booths. Sometimes I brought her close to materials she could reach out and feel, but she never spoke up, so I never really came close to buying anything for her. I bought a shirt for myself, Betsy bought a purse, and Erik bought the week's supply of olives from his regular olive man, who weighs out sacks of greens and black, prices them, and then adds several ladles of the olive juice. Erik bought what would be for me a six month's supply of olives, which actually turned out to last less than a week. We stopped at a bar for a glass of wine, which some friends of Erik paid for. Back at home, Erik fed Nora pureed vegetables, and put her down for a nap. Marga came home from work, and while Nora slept, we enjoyed a nice lunch of chicken soup, pork, and salad, along with bread and wine.

At the market

I always enjoy visiting Colindres on Fridays because of the open air market. I don\'t know that man.

After lunch Marga told Erik to go in his office and win some bread, and while he did so, Marga, Nora, Betsy and I went out for a long paseo. Down by the docks, we watched fishermen returning with their catch, pushing carts holding both familiar looking fish and strange sea creatures. Colindres has a lovely seaside walkway, frequently used by chatting women, dog walkers, and stroller-pushers such as ourselves. We walked back home through the town, making a big loop that took more than an hour to complete. Nora loves watching the winter world from the well-wrapped cocoon of her stroller, and generally goes for two long walks every day.

We returned home about 6:00, and Marga bathed Nora and fed her her dinner bottle. I played with Nora some more, and then Erik drove Betsy and me four miles to the town of Laredo, which was featuring "II Semana del Pincho", a tapas competition involving 17 different bars in Laredo. From December 11th through December 20th, from noon until 5:00, and from 8:00 until 11:00, each bar offered a fancy pincho (a small serving of something, another word for tapas used in northern Spain), along with a glass of wine or a small beer for 2 Euros (or 2.50 Euros, if you wanted an excellent Crianza with your food instead of the less expensive wine, which I always did).

Pinchos in Laredo

It was very lucky for us that our visit coinicided with Laredo\'s second annual tapas competition.

We picked up our ballots at the first bar, and our ballots were stamped at each bar we visited. People submitting ballots with eight different bar stamps were entered into a drawing which could result in winning a free dinner. We visited four bars, and each got four stamps. Each of the pinchos I ate was delightful. The best was croqueta de canguro con crujiente de almendra - a croquette filled with kangaroo meat, among other things, rolled in chopped almonds, and served on a small slice of bread with drizzled oil and spices. We returned home, and stayed up talking until around 10:00.

When we stay at Erik and Marga's house, they put us in the king-size bed in Nora's room, and move Nora's crib to their bedroom. Our bedroom has an excellent sun shade which, when lowered, prevents all light from entering. I am used to sleeping with my window shades raised a bit, and receiving a fair amount of visual timeline feedback. When sleeping in that bedroom, I am never sure what time it is. On Saturday, I got up at 9:30, and enjoyed the same breakfast of coffee, biscuits and orange juice. While Betsy and I played with Nora, Erik and Marga went to the Telco grocery store at the edge of town, the only store they go to that they don't walk to. At 11:00, the doorbell rang. It was Juan, Marce, and Ramón, who are Marga's father, mother, and grandfather. Since none of them speak more English than Marce's "Good Morning", Betsy's Spanish knowledge was taxed to its fullest. Somehow, we managed to communicate quite a bit during the 10 minutes before our two interpreters, Erik and Marga, returned from their shopping. I think Nora, and the fact that we all understood baby talk, helped quite a bit.

Feeding Audience

Baby Nora received plenty of attention from her relatives, who took great pleasure watching her eat.

Marce had brought her electric paella pan, and soon Marga and Marce were busy in the kitchen making the sofrito, the first step in the creation of paella. Betsy, Erik, Nora, Juan and I went for a paseo, and after the sofrito was made, Marga called Erik to find out where we were, and Marce, Marga and Ramón joined us. Several stops later, the women pushed Nora back home to finish working on the paella, and Ramón, Juan, Erik and I stopped at one last bar before joining them.

The paella was excellent. It included tiny clams in their shells, small shrimp mixed in with the rice, and langostinos (large shrimp) in their shells decorating the top, along with red pimiento peppers. I'll try that soon. When we were done, our Spanish relatives opened the presents we had brought for them and had placed under the tree. For Marce, we had brought a purple cashmere scarf. Juan opened his sampler box of 12 miniature chocolate liqueur bottles, each holding a small quantity of the liqueur it advertised. Ramón's present was a nice keepsake box holding German chocolates laced with German liqueur. Some Apple liqueur was produced, and the whole family chatted amicably. I'm not really sure how we all manage to enjoy ourselves so much speaking two different languages, but it happens. At one point I remarked that since the oldest member of the family had been napping on the couch for the last 30 minutes, I thought the second oldest member - me - might go upstairs and lie down.

Eating Paella with the Family

The paella was excellent, as was the rest of the meal. The conversation was in two languages.

Thirty minutes later I found that both Nora and Ramón had awakened, and we all sat around admiring Nora. Around 7:30 we all piled into two cars and drove to Laredo. We walked around town for a mile or more before stopping for a drink. I joined most of the patrons watching the soccer on the wide screen TV. Spain's soccer teams are currently the best in the world, and many of the bar's customers were there to watch the two Saturday night games. When our drinks and tapas were finished, we all walked back to where we had parked the cars. I hugged Grandpa Ramón, Juan, and Marce goodbye, and they drove the 90 minutes back to their home in Mondragon.

Erik, Marga, Nora, Betsy and I walked to a bar owned by a friend of Erik for another pincho. Then we visited a third bar, and enjoyed another pincho. As we were leaving that bar, Marga asked if anybody had remembered to pay the bill at their friend's bar, and we all had to admit that we had not. Erik was dispensed to the bar to pay the 9.50 Euro bill while the rest of us walked to the car. He joined us a minute later, telling us that he had been severely chastised by his friend for bothering to come back just to pay 9.50.

On Daddy's Lap

Erik doesn\'t dress up much on work days. Nora lounges in her PJs, and dresses later for her first paseo.

After we returned home, I watched some of the Real Madrid-Valencia game. Marga, who had gotten up early, went to bed first, followed by Nora, me, and Betsy. Erik stayed up to watch the second half, and reported in the morning that it had been exciting, and five goals had been scored.

On Sunday, I slept until 10:30. We had fresh pastry, coffee and juice for breakfast, and it was soon time for our midday paseo. Betsy had developed a sore throat. She and Marga stayed home while Erik, Nora and I went for an hour and a half walk, traveling through some residential areas of Colindres that I had not seen before. We stopped twice for a glass of wine, and received a complimentary plate of olives each time. When we returned home, Nora enjoyed her lunch of home-made vegetable puree (mostly pumpkin today), and then napped while the rest of us had lunch. Marga had made a delicious salmon salad for us, which we enjoyed along with bread and wine.

Reading with Grandpa

We both really had quite a good time reading her books. I did the reading, but she turned the pages.

After lunch, Betsy took a nap, and I read for a while. When Nora got up, we played together, reading all of her English language books several times. She turned the pages with her left hand, and when we finished a book, she turned it over and we began again. Around 5:30, Erik and I bundled Nora into her winter coat and we went out for another paseo. The weather had turned colder, and I was glad to have the winter coat I was borrowing from Erik. We stopped at a bar, ordered a beer, and enjoyed the exciting second half of the Santander soccer game, during which all five goals were scored. To the pleasure of the crowd, Santander, the local favorite, won 3 to 2. After leaving, we walked some more, than stopped at another bar to watch some of the second game (Atletico Madrid against somebody). It wasn\'t a very interesting game, but we had a good time anyway. Nora took off my glasses and sucked on them for about 20 minutes while we struck up a conversation with a man Erik knew, who was the father of the owner of the first bar we had been in.

He had two grandsons, age 5 and 3, and he said he would set them up with Nora in the future, but I discouraged him, telling him through Erik that I didn't trust his grandsons.

A little after 7:30 we headed home, which was about a two minute walk away. During our two hours away from home, Nora had not closed her eyes, or expressed a single bit of discontentment. She really likes bar-hopping, watching football, and even meeting strangers.

Back home, Erik and Betsy gave Nora her bath, and at 8:15 we all sat down to a tasty supper of artichoke hearts, goat cheese, sheep cheese, salchichon sausage, wine and bread. We sat around the table for an extra hour after we finished, telling stories. I talked about the time I met B. F. Skinner and he told me how he captured pigeons at Harvard, and Betsy told about her state fair winning molasses cookies that Archway bought the rights to for $100. A little before 10 we cleared the table, and I went to bed.

Nora is a Rasmussen

The Rasmussen blanket, from an American Farm Equipment company, was a gift from a friend.

On Monday I got up at 8:30. Marga had gone to work, and Erik was also working. Nora got up at 9:00, and Betsy shortly after that. After she had her breakfast of milk and cereal, Nora sat on my lap and we read all of her books again. Later Nora sat in her high chair and watched us eat our biscuits and coffee without complaining, although with a good deal of hand waving and leg thrashing. Erik and Betsy dressed Nora for the day in a pretty blue jumper and sweater, and before long we were off on our morning paseo. We stopped at a clothing store and bought two sweaters for me, and then at a hardware store where Betsy bought a 220 volt hair curler she could leave in Colindres. We stopped for a glass of wine, and then went by the local neighborhood grocery, where Erik, Marga and especially Nora are very well-liked. The woman who runs the vegetable counter is especially fond of Nora. I watched her make several customers wait while she took off her plastic gloves, bent down, and socialized with Nora in her stroller. She put several walnuts in a plastic bag, and dangled it in front of Nora, the nuts clanking together. Nora smiled and giggled while the woman spoke baby talk to her. Erik bought bread, and I found some cookies I wanted to bring back as presents. They didn't have four boxes of the ones I wanted to give my co-workers, but Erik told the manager, and they said that would be no problem, as I could come back on Wednesday and they would have them then.

Grandma feeding Nora

It was almost impossible to feed Nora her pureed food without opening your own mouth each time.

When we returned home, I fed Nora her pureed vegetables. She ate about 100 spoonfuls before she showed any hesitation opening her mouth when the plane was flying towards the hangar. Later she was taken up for her nap, and at 1:15 Marga came home from work for her lunch break. We enjoyed stewed rabbit, salad, olives, bread and wine. Marga heard Nora waking up upstairs, although I didn't. She brought her down where Nora sat contently on her mother's lap until 2:15, when it was time for Marga to take Nora to her preschool program on her way back to work. Erik went back to work in his office, Betsy took a nap, and I read for a while, and handled some work e-mail. At one point Erik emerged from his office to tell me that Marga had called to tell him that she had passed the test she took a week ago, and was a now a certified Senior Technician in Health and Safety with Three Specialties: Ergonomics, Hygiene, and Safety. She had spent weeks studying hard, and was very pleased.

At a quarter to five, Betsy and I put on our coats and walked to Nora's preschool program to spring her early. Her teacher, who knew no English, told us that Nora did not sleep at all or drink at all while she was there, and that she was just about to feed Nora her pureed fruit, so we waited for five minutes. I watched the other five kids, who were all older than Nora. One boy about 3 was enjoying himself by anchoring one foot, and walking around and around with the other until he made himself dizzy and fell down. A curly-haired little girl not much older than Nora was in a baby walker, and never stopped staring at me with her huge dark eyes.

Going out for a walk

Nora loves strolling around outside, in all kinds of weather. Good thing she has lots of clothes.

We put Nora into her stroller, and set off for the neighborhood grocery store. I had volunteered us to make supper, and we had decided to make Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. We parked Nora by her friend in the vegetable section, and Bruno the butcher cut us a large sirloin roast. They sliced some cheese for us, and we also bought some aluminum foil and a bottle of Reserva. We returned home to start the meat cooking, and then went back out, to the Bakery this time, to get a cake to celebrate Marga passing her test.

I was playing with Nora when Marga returned home from work at 6:15. After Marga took a shower, she played with her daughter. At one point she set Nora on the floor in front of her, placed a foot on each side, and monitored Nora while she exercised her balance. Later, Nora enjoyed first her bath, then her bottle with milk and cereal, and then went to bed. In the kitchen, Betsy and I were making supper. I sliced the well-cooked meat and made a pile of thin beef, we sautéed the onions and fresh red bell pepper that Betsy had sliced earlier. We sliced a submarine-shaped loaf of bread from bow to stern, piled on the almost shredded hot beef, laid down layers of a mild white cheese, topped it with hot onions and peppers, seasoned it, wrapped it in aluminum foil, and heated it for 15 minutes in the oven. We sat down for supper at exactly 9:00, and didn't get up from the table until almost 11:00.

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches

Onions, peppers, salt, pepper, mild cheese and shaved steak toasted on bread. A Philly Cheese Steak.

On Tuesday I was up at 8:45. Marga was at work, and Erik was feeding Nora her breakfast bottle. When she was done, she sat on my lap and we read through her entire library. First Hey! Wake Up, then Baby Colors, followed by That's Not My Puppy, One, Two Three, and closing with Pat the Bunny. Her reward for sitting through her lessons was getting to play with my watch. Around 10:00 Erik, Betsy and I sat down to a breakfast of coffee and cake, while Nora sat in her high chair, watching and babbling. After breakfast Erik took a shower and then assisted Betsy as she performed surgery on Erik's new computer, which Betsy had assembled and shipped to him a week earlier. I played with Nora. When the computer was back in the office again, it was almost 11:30, and time for Nora to get dressed for the day.

We went out for our morning paseo, walking down by the waterfront, then back through town, stopping once for a red wine for Erik and me, and a coffee for Betsy. We stopped at the neighbor's grocery store for lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and bread, and were home by 1:00. Marga showed up around 1:15, and her sister Belén arrived soon after, having driven from her home in Mondragon. Belén attends Pharmacy College. She had just completed an important exam, and had come to visit for a few days.

Hanging out with Dad and Grandpa

Nora enjoyed going out to the bars with her father and her Grandfather.

Belén fed Nora her vegetables, but after a few minutes Nora started crying and even her mother's presence didn't cheer her up. She went up for her nap, and conked out in about two minutes. The five of us had a nice lunch of Garbanzo bean soup with chunks of beef, salad, bread, olives, wine, and cheese. At 2:30 Marga went back to work, but did not take Nora to daycare, preferring to let her sleep, and at 3:30, Betsy and Belén took her to school. Erik worked in his office, and I read, and at 5:30 I walked down and got Nora.

It was a nice evening, and we turned left when we came out of Daycare, instead of right, towards home. We walked down to the waterfront and out the pier to the lighthouse. We walked by soccer fields, and briefly watched a couple of men playing tennis under the lights. They weren't very good though, and I didn't want Nora watching their form, so we soon wandered away. I saw two different Westies out walking their owners, and after 45 minutes of meandering, I realized I didn't really know where I was. Soon I saw the blinking green light of the Pharmacia though, and I knew my way home from there. Marga returned home from work about 5 minutes later.

At 8:00, all but Betsy went to Laredo for tapas. Betsy wasn't feeling well, and went to bed at 9:00. The rest of us visited six places, enjoying six pinchos, and six glasses of red wine. I really like walking around the bars in Laredo, especially those in the cobblestoned 600 years-old section of the town. At 10:30 we drove home, and I went right to bed.

Crónicas de las Garmillas - Mesón Restaurante La Abadia Jibión con piperrada Milhojas de solomillo (Sirloin pastry)

by erikrasmussen, on Flickr") La Echu Gí¼ela

These are four of the “pinchos”, or tapas, that were entered in the Laredo competition. They were good!

On Wednesday I got up at 8:15. Marga was at work, and the others were sleeping. I read, and soon Belén, followed by Erik and Nora, and then Betsy joined me in the living room. After breakfast Erik made the crusts for two pizzas, and while Betsy curled up with a book, the rest of us went out for our morning paseo. We stopped once for a glass of wine and a coffee for Belén at a bar which offered us some fresh hot tortilla de patata with our drinks. We stopped at the neighbor's grocery for some chicken for a pizza topping, and to get the cookies I was taking back to the States for my office workers. I was disappointed, however, to see that not only did they not have four boxes of these cookies on the shelf, the one they had before was now gone. I mentioned to Erik that I would find something else, but he asked them and they told him that my four boxes were bagged and by the checkout counter where they had been saving them for me.

We got home around 1:00, and Erik started cooking the peppers, onions and chicken for his pizzas. Belén fed Nora her vegetables and meat meal. When Marga got home, we enjoyed the two pizzas he had made. The first was beef, cheese, peppers and onions, and the second was chicken, basil, cheese and corn. We also shared a large green salad, and a bottle of wine. After lunch Erik and Marga went back to work, Betsy went back to bed, Belén went out for a run, and I took Nora to school and then came home and finished Banker, the Dick Francis book I had been reading. At some point Belén went out to meet her sister, and the two of them brought Nora home from school.

Marga got a red scarf!

Nora has tired of Peter Rabbit, and would like to floss her teeth with Marga\'s new red cashmere scarf.

We had brought some Christmas presents, and put them under the tree, and this seemed like a good time to open them, so we did. Belén put on the Santa hat, and handed out the presents one by one. Nora got the most presents. Each time one was placed in front of her she got excited, and she positively loved some of the wrapping paper. She got some new books, some age appropriate, and a few, like The Cat in the Hat, that would have to wait another year or so. Her Jack-in-the-Box did not startle her. Maybe she was already familiar with that concept. I got a nice blue sweater from Erik and Marga, and Betsy got some very pretty jewelry, matching necklace, bracelet and earrings. Marga got a cashmere scarf, a flute, and a toddler operator's manual. Erik got a book, a jaw harp, and an Albert Einstein action figure. Belén got a cashmere scarf, and gave me a bottle of Acorn liqueur similar to the bottle I drank in Extremadura (the best liqueur I have ever had). Nora enjoyed all the activity and wrapping paper, and spent quite a bit of time flossing her four teeth with ribbon.

Erik made tortilla de patata for dinner, which tasted great along with the sausage, cheese, bread, and wine. We sat around talking for a while, and then I went to bed. I knew the trip home would make for a long day.

Wrapping paper is more fun than presents

Nora delighted in the unwrapping process. The paper was especially fun after disposing of the present.

We got up at 7:00 on Thursday, and at 8:00 Erik drove us to the airport in Bilbao. Our plane for Paris should have left at 10:15, but while the weather in Bilbao was great, word quickly reached us that it was snowing in Paris, and our flight would be delayed. Several times actually. Since there was no way we could make our flight from Paris to Detroit, Delta re-ticketed us to fly the next day from Paris to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati to Charlotte. When I knew we would be spending the night in Paris, I called Erik, and asked him to find us a place to sleep near the Charles De Gaulle airport which offered an airport shuttle. He selected a hotel, reserved a room for us, and sent an SMS message to my iPhone which included their phone number.

The folly of embarking on this trip without taking a winter coat became apparent to me when I stepped off the plane in Paris. Snow was actively falling, and there were already several inches of snow on the ground. The wind was blowing, and it was cold. As I got off the airplane, a crew member asked if I had left my coat behind on the plane. When I said I had not, he inquired further - "Are you sure?" I think they were right to be cautious. A man disembarking from a plane in a snowstorm without a coat should not be trusted. We went outside and waited for the number three shuttle, which took us to Terminal 2, where we waited outside again to get our hotel shuttle. It was almost 8:00 when we arrived at the hotel. Thanks to our wonderful son, we quickly checked in ("No Sir, we don't need to see your passport"; "No Sir, we do not need your credit card, your room is reserved") and found their restaurant, which offered a buffet. Some of the items were tasty, and others were not. By 10:00 we had showered and retired.

What could it be? Happy with his sweater

Betsy\'s jaw drops as she views her new red jewelry. Paul is excited about getting a new blue sweater.

On Friday my iPhone woke us at 7:00. At the breakfast buffet I had 4 glasses of orange juice, 2 cups of coffee, some fruit, and a ham and cheese sandwich, and we caught the 8:00 shuttle to the airport. We made our way through the line at Delta, and at one point a woman checked the paper tickets we had been given when the Bilbao Delta employee re-ticketed us, took one of them, and gave us back the other. Ten minutes later, when dealing with another Delta employee, we were told that we should have two tickets, and we only had one. I'll admit that we weren't at our best. Betsy, who speaks French fairly well, had pretty much totally lost her voice. My right ear had still not fully cleared from the flight to Paris, and wasn't very receptive. I was wearing the glasses that allow me to see OK from 8 feet to 800, but I couldn't read with them. In total our disability structure made communication difficult. Nevertheless, we explained that their employee had taken our other ticket when we were still standing in line, but the lady filling that role said she had not, and I couldn't positively identify her as the woman who had. All I could say is "Well, she was about your height, and was wearing a Delta uniform just like yours, and had a Delta ID card hanging from her neck just like yours, and she had black hair, just like yours". It didn't help any that the Delta agent handling our problem lost her earring while on the phone checking with someone about our problem, and seemed from that point on to be more concerned about finding her missing earring than with finding our missing ticket. Eventually we were told to go down to the Air France station between Gates 5 and 6. After waiting in line there for another 20 minutes, a very helpful woman re- wrote our missing ticket and we were back on our way.

Albert Einstein action figure!

Erik will have hours of fun playing with his new Albert Einstein action figure. Go geeks!

Except when we got to our gate, the delays started. First a one hour delay, then two. It appeared we were headed for a third hour delay, when we were surprised by being loaded on the plane. Although our supposedly full flight had 70 empty seats due to people missing their connections, the decision was made to send us off anyway. We stood in line for 30 minutes at the de-icing station. After the pink de-icer had been sprayed all over our wings, we got into the short line for take-offs, and soon we were airborne. Our pilot did a masterful job of making up time. He put the pedal to the metal right away instead of slowly progressing to top speed, and he explained to us that he was going to cheat a little on the route, angling west just before he reached the northern corridor. Even though we ran into a 170 mph head wind at one point, we arrived in Cincinnati only one hour late, which left us an hour to go through customs, claim our checked bags, re-check our bags, and find the gate for the flight to Charlotte. We arrived at that gate five minutes before boarding time, and we happily sat down to relax. I was surprised when my phone rang. It was a call from Erik, who had been looking at a downtown Morganton web cam (I didn't know Morganton had a downtown web cam), and saw that it was snowing heavily, with snow already piled on the ground. While I was on the phone with Erik, they announced that the flight to Charlotte would be delayed due to freezing rain in Charlotte. First it was delayed one hour, and then two. I called Tom in Morganton, and asked him to check with the hotels near the Charlotte airport. He called back shortly to tell me that they were not fully booked, and that the Ramada Inn could be had for $59. He informed me that while it was only freezing rain in Charlotte, there was snow in Gastonia, Hickory, and Morganton.

Nora with Christmas Presents

It was great fun to participate in Nora\'s first Christmas, even if we were more than a week early.

When we arrived in Charlotte around 9:00, we took the shuttle to the parking lot, got the van, and faced our decision. Should we drive 2 miles to the Ramada and spend the night, or attempt the 68 mile trip home through the bad weather? We made what, in retrospect, I think was the wrong decision, and, with Betsy driving, we headed for home. It was not bad on Interstate 85 driving west from Charlotte to Gastonia. There we got on highway 321 and headed north to Hickory. Almost immediately the rain turned to snow, the snow got deeper, and road became very slippery. During the 25 miles on 321 we passed more than a dozen vehicles stranded in ditches. We seldom went faster than 30 miles per hour. The exit from 321 to Interstate 40 was especially treacherous, and on I-40 we never went faster than 25 mph. No lanes were clear, but the popular path left tracks that could be followed. What would normally have been a one hour trip took more than two and half hours, but we arrived in Morganton safely. We bypassed our normal Bethel Road exit, opting for the more travelled Sterling Street exit, and instead of taking Bethel Road to our neighborhood, we took a longer and more level route. When we eventually reached our neighborhood, all semblance of snow plowing ceased, and we were blazing trail. As we progressed up our street, Betsy put the van in first gear, and as long as it was moving forward through the snow, she kept it floored. Eventually, however, the spinning wheels and subsequent smoke halted, as did all forward motion. Fortunately, we had made it - barely - to our house, although not all the way into our driveway. We gladly abandoned the van on the street directly in front of our house. Leaving our suitcases in the van, we entered our house, turned on the water, took a hot bath, and went to bed. Our trip from Paris to Morganton had taken us just a little under 24 hours.

Loving Grandparents

Betsy and I never tired of spending time with our granddaughter. She is pretty cute for a baby.

It had been wonderful to see Erik, and Marga, and Nora. Nothing is quite as fine as the role of grandfather. One has all of the pride and glory, and none of the actual responsibility. I can't wait for May.

Nora's First Christmas copy

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