On the flight up we had the fortune to sit next to Michael Skelly, whom I voted for in the 2008 congressional election. It turns out that 20 years ago he and his wife-to-be were celebrating their Christmas and engagement with her family in Minnesota as well. They are still together and doing well so hopefully that is a good omen for us!
We arrived late morning on the 24th and were less-than-thrilled that our economy car rental had been "up" graded to a minivan. Is this how it works? As soon as you are engaged they start automatically putting you in soccer mom vehicles? Oh well, it got us where we needed to go and had plenty of room for transporting around others. My mom had arrived the night before so was already situated and ready to party.
We spent the afternoon at Katie's parents' house, where it was truly a winter wonderland. Minnesota is on pace to obliterate previous December snowfall records and there were feet of the white stuff everywhere. As Katie and I were already suffering from Max withdrawal (He was being very well tended by good friends of ours in Houston.), it was helpful that her parents have a golden retriever too.
We spent Christmas Eve at her aunt/uncle's house, which was filled to the brim with family, food, and song. The Martin clan (Katie's mother's side) definitely has a much more musical orientation than I grew up with but they seem willing to accept me anyway. :-) I won the coin toss and the other boyfriend (Katie's sister's) had to don the Santa outfit and bring presents for all the kids. He was a good sport about it and hammed up the role.
Christmas Day was spent at Katie's parents house. We had a tremendous Christmas breakfast, opened presents, and then spent awhile playing in the snow. Snowball fights, snow angels, snow fort construction--even a snow scavenger hunt for hidden tins of Katie's mother's famous dark chocolate waffle cookies! It was a blast and our four-year-old nephew who loves pirates was particularly excited when we began firing snow cannon balls from our snow pirate ships!
The evening was spent at the new house of Katie's brother and his family. When I first met him 10 years ago, he was still in middle school. Now he is married, expecting a second child in March, owns a house, and has already served his country with a foreign tour of duty. I've seen many middle school "good kids" somehow lose their ways as they grew older so it is heart warming to see it the other way around: good kids growing into good adults with good lives. And it helps that their first son is frickin' adorable. :-)
Katie's family threw an engagement party for us on Sunday, which was really fun. There were family members, friends, and--of course--lots of food! It was fun meeting some new folks, catching up with some whom I hadn't seen since the very first time I came to Minnesota, and just generally feeling incredibly welcomed into a big, awesome family. Katie's family catered the entire affair, which I know was a real undertaking, but the end result was just marvelous! We capped off the evening with a bonfire to celebrate Katie's aunt's birthday--a big old bonfire in the middle of the snow!
We returned on Monday after a wonderful trip that was too short. I don't understand all of these complaints I had heard about Minnesota winters. Sure there was a lot of snow, but that was very welcome to this snowball fighter. Sure it was cold, but there was so much warmth from family and friends that you could hardly notice. So, while I am currently enjoying the 70-degree weather back in Houston, my first Minnesota winter experience was pretty darned good.