Once again, our annual family holiday tradition of Festibond was outstanding. This year we celebrated on December 27. For those who are unfamiliar with this tradition we started several years ago, its purpose is to create and strengthen our family bonds, both individually and as a unit. Festibond actually encompasses a month or so beforehand with our writing meaningful and thoughtful letters to each other. Then about a week prior to Festibond Brent and I separately taking each of the girls out on one-on-one dates, and the girls and I bake sweets. On the day of Festibond we go out to breakfast, come home and read our letters to each other, spend time together playing games and doing other activities, and snack throughout the day on a light buffet and baked goods the girls and I previously prepared. We’ve changed and added a few things over the years, but our dates and the letters to each other are the primary focus.
After spending Festibond night at a local hotel (with a swimming pool) two years ago, we decided to include it permanently in our tradition. My good friend who knew about our Festibond tradition told me about Embassy Suites, a nice hotel by the airport in Westbrook. After she told me about its many perks, I looked into it. It sounded great, and it had an indoor pool (a requirement for us), so Brent made the reservation.
Each of the girls picked out a treat they wanted to have for Festibond which they would also bake (with my assistance). We ended up collectively making spicy Mexican fudge (Hayley’s choice), frosted eggnog cookies, glazed strawberry-rhubarb thumbprint cookies, peppermint shortbread bites, and lavender lemon shortbread cookies. On the morning of Festibond I packed up samples of each of our baked goods along with various snacks I’d prepared to have available throughout the day at the hotel.
I’ve had several people recommend Bintliff’s American Cafe in Portland to me, but I have never been there. After looking at the menu online we decided that it would be a good choice for our Festibond breakfast this year. It was nearly lunchtime when we finally arrived at Bintliff’s, and I was surprised at how small it was. It was quite packed, and the wait list was 45 minutes. I figured the food must be good if so many people were willing to stand in the crowded space and wait. It actually wasn’t too long before our table was ready.
It was absolutely worth the wait! My “Louisiana Bayou Benedict” was amazing! I love eggs benedict, and it was the best I’ve ever had. The poached eggs with grilled andouille sausage, homemade corncakes, and spicy Cajun hollandaise sauce was the perfect combination. The fried sweet potato fries were very good as well. I ordered the Irish coffee, but I couldn’t bring myself to drink more than a few sips. I thought I liked Irish coffee, but apparently I remembered incorrectly. I felt bad about wasting good alcohol, but it was foul, and I didn’t want it to ruin my meal. Brent and the girls all enjoyed their brunch very much as well, and Brent and I agreed that we would come back for breakfast next year. Five stars from the Danlers!
The past few years we have added to our tradition the purchasing of a new game. After breakfast we had plenty of time before check-in at the hotel to stop at Target and look for something new. Surprisingly we don’t yet have the game “Scattergories,” and when we saw it on the shelf we unanimously agreed it would be fun to play together. Jenna pointed out a 750-piece puzzle while we were in the game section and asked if we could get it. We don’t often put puzzles together, and it seemed like a nice activity to add to our day.
We were able to check into the hotel early, and Hayley eagerly ran into the hotel to get a cart for our luggage while Brent checked us in at the front desk. The lobby was very nice. The front desk clerk handed Brent a basket with a handwritten card wishing us a great stay, some extra toiletries, and three little plush lobsters with magnetic claws (one for each of the girls). I was impressed with their hospitality! Brent told us that he’d upgraded our room to “premium” for a small fee so that we could have two queen beds instead of doubles, and have unlimited access to the premium floor vending machine which only requires a special code to select from a variety of snacks and beverages.
The girls were blown away by this amazing vending machine perk and were anxious to test it out immediately. Not only did they find great delight in simply entering a code into the machine and getting whatever they wanted, but they were thrilled with the vast number of different delicious processed treats available to enjoy any hour of the day or night. I don’t even know how many trips to the vending machines the girls made during our stay, nor how much candy bars, chips, soda, or juice they consumed. We noticed that the hotel staff was very good about keeping up with consumer demand; items that ran out were regularly being restocked, or replaced with something new. I suspect the girls wouldn’t be nearly so excited if they were normally allowed to consume such things, and I figured we could be lenient on this special occasion. I have a suspicion that they may have hoarded a portion of their goods to bring home for those long periods of junk food famine. ;-)
Our two-room suite was quite nice. Our beds were in one room, and a sitting room with kitchenette in the other room. I was happy to have a fridge in which to put the snacks I’d brought. Another bonus: a Keurig coffee machine for my personal use with a variety of K-cups. More than anyone, Hayley (not surprisingly) wanted to go right to the pool to swim. The girls and I went down to the pool area. They always look forward to any opportunity to swim, especially Hayley. I got in the pool with them for a few minutes, but eventually I had to get out of the cold water and warm up in the hot tub. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold. I had a lovely time watching the girls enjoy the water and videoing and photographing them as well.
After our swim, we gathered in the sitting area and prepared to read our personal letters to each other. These are the letters that we write to each member of the family well before Festibond with the intent of reading them to each other on the day of Festibond. This is the very best part of our Festibond tradition, and the center of it as well. So much thought and feeling goes into every one of the letters, and seems to be increasingly more so each year.
I started out reading my letters. They were all quite long, as I had so much to say to each person. It’s difficult to express all that I want to in just one short letter. I couldn’t get through reading my letter to Brent without crying. It’s been a tough year for me, and for us; we’ve faced and dealt with some significant challenges. I started out my letter to tell him that he is my “rock,” because he is. We continued to go around the circle as each person read all of their letters to each of the other family members. They were all so heart-felt, so touching, and sometimes funny. It was wonderful to see the smiles and the tears, to sense the closeness and the love permeating the room. I think Brent’s and Jenna’s letters to each other were especially touching. The two are very different, and have been having a tough time with their relationship lately. To hear both Jenna and Brent express their love for each other, and openly and honestly communicate what they have been feeling–to each other, out loud, in front of the rest of us–was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. There were smiles, tears, and hugs all around. I was so impressed, again, with the caliber of each of the letters, and the thought put into each single one. I would love to live moments like that over and over again.
One of the amenities of the hotel included an evening reception with complimentary snacks and drinks. After reading our letters, we all went down to the lobby to find a display of cheeses, crackers, vegetables, dip, and snack mixes. The highlight though was the free drinks at the bar. I ordered a very good sangria, and Brent had a gin and tonic. It was very nice to sit down near the fireplace in the lobby sipping our drinks, talking, and enjoying each other’s company.
We soon returned to our room and broke out the puzzle. Some of us were more interested in putting it together than others who were caught up in a Harry Potter movie marathon (ahem, Skye). We all ended up working on the puzzle together. It was challenging, fun, and kind of addicting. I felt obsessed with completing it. Jenna was especially intent on working on it. In the meantime I set out all the snacks I’d brought: the usual Hickory Farms beef stick, turkey sausage, some Cabot cheeses, a port wine cheese ball, various crackers, prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella with fresh basil, raw vegetables, watermelon and cantaloupe chunks, and the baked sweets the girls and I had made two days earlier. I noticed the girls didn’t eat much; I think they filled up on vending machine food. ;-)
Hayley wanted to swim in the pool again, so Brent took her down. Jenna went down with them, but without her suit, and no intention of going in the pool. While I worked on the puzzle, Skye let go of all inhibitions and danced enthusiastically to Michael Jackson songs. She is quite the entertainer. A short time later Jenna burst into the room, exclaiming “There are several half-naked boys down there! You should see them!” and she quickly put on her swimsuit so she could go back down to the pool and show off for her cute audience. It was so funny and unexpected, especially knowing how reserved Jenna has always been. Skye thought it might be worth the trip down to the pool, so she left with Jenna. Minutes later Skye was back. She said the boys were way too young, and thus uninteresting to her. As often as I hear stories about teenage girls, I still get caught off-guard by their seemingly sudden and drastic changes and maturation.
After we all worked together on the puzzle some more, we opened up our new game, Scattergories. I really like word games, so I especially enjoyed this one. It’s actually more difficult than it seems to try to think of simple words under the pressure of a timer. But everyone enjoyed it, and we played several rounds. I did quite well, I must admit. I’m not competitive or anything. ;-)
It was such an amazing day! The next morning Brent and Jenna got up before everyone else and went down to the pool. Jenna had asked Brent if he would teach her to swim. After Hayley woke up and learned where they were, she asked to go swimming with them. Skye and I walked down with her, hung out at the pool for a while, then went to the restaurant/lobby area to get a good table and check out the breakfast. The hotel offered a nice hot complimentary breakfast with cook-to-order omelettes. We found a table right near the fireplace. Brent, Jenna and Hayley soon joined us, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast together. For a pre-cooked (except the omelettes) complimentary breakfast, it was really pretty good.
We worked on the puzzle diligently until checkout time (noon). It was very close to being finished, and quite discouraging to have to completely disassemble all our work to put it back into the box. My neck was sore, my eyes were tired, and my head ached slightly; but I did enjoy working on our project as a family.
This year Brent and I did not have our one-on-one dates with each of the girls before the day of Festibond. We will be doing them the week following instead. I am very much looking forward to them! Festibond this year was absolutely amazing! I love and cherish this special time spent with my wonderful family. They are each so very dear to me, and every opportunity I have to bond with each of them is incredibly valuable. I am looking forward to an amazing 2015!
*Note: Shortly after we returned home from the hotel, I dumped the puzzle pieces on the kitchen table and began pulling out all the border pieces. I worked on it a little, as did Hayley and Skye. But Jenna primarily put it together on her own, having it finished before the end of the day. I wanted to go right out and get a new one. It’s a wonderful activity for the brain and the psyche. :-)