Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Christmas 2014

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Family, Holiday, Home

Weeks of planning resulted in a well-coordinated menu ready to go. Shawn decorated and John shopped. And as the guests started to arrive, we put the plan into action and the fun began!

Sarah, Shawn’s niece and our pastry chef, was first to arrive, flying in from South Dakota on Saturday. She immediately began cooking desserts. (Her boyfriend, Jordan, who was with us last year, had to stay behind this time and we missed him!) The trend continued through the week – we all gained at least a pound or two.

The next day, it was Shawn’s brother and his wife Susan arriving after a drive up from Greensboro, NC. Later the same day, their second daughter Kim arrived from Providence, RI with her boyfriend Kevin. While Shawn, John, and Kevin had to work Monday and Tuesday, the Duff’s headed north for a night to visit some of their old stomping grounds. On Monday evening, we picked up Ellie and Cleon from the Lake Shore Limited.

By Tuesday night, we were back at full strength for some nice pork roast with assuage & cranberry stuffing. And then on Wednesday, for Christmas eve, we enjoyed an early antipasto followed by seafood dishes including calamari, clams, baccalà, muscles, scallops, crab, and haddock – seven fishes in the Italian tradition. We even had fresh bread flown in from John’s cousin Larry’s Hearth and Stone Bakery!  John and Jake attended the 7:00 PM worship service at our church and later, Thor and Heather joined us for cookies, laughs, and limoncello. The holiday spirits were running high!

Shawn’s nephew, Pete, was expected in on Christmas Eve but, due to fog, couldn’t get out of North Carolina. He finally made it in late Christmas morning and joined in the Christmas day festivities including breakfast bread, opening presents, and a huge roast beast for dinner! It was a great relaxing day with all the family, even Marie, enjoying a good time.

The next several days were all about sloth and indulgence. We enjoyed movies, football, beer, chili, wine, old photos, family stories, and a general good time. We had visits from Heather and Thor and Camden and Madison. We installed a new stereo in Jake’s car and tried on new clothes. We all got in the new shower… It was a great time.

Come Sunday, Scott and family departed and things got quieter. We wrapped up things on Monday night with dinner at Ristorante Pavoratti in honor of Cleon’s 88th birthday!

We dropped Ellie and Cleon at South Station on Tuesday morning and Casa Intorcio began to settle back into its usual mildly chaotic state, preparing for New Year’s Day and Epiphany.

It was awesome to have all the family around on Christmas. We can’t wait to do it again next time!

Thanksgiving 2014

Posted: November 30, 2014 in Family, Holiday

Shawn did her usual  fine job of making sure Casa Intorcio was decorated for the season and we all enjoyed a bit of a break and a fun Thanksgiving!

Josh had the entire week off from school and made the drive home from Syracuse with several friends. It was great to have the whole family together again for a bit!

Thanksgiving Day itself started off with our first real snow of the season on the ground. But the sun was out and the North Reading 5k Turkey Trot didn’t feel cold at all. Though Jake remained sidelined with his collarbone injury, Josh, Shawn, and John all began the day with the race. Josh took family honors – firmly dusting his parents, while John out-leaned Shawn at the line.

Gramsie joined us after the race for a day of food and football. Our neighbor Dante and her daughter Miss Sarah joined us for the Thanksgiving meal. We all had much to be thankful for and enjoyed a relaxed and hearty dinner with good company.

Later in the evening, we walked over to the new home of our good friends Heather and Thor and joined their extended family for some post-dinner libations. It’s great having them right here in our own neighborhood now! Although, John did make Madison cry a bit…

Black Friday was a casual shopping day for the family. Jake and a buddy hit the mall when the Massachusetts stores opened at 1:00 AM, Shawn and Marie trolled for bargains, Josh got to the mall for some browsing, and John shopped online. We all did a little bit to help the economy!

Saturday, it was off to Boston College’s Alumni Stadium to see BC play Syracuse. The Orangemen didn’t play that well but we still got to celebrate Shawn’s alma mater’s win.

Sunday morning, Josh hit the road back to Syracuse and we finished up the weekend with some friends around the fire pit watching the Patriots get beaten.

Ain’t holidays grand? So much fun with friends and family.  Bring on Christmas!


Summer Tour 2014

Posted: July 27, 2014 in Family, School, Vacation

With Jake having been home less than 12 hours from the Spanish Exchange, we left home for our combination college tour and beach vacation under cloudy skies and drove through a mix of clouds, sun, and downpours. Our first stop was at the University of Delaware for a quick walk around the gorgeous campus.

We continued on to Fairfax, VA where we enjoyed a great meal at the Auld Shebeen, spent the night, and toured George Mason the following morning.

With half the college touring done, it was time for fun! We aimed the family wagon south and Headed for Emerald Isle, NC where Shawn’s brother’s wife’s family owns two lovely homes! We were treated like royalty throughout our stay! We were granted the penthouse suite, served homemade ice cream, fantastic barbeque, and more food and drink than we needed!

The real attraction, of course, was the beach, where we played and played! The 82° water made our pool at home feel cold!

Scott’s wife Susan was joined by her sister Gena and her son Nate and even 89 year-old Mrs. Burroughs was on the beach for the fun!

Cousin Pete was a great sport! He gave kayaking and surfing lessons and really kept the guys busy!

Scott and John chose a generally more relaxing approach to the beach – although John did give kayaking a try – much to the amusement of those on the beach!

Dinner out on our last night was a fun family night out – we sure wish we could see these folks more often!

Heading back north, we cruised into Times Square on Saturday night just in time for a nice dinner a Osteria al Doge and a great performance of Phantom. Our hotel was in the middle of it all making everything a quick walk – well, except for getting through the thick summer crowds!

Sunday morning it was a drive-by at John Jay and then a walking tour at Rutgers-Newark – both really cool places!

We arrived home tanned but tired with a pile of pictures and some great memories!

Christmas 2013

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Family, Holiday

We wrapped, we planned, and we waited. We were blessed with a crowd of family at our place for Christmas this year and we had a LOT of fun.

Though folks started to roll in the Saturday before, it wasn’t until Christmas Eve when the last of our guests arrived and both our house and Marie’s were at full capacity. Our Christmas Eve dinner featured the Seven Fishes tradition in the form of fried calamari, baccalà, and ciopinio-style stew with scallops, shrimp, octopus, clams, and mussels. Yum!

A few of us made it to the 7:00 PM service at Union Congregational Church and enjoyed the music, the flowers, and the candlelight while celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Christmas morning dawned brightly and our tree was fully stuffed with gifts! We sat in a circle for hours opening gifts and trading stories. There were compliments and abuse, handmade gifts and giftcards, and a lot of laughs and love.

Cousin Pete, who flew in Christmas Eve, now runs a gym for a high tech company in Greensboro and seems to be really happy with his job!  He even took Shawn to our local gym for a few tips while here! She’s still sore! And man can this kid eat!

Scott and Susan made the long drove up (with Kim) from Greensboro. They got to stay with Marie and enjoyed bringing a little life to her little house! They got the chance to tour around a bit bringing back memories of when they lived in New Hampshire. Scott even made fresh ice cream on the back porch to complement our deserts! We traded bird feeders as gifts – they now have one that ejects squirrels with a spinning base and we one with a great off-deck suspension.

Ellie and Cleon flew out from Rochester to join the fun! Ellie and Shawn made several shopping excursions and excitedly “spaved” a lot of money! They’ve been joining us for Christmas the last ten years or so and it just wouldn’t have be right without them.

Cousin Kim, the Ole Miss Rebel, traveled up from Memphis to Greensboro and then helped her parents with the driving. She’s finding her niche in the sports video world working to record the season for the Rebel football team! Her friend from Rhode Island, Kevin, a.k.a. “FOK”, dropped in on Tuesday and Friday as well to help round out the family.

Gramsie helped host the family for the week and joined us for meals and celebrations. Here she displays a calendar that Josh made for her with pictures of the family and Syracuse University.

Shawn cooked and cleaned and did a great job being Chief Hostess for the week. She scored a great laundry basket cabinet that Jake had hand made for her and enjoyed seeing her family for the holiday!

Sarah and her boyfriend, Jordan, made the long drive from South Dakota to be with us. They even brought Sarah’s dog, Bentley, with them! Sarah’s finishing up her graduate studies at South Dakota State and looking for her next step in the academic residence counseling world. Jordan’s got his EMT certification now and hopes to begin firefighter training very soon.

Jake enjoyed having his cousins around, especially Pete. They had a lot of laughs together! He scored some additional watts for his car stereo system and he and John worked to pimp out his ride. He was also great about caring for his brother during his recovery!

The whole family pitched in to help decorate a tie blanket that Sarah made from Gramsie. She seemed very honored by it and absolutely thrilled to have all of her grand kids around!

John scored big with a new smoker for Christmas. He’d put it to use the next day smoking pork ribs and shoulder for the family.  Josh gave him this great sweatshirt with built-in beer pocket to keep warm while tending the food!

Later on Christmas day, our gathering was complete when Camden brought his mom and dad over for a visit.  It’s not clear if he or Heather was more excited about his present but he did seem to enjoy becoming the latest Syracuse fan in the family!  Let’s go Orange!

Josh, still recovering from surgery to mend the nose he broke wrestling last year, prepared to slay the roast beast for Christmas dinner! His girlfriend Delaney was able to visit us several times as well! It’s great to have him home but we’re also so proud of how well he’s doing at SU!

Camden seemed to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere, engaging us all in a game of peek-a-boo at the dinner table. He’s the cutest kid!

Sarah and Kim both made fantastic pumpkin cheesecakes to top us off – as if we really needed more to eat!

Later in the evening, the lemoncello came out and things got deep. Pete and Thor have clearly developed different muscles!

The next night, before everyone scattered back to their respective corners of the earth, we all headed to the local Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate Cleon’s 87th birthday and watch Syracuse in the Texas Bowl!

We were home in time for the final quarter and followed the sweet victory with cake and homemade ice cream to finish Cleon’s birthday right! Well…  Almost right. We didn’t have quite the right candles for his 87th so we celebrated the second anniversary of his 85th instead!

We don’t get to see Shawn’s family too often and it’s even rarer that we get to see them all together at once! There are many more pictures of us all here.

Though our dishwasher may be breathing a sigh of relief that they’re gone, we all had a great time and are thankful for the wonderful opportunity to have spent Christmas together!

SU Parents’ Weekend 2013

Posted: November 17, 2013 in Family, School

With our first born in his first college semester, there was no way we’d pass on Parents’ Weekend at Syracuse University!

We made the five hour drive out on Friday night and arrived in time to catch the SU men’s basketball team in an exhibition game against a lesser opponent that they thoroughly trounced.

Still, it was our first game in the Carrier Dome and we had a lot of fun. After the game, Josh showed us the way to Phoebe’s for a great dinner.

On Saturday, we got a tour of Slocum Hall, the home of Syracuse University School of Architecture. There was a great presentation about the school’s approach and Josh showed us his studio home and some of the cool work he’s been doing.

We spent the rest of the morning touring the campus, buying souvenirs, and having fun.

Then it was back to the Dome to watch Syracuse beat Wake Forest and the retirement of Donovan McNabb’s jersey!

After the game we headed into downtown Syracuse and had a fun meal at the Syracuse Suds Factory!

On Sunday morning, we picked up Josh and then met up with Shawn’s Uncle Cleon and Aunt Ellie, Cousins Betsy, John, and Sally, and spouse Tom. We had a great lunch at Coleman’s Irish Pub and only wish we could have stayed longer! It was great catching up with family!

Soon enough it was time to head back East.  We’re so proud of Josh!  He’s doing great and having fun. Way to go buddy!

In early August, Joshua returned from North Woods camp and the family was reassembled… So we packed up and flew off for a Mediterranean adventure!

Our Thursday night departing flight was delayed by almost three hours but we were able to adjust connections in Munich and still managed to land in Venice only a couple of hours late on Friday afternoon. We took a water taxi to the Hotel Olympia and still had time to shower up, do a little exploring, and find a leisurely cafe for dinner.

Saturday morning was a leisurely breakfast at the hotel buffet before we were off to meet the nearby Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas.  We boarded quickly and without incident and were poolside with an umbrella drink before noon! We’d sail out of Venice just as the afternoon sun began to sink with marvelous views of the island’s southern coast, as well as Giudecca and San Georgio.

Sunday morning we sailed into the port of Dubrovnik, Croatia, past a bridge that reminded us a bit of Boston’s Zakim Bridge.

Not previously on our vacation radar, we found the city beautiful and the people friendly. Though it was hot and crowded, we thoroughly enjoyed walking the ancient city’s walls and exploring the streets and back alleys.

This is Jake on the “Balancing Step” at the front of the Franciscan Monastery.

On Monday we were ar the Greek island of Corfu where we’d enjoy a day trip on The Nautilus. Our captain, Iakis, took us on a wonderful tour of the northeast portion of Corfu allowing us to swim and relax away from the cruise ship’s crowds. Sharing the boat with just one other friendly family, we gawked at the landscape, swam in the clear waters, and enjoyed Iakis’ lunchtime barbecue. Beautiful and relaxing! Well, at least until we were pulling into port just moments before our ship was due to sail. Nothing like boarding just as they’re announcing your names as missing passengers!!!

Iakis was an incredible host. He pointed out the sights, shared the history, shared ouzo and his fathers wine, provided bread and tzatziki sauce, cooked saganaki, chicken, and fish, and took us to all the places we wanted to see!

Tuesday was Athens. We’d arranged a taxi tour to get us around the city as we knew there was a lot to see! Our driver, Dimitrios, was outstanding. He was a non-stop fountain of knowledge! He advised on itinerary, introduced us to all of the sites, pointed out all of the buildings of note, suggested an authentic cafe for our lunch, took pictures, and was generally wonderful to us! We saw everything we could handle!

This is the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

In the Agora, there’s a fantastic museum at the Stoa of Attalos. We loved the artifacts on display here!

Throughout Athens, we were serenaded by the many cicadas!

We really enjoyed watching the changing of the presidential guard, The Evzones, at the Tomb of the unknown soldier.

Next we were up to the Acropolis itself with a stop on Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians.

Wednesday, we were at Mykonos. Everything here is white, Heck, they even paint the sidewalks and streets! Most trim is a blue – a few in other colors. All of this gives the island a glow that requires constant use of sunglasses! We strolled the streets, dodged the vehicles, shopped the shops, saw the windmills, and enjoyed a nice Greek lunch at Katarina’s.

On Thursday, we docked at Argostoli on Kefalonia. With afternoon temperatures reaching 103°,  we were glad that we’d arranged an air-conditioned bus tour of the island that took us to the Saint Andreas Monastery (where we could see the Apostle Andrew’s right foot!) and the Cave of the Nymphs at Lake Mellisani. Along the way, we enjoyed many sights, including the fabulous Myrtos Beach.

Friday was a day at sea as we worked our way back up the coast. That meant a leisurely day by the pool with music and whacky pool games, and sun to spare. Saturday we arrived back in Venice with just enough time for a quick final shopping run before heading back to the airport for the long trip home!

Overall, we had a blast! It was great being back together as a family and the adventure was non-stop. There are many more pictures for the curious!

The Month of Miguel

Posted: July 25, 2013 in Family, Home

At the end of June, we welcomed our guest Miguel, from Vigo, Spain!

Miguel was among four students from Vigo who had all arranged a month in North Reading through Holidays in America. Each guest had a “host sibling” or two and stayed with a different family.

A couple of days later, a few of them got together for the first group outing – ocean kayaking off the shores of Cape Ann.

This group of four – Miguel with Jake and Blanca with host Valerie, would spend a lot of time together in the coming weeks!

A few nights later, Josh came home from North Woods for a visit and to meet Miguel. We made calzones and when one dough hit the floor, Miguel took the opportunity to create a Spanish geography lesson. Vigo is the pink star in the upper left.

Jake and Miguel took off for a few nights with a half dozen other members of the NRHS Soccer Team to brush up some skills at the East Coast Soccer Academy at Weslyan College. They played a bunch of soccer, made some new friends, and had some fun!

When Shawn’s niece, Sarah, came to visit the next week, she and John and the boys went to Gillete Stadium to see the New England Revolution play!

The next morning, John and the boys were off to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to see the NASCAR race. Somehow, Miguel fit right in with the “Bubbas’!

Next it was a couple more group outings for Miguel to visit Gunstock Mountain and its zip lines and Canobie Lake amusement park!

Back in Boston, it was off to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox and the Yankees go at it!

Blanca and Valerie joined the guys for a hot afternoon in the bleachers!

The next night, we were back to the Cape Ann shore for a New England dinner at the Lobster Pool.

As the month drew to a close, we hosted the Farewell BBQ. Here’s Ms. St. Arnaud with her son Joshua.  She’s a Spanish teacher at the High School and worked with the agency to coordinate the students coming to North Reading.  She also talked us into being a host family!  Thanks Amy!  We had a blast!

Miguel was a great guest and we had a lot of fun getting to know him and learning about his home!

Here’s the big send-off with the whole crew getting ready to say goodbye!  Not a dry eye in the house!

It was a great month!! We had a lot of fun.  We hope Miguel will stay in touch and, who knows? Maybe we’ll go visit him someday!! Adios Miguel!