Home for the Holidays: Athens, Ohio, Dec. 21-Dec. 28

19 Jan

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope the holidays were as good to you as they were to me.

This year Addam and I were fortunate enough to spend Christmas with his family in Athens, Ohio — whom we saw at the wedding in August but have missed every day since.

After waking up and packing up our last-minute necessities on Wednesday morning, Addam and I headed to the bus stop by our house and set out for Miami International Airport.

As obnoxious as it was to juggle so much luggage, we made good time and got through security quickly. We ended up having about two hours to kill before our flight. Since we had such a long day ahead of us, (and since we got to McDonald’s just a few minutes too late and missed breakfast), Addam and I decided to brunch at a fancy little Italian place right near our gate.

Addam nommed on a Philly cheesesteak while I had a salad, and it was just the kick we needed to jumpstart our day.

We flew from Miami to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Columbus, where we met up with Steve and Judy. The flights were pretty short, which made the fact that I had to sit in the middle seat for one of them a bit more bearable. Seeing Steve and Judy, however, made it all worth it!

After catching up and grabbing our gear, we hit the highway — stopping at O’ Charley’s for some much needed grub. Addam used to work for the restaurant when we lived in Virginia and had been missing it since Bonnaroo 2010, so it was highly anticipated and greatly enjoyed.

Ben and Danial were waiting for us back at the house, and I couldn’t wait to get my arms around two of my favorite boys. Ben was Addam’s best man in August, but it’s been about three years since I’ve been able to hang with Danial. The reunion was that much more exciting.

As much fun as I had paying pool, pong and poker with my boys, two people were noticeably absent.

Emily and Ryan were celebrating an early Christmas with Ryan’s family in Lynchberg and did not get in until the next day. While I’m relatively confident that I failed, I tried not to have too much fun without them.

Emily and Ryan arrived the next day, but by the time they got to Athens the entire house had left for a Kroger run. We tried to pick out groceries as quickly as we could, but after one good walk through the group abandoned Judy and headed over to Wal-Mart to pick presents for the family gift swap.

As 19 members of Addam’s family were going to be under one roof for the holidays, it was impractical to buy for everyone, so Judy arranged a gift exchange.

Everyone had to buy a gift for $10 or less, so Steve, Addam, Ben and I took the opportunity to pick out ours. I ended up  getting Where the Wild Things Are, which was one of the only things I could think of that was fitting for a girl, a boy, an adult and a child.

As soon as everyone had picked their gift we met up with Judy and headed back to the house.

I caught up with my little sistaaa and took a nap while Addam graciously made both his family’s meaty lasagna and my totally fake vegan lasagna. It was the first family dinner we’d had since Addam and I got married in August, and it felt like home to have everyone together again.

I was feeling quite rejuvenated after my nap, so I spent the rest of the evening gabbing with Emily, playing pool with the boys and watching as everyone else enjoyed some good old-fashioned drinking games. (I hate it, but I’m just not much of a beer drinker. I’m working on it.)

Emily and I had planned on getting matching tattoos the following day, but the parlor we wanted to go to was closed for the holidays. We spent the entire morning calling every location within a 50-mile radius but ended up scheduling an appointment for the following day.

With the extra time on our hands, Steve, Ryan, Addam, Ben, Danial and I bundled up and headed to Cantwell Cliffs for a hike down Fat Woman’s Squeeze.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been out of Miami and even longer since I’ve been able to walk through some woods, so even though it was cold and wet, I highly enjoyed the trek. There was a lot of climbing, shimmying and squeezing, but we got to see some beautiful rock structures and a pretty epic waterfall. As much as I love the city, a very large part of me misses the great outdoors. Beaches can only take me so far.

Everyone was pretty exhausted by the end of the hike and in dire need of some good food. As soon as Emily got back from a job interview for a babysitting gig we headed to Casa Nueva for some healthy eats. It was extremely vegan-friendly, so I ate like a king on a basket of tofu fries. I’ve been craving them ever since and can’t wait to go back.

A lot of musicians make their way through Casa, so the place had a very cool vibe. Artwork lined the walls, and Steve was so impressed with a piece that Addam and I decided to get it for him as a last-minute Christmas gift. (Since Steve has practically everything he wants, he’s always hard to buy for. The second we heard he liked it we had to put a bow on it.) Ben and Danial had to pick up some presents and left dinner early, so they sneaked it out for us.

After dinner Emily gave Addam and me a tour of the house she stays in while school is in session. She shares it with six other girls, so it was pretty large. While the idea of living with so many ladies would make me want to rip my hair out — the place was really nice. I especially loved her huge porch and large bar room. She won’t be living there next year, but it was nice to get a look at her current “pad.” 😉

Once we got back to the house the kids headed down the basement for another night of mayhem. Emily and I had an early appointment the next day, so after wrapping presents with the sister and playing a couple of rounds of poker with the boys, I called it a night.

On Christmas Eve morning Emily and I had a quick breakfast, grabbed our men and headed out for our tattoos.

For a full year now, Emily and I have been talking about getting matching tattoos as a permanent reminder of what we mean to each other. While we initially planned to get the word “close” in each other’s handwriting — signifying the closeness we keep despite distance — we scrapped the idea for an apple blossom.

Why an apple blossom? I’m glad you asked.

Apple Blossom is a song by the White Stripes, and it perfectly describes the relationship Emily and I have built in the eight years we’ve known each other. While I encourage everyone to check out the link and watch Jack White perform the song live, the lyrics are as follows:

“Hey, little apple blossom,
What seems to be the problem?
All the ones you tell your troubles to —
They don’t really care for you.

Come and tell me what you’re thinking,
Cause just when the boat is sinking,
A little light is blinking —
And I will come and rescue you.

Lots of girls walk around in tears,
But that’s not for you.
You’ve been looking all around for years,
For someone to tell your troubles to.

Come and sit with me and talk awhile,
Let me see your pretty little smile,
Put your troubles in a little pile —
And I will sort them out for you.

I’ll fall in love with you 
I think I’ll marry you.”

We always have and always will take care of each other, and I can’t think of a a more fitting symbol. Not to mention — who doesn’t love the White Stripes? (No one I’d care to meet.)

We got to Sink-N-Ink around 12:30  and waited for about half an hour while our artist sketched our blossoms. The boys headed over to Rockey’s, a sporting goods store, I looked through sketch books, and Emily made small talk with a big man who was getting his son a tat for Christmas. (It really is the gift that keeps on giving.)

Since I’m no stranger to the tattoo gun, I went first. It took my dude awhile to get the stencil to stick, but once we got started it took about 20 or 30 minutes to finish.

While I won’t deny that I was a little nervous going in, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. As painful as a quarter-inch needle to the skull may sound, it wasn’t that much worse than any of my others. Once he got close to my ear he must have hit a spot without any nerve-endings because I literally couldn’t feel anything. (Which was sweet because that was the area I was most concerned about.)

Emily went next and, although nervous, seemed pretty confident going in — partly because I did my best to make it seem like it was no big deal. She had to stop for a few brief breaks now and then (most likely to catch the breath she was holding whenever the gun buzzed), but I have to give my girl props.

The first time Emily got a tattoo the guy had barely started when she legit passed out. After a break and some water she laid down and they finished her up, so I’m extremely proud of her for going through with another one, especially in such a sensitive spot. She was a trooper, and both blossoms came out AMAZING.

One day we’ll be little old ladies, shooting the shit and talking about the good-ole days. In the meantime, I’m glad that we’ll have this constant reminder of how close we are, despite the distance. There’s no one else I’d rather get a tattoo with.

After we finished we met up with the boys and made our way to Athen’s only shopping center to pick up last minute presents for the family gift swap. Emily and I grabbed a quick bite at the Chinese buffet, then I accompanied Emily and Ryan to Bath and Body Works while they hunted for something good to give.

Shortly after we met up with Addam,  Ben and Danial. The entire group headed down to Santa’s sleigh to make sure he knew what to bring us and to take a family photo. It kind of looks like we’re trying to kidnap Santa and we do upstage him, but I think we rocked it.

Danial had to leave right after the photo to spend the holidays with his mom, so after some goodbyes and a quick gift exchange, we headed home without him. (Hopefully it won’t be three years before we see him again.)

Once we got back to the house we took it pretty easy. After a filet mignon dinner and drinks the family headed down to basement to watch The Polar Express — a movie we all went to see in theaters together years ago.  It was a very cozy way to spend the night.

After Steve and Judy headed to bed all the kids stayed up to play a few rounds of Apples to Apples, which is more fun than I imagined. We had been making a late night of it everyday that week, but since Santa was coming we all made an effort to head to be relatively early. (Early being about 2:30 in the morning.)

The family agreed to meet in the living room at 9 a.m., and after catching a quick bite to eat it took us about  three hours to open presents. I would say that it was “madness,” but the only word that comes to mind is “blessed.”

I’m not going to list everything that Addam and I gave and received, as that would take three hours in itself, but I will say that everyone had a very merry holiday. I am now completely stocked up on new work clothes, movies, nail polish and reading material. While I’m not trying to pick favorites — Addam got me four seasons of The Big Bang Theory, Emily got me  a book on The White Stripes, Ryan got me a wedding album and my mom got me the Rabbit series by John Updike. The best gift? Spending Christmas with my family.

After the insanity of presents Addam and I rolled up our sleeves and started cooking. I made vegan and regular green bean casserole, vegan and regular mashed potatoes, corn, tofurkey and rolls. Addam grilled some ribs and, in the Evans’ family tradition, Judy baked a platter of crab legs. Needless to say — we ate very well.

Since we were all stuffed, we decided to work off our dinner with a walk through Athens’ “Trail of Lights.”

The trail ran about a quarter mile through the woods, and nearly every tree was wrapped in lights and surrounded by decorations. We had been planning to go for days, but I think that it was the perfect way to end a perfect Christmas. It was a beautiful hike, and I wish I had more photos to show for it.

The next day the rest of the family finally joined the Evans clan for holiday festivities. Addam’s Aunt JoAnn was the first to arrive, along with his Uncle Dave and cousins Abbey, Jim and Tom. I hadn’t seen the Meyers kids since my freshman or sophomore year of college, so it was very exciting to see them again. (And good Lord how they’ve grown! Tom was a baby when I first met him and now he’s a full-grown sixth grader. It’s crazy how time can get away from you.)

The Parks arrived shortly after, and while I just saw Ginny at the wedding in August, it was the first opportunity I’ve had to hang with the entire Park pack since high school. It was a highly-anticipated get together, and I’m glad that the entire family was able to meet under one roof for the holidays.

After playing catch up, the counsins headed downstairs for a couple of rounds of Scattergories, which I’m not very good at. (It didn’t help that I was playing against Max, Kelly’s boyfriend the physicist.  He could have given Sheldon a run for his money. Dude is that smart.)

Once everyone was settled and had filled up on chicken chili, (or in my case, white bean chili), it was pretty much a free-for-all. We played pool, ping-pong and with puzzles. I juggled with Kyle, I slap-boxed Ben, and I chased Jim and Tom around the house for hugs. (That was a feat, and I still need to get the photo evidence from Ginny, who took photos of me with “all of my new friends.”) Kevin gave me some tips to improve my pool skills, and Addam actually beat his uncle in a game. It was one of the best nights Addam and I spent in Athens, if not the best.

After partying hard the night before, the next morning everyone slowly woke up and got going. Addam and I wanted to take a look at the Ohio University campus, so Steve, Ben and Emily gave us a tour that morning. Kyle and Karmen came along to check out Emily’s apartment and the creepy, closed-down insane asylum next to the university. (More on that later.)

It was a bit dreary out, but we enjoyed the tour. I think of Ben and Emily constantly, so it was nice to see where they spend most of their time. And the campus was pretty gorge.

By the time we got back to the house Judy had picked up a catered dinner from Kroger and was in the process of warming everything up. Luckily, we had the family gift exchange to help bide the time.

Everyone selected a present and, oddly enough, everyone seemed pretty pleased with what they received. I picked Kelly’s gift, which was a set of work-related joke notes, which currently sit on my desk at Miami Today and make me laugh on a daily. Addam got a wind-up flashlight from his Uncle Kevin, Judy got a Starbucks gift certificate, Steve got Man of the Year, Emily got Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Ben got Where the Wild Things Are — compliments of moi.

We sat down for dinner after the swap, and trust me when I say that Judy had ordered absolutely everything! We had turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet  potatoes, stuffing, gravy, a broccoli dish. By dinner’s end everyone was so stuffed we were practically rolling off their seats.

The Parks had to head home shortly after dinner, and I really hated to see them go. The past two days had been such a good time, and it brought me closer to all of them. I’m refusing to let a year pass before we all meet up again.

After the Parks were on their way, Addam, Ben and I decided to head down to The Athens Hospital for the Insane, which we had been thinking about since our tour earlier in the day. After some persuasion we convinced Emily, Ryan, Dave, Abbey, Jim and Tom to join us.

We took two cars and plenty of flashlights, as we had to hike about a quarter mile through the woods to get there. It had been raining off and on all day, so the walk was short but soggy. The wet leaves made things a bit slippery and we didn’t exactly know how to get there, but we made it nonetheless.

As intimidating as the place was during the day, it was even creepier at night. According to what I found online:

“Originally monikered the Athens Asylum for the Insane, this massive institution first opened its doors on January 9, 1874. The state and federal government had purchased the more than 1,000 acres of land from the Coates family, whose farm had previously occupied the spot, and spent six years building the hospital. Giant asylums in the Kirkbride style were going up all over America at this time because of the number of Civil War veterans suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. If you visit the cemeteries behind the building you will find a large number of the nameless graves marked with metal veterans’ plaques from the Civil War.”

After walking around the building and checking out the premises we found a bent steel pole  that led up to a window within reaching distance. While all of the windows were barred, someone had bent part of the barrier back, leaving a hole just large enough for an average-sized person to squeeze through. As much as I wanted to go in, the boys didn’t trust that I could make it up the pole and left me behind. Addam and Ben checked it out while the rest of us stood behind in wait. The video is really dark, but this is some of what they found:

As scary as it seemed on the inside — it wasn’t too much better on the outside. A car kept driving around the premises, and since no one is supposed to be on the property at night, I was kind of worried that we were going to get arrested. Luckly, it turned out to be a few good-ole boys who left within minutes of reaching the property. (All the better. The entrance in was a tight squeeze, and these guys were on the larger side.)

Once Ben and Addam were back in tow we hiked back down to the car and made our way home. As soon as we got back to the house everyone changed into warm clothes, raided the fridge, shared our videos with Steve and, in true Evans fashion, settled into the basement for one last night of family flip cup. As happy as I am to be home, and as much as I needed a bit of R and R after so many late nights, I’d do anything to be back in that basement. I miss the time spent with my family.

Addam and I had a 4:00 flight on Wednesday afternoon, so we spent the majority of the morning packing up to head out. We had so much stuff that we couldn’t bring it all back with us and had to set things aside for Steve and Judy to mail back to us. (Talk about a hard decision. I squeezed every gift that could fit into my suitcase and left behind a pile of old clothes.)

After some sad see-ya-laters, Steve drove us to the airport and Addam and I were on our way. We had to transfer twice on the way home — stopping in Washington, DC and Atlanta. We took a cab from the airport and got home shortly after 12:30 a.m. It was a long day of traveling, so after a quick bite we rolled into bed and prepared for a longer day of work the next day. One small sacrifice after an amazing week off.

As much as I hated to see such a fabulous week come to a close, I hold tight to the hope that it won’t be long before we see everyone again. In the meantime, I’m keeping my memories close and my family closer.

“I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living life, a man who had good friends, fine family — and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that.” — Frank Sinatra, American singer and actor (1915-1998).

4 Responses to “Home for the Holidays: Athens, Ohio, Dec. 21-Dec. 28”

  1. Steven Evans January 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    We loved having you here. Thanks for the great story to remind us of our wonderful Christmas holiday!

  2. Emily Evans January 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    THIS WAS AWESOME! i loooove that picture of teeny tiny you and ryan on the hike! i never saw that!!!
    and that whole big section about our tattoos! alskdjflaksdjf so special ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ hahaha i made small talk with a big man hahah! love it. and thanks for the kudos…i felt like a big baby since you were so good!!! i am SOOOO happy with them though. i LOVE mine and compliments on it are my favorite because then i get to brag about you 😉 love you so much.
    that trail of lights was so funny too…the car ride and the lights. i must have had more to drink than i thought though because every time i remember it now it just seems really hilarious to me hahaha. who has the pictures of us as angels with the weird shadow on my face? do you remember? hahahaha oh man.
    and you slap boxed ben hahahahahahahaha ohmygosh we really shouldn't count how many times i'm "laughing" through this post. so many good memories!!!! haha
    i love this whole post. and i loved that week. and i love you more than all of it put together! xoxoxo

  3. Moma January 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    I am glad you had such a good time. I totally enjoyed reading all about it. They are a wonderful bunch of people and it was so awesome looking at the pictures and seeing you having so much fun. I still can’t believe they called that trail Fat Womans something or other. I love ya and am glad you had such a wonderful time.

  4. judy evans January 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm #


    It was the PERFECT Christmas. What a beautiful remembrance of it you wrote.
    Thank you for helping make it so SPECIAL
    Hugs, MommaE

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